A senior Labor minister in the McGowan government has opened the door for a challenge to the imposition of Christian prayers as part of formal parliamentary proceedings in the West Australian upper house.
Earlier this month, Alannah MacTiernan said she would be “onside” if one of her parliamentary colleagues in the Legislative Council wanted to pursue the issue.
MacTiernan, who is Regional Development and Agriculture minister, made the comment while Brian Walker MLC was expressing his concern to the chamber that a review into the Standing Orders had ignored the daily prayers.
The Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Procedure & Privileges was tasked with reviewing Standing Orders with the view to ‘modernise’ them. However, as we reported earlier this month, the committee has recommended continuing with the creationist Christian prayer ritual.
Dr Walker, representing the Legalise Cannabis Party, appears to have been the only member of the Legislative Council to have raised the matter during the committee’s three-month inquiry.
In his speech to parliament on the committee’s report, Dr Walker said: “…in the context of modernising, and in a multicultural society, I would have at least expected we had discussed the prayers in this house.”
Minister MacTiernan, interjected in support of Dr Walker, saying: “I think you should move that as a separate item at some point. You would have me onside.”
Vicki Caulfied, the Rationalist Society of Australia’s spokesperson in Western Australia, has written to both Minister MacTiernan (see letter below) and Dr Walker to urge them to work together to remove the exclusionary Christian prayer and replace it with something more inclusive and welcoming of all West Australians.
The current Standing Orders require that, at the start of each day’s proceedings, the Presiding Officer reads aloud Christian prayers before elected representatives can get on with their jobs.
The first part of the prayer calls on “Almighty God, creator of the universe, giver of life…” to bless the Legislative Council’s work. It also commits the elected members to make decisions “always to the advancement of Thy glory” before then reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
In the letter to Minister MacTiernan, Ms Caulfield noted that Labor, with an overwhelming majority in both houses of parliament, could easily replace the prayer with something more inclusive.
“If Labor values inclusivity and diversity, and respects the right of Australians to also enjoy freedom from religion, not just freedom of religion, we encourage the government to remove this exclusionary and discriminatory practice from the parliament,” she wrote.
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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Image: Alannah MacTiernan (Facebook)
RSA letter to Minister MacTiernan, 1 October 2021
Dear Minister MacTiernan,
I’m writing to you on behalf of the Rationalist Society of Australia. We are the oldest freethought group in Australia promoting secularism and evidence-based policy making.
We are writing to ask whether you will help lead an effort to replace the exclusionary prayer ritual in the Legislative Council with something more inclusive and welcoming of all West Australians, regardless of their personal faith or lack thereof.
We note that, on 9 September this year, Dr Brian Walker MLC had questioned why the Standing Committee on Procedure & Privileges had not examined the prayer ritual as part of its review into the Standing Orders.
According to Hansard, you said during his speech: “I think you should move that as a separate item at some point. You would have me onside.”
As we have said before, if the parliament retained the creationist Christian prayer, it would be a missed opportunity for it to modernise so as to better reflect the diversity of the people of Western Australia. Parliament should not favour religion over non-religion and should not have a favoured religion.
We would be pleased to hear whether you and Dr Walker could work together to propose a new and more inclusive opening ritual in the Legislative Council. With Labor having the overwhelming majority in state parliament, your government could easily replace the prayer in both chambers.
If Labor values inclusivity and diversity, and respects the right of Australians to also enjoy freedom from religion, not just freedom of religion, we encourage the government to remove this exclusionary and discriminatory practice from the parliament.
Spokesperson, Western Australia
Rationalist Society of Australia