The governing body of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has rejected a motion calling on it to intervene in the issue of prayer recitals in local government meetings, but advocates for reform have vowed to continue their fight.
At the State Council meeting of the MAV on Friday, just 25 per cent of delegates supported a motion that would have required the MAV to write to councils advising that it supported the removal of prayer from meetings.
In March, the City of Yarra council submitted the motion for consideration at the MAV State Council, arguing that prayer rituals no longer reflected community expectations, were not inclusive and could be unlawful.
The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) understands that the motion failed due to concerns about the wording and doubts over whether it was the MAV’s role to tell local councils how to run their meetings.
The motion had not been a high priority for the MAV State Council meeting, listed in the Business Paper as motion No. 76 in the section designated for motions “only partially or non-consistent with current MAV priorities and/or relevant to local government”.
In January, 21 councillors from across Victoria sent an open letter to the MAV, the Victorian government, human rights bodies and others, asking for help to remove prayer rituals from council meetings.
Despite the vote, councillor Bridgid O’Brien, who had successfully pushed her City of Yarra to put it on the MAV’s agenda, said it was an “incredibly good result” given the limited preparation time and lobbying of delegates.
Councillor O’Brien told the RSA she would continue to push for the MAV to take action on the issue.
“Absolutely. This is not done and dusted. [The practice of opening meetings with prayers] has to change, in my opinion,” she said.
Councillor O’Brien noted that it had been the MAV that, more than 70 years ago, had written to local councils to urge them to introduce prayer rituals.
In 1948, the Argus newspaper reported that the MAV recommended that councils adopt prayer rituals as part of their meetings.
“It was the MAV that advocated for prayers. So really we’re arguing that this is about righting the wrong of the past,” said Councillor O’Brien.
In Victoria, the state government is expected to soon take action on the issue in parliament, having promised to replace Christian prayers in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council with something “purpose-built” for Victoria.