A Queensland councillor who nearly succeeded in having references to God inserted into his council’s Acknowledgement of Country admitted that he consulted with only one Aboriginal person about the proposal.
At the Fraser Coast Regional Council’s budget meeting on 28 June, Councillor Phil Truscott (pictured) moved an amendment to the 2023-28 Corporate Plan to insert an acknowledgment to the “God of Creation” and to “pay our respects to the Lord God Almighty” as part of the Indigenous Acknowledgement of Country.
The vote on the amendment was split 5-5, but Mayor George Seymour cast the deciding vote to reject it.
When asked about who from the Indigenous community he had consulted, Councillor Truscott said he had spoken to a “great Aboriginal friend”.
When asked whether he had consulted with just one person, Councillor Truscott nodded his head in confirmation.
The council’s Chief Executive Officer, Ken Diehm, told the meeting he was not aware of whether discussions had been held with local Indigenous representative bodies because he had only received the motion from Councillor Truscott on the morning of the meeting.
Councillor Truscott and the other councilors who voted in support – his nephew Phil Truscott, Daniel Sanderson, David Lee and James Hansen – wanted to change the wording of the Acknowledgement of Country to the following:
Fraser Coast Regional Council acknowledges the God of Creation who gave us the traditional custodians, the Butchulla (Badtjala) people to the east and the Kabbi Kabbi (Gubbi Gubbi) people to the west. We recognise the cultural practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across our nation, and their continuing connection to the lands in which we live and work today. We pay our respects to the Lord God Almighty and all elders, past present and emerging.
Earlier this year, the Fraser Coast council voted to retain the practice of inviting only Christian community leaders to recite prayers at the opening of its meetings, despite Mr Diehn warning that the practice was “likely discriminatory” under Queensland laws.
Councillors who voted against the motion to change the Acknowledgement of Country slammed the lack of consultation with the Indigenous community and attempts to insert personal religious beliefs into government documents.
Councillor David Lewis – who earlier this year pushed to replace Christian prayers with more inclusive practices – said it was inappropriate to include a “nod to God” in the formal council documents.
“I appreciate that some people in the room have strong religious views; some people don’t. Some people in the community have strong religious views; some people don’t. I don’t have a view on the existence of God – at least not a concluded one – because I’m not as certain as some may be about matters we can’t know,” he said.
“But, at the end of the day, we are a secular community. We’re not a religious community. I have serious issues, as I expressed it on another occasion, a ‘nod to God’ in documents that are our formal documents in a secular organisation.
“I’d be far more comfortable if we simply did what has been the accepted thing for a number of years – and that is do an Acknowledgement of Country in relation to our Indigenous colleagues, whose existence we are certain of.”
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia.