South Australian Premier has “no intentions” to address prayer issue

Si Gladman / 23 August 2023

South Australian Labor Premier Peter Malinauskas’ office has told the Rationalist Society of Australia that the government has no intention of changing the state parliament’s procedures that mandate daily Christian worship.

In a letter received last week, the Premier’s office told the RSA that Mr Malinauskas was focused on delivering his policy agenda and “setting up our state for a better future for all South Australians”.

“At this stage, the Government has no intentions to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly or Legislative Council,” the letter said.

The Standing Orders of the chambers require the reading of Christian prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, at the opening of each day.

The RSA wrote to the Premier and the presiding officers of the parliament urging them to “lead the way” in making the state’s institutions more inclusive, welcoming and reflective of modern society by replacing exclusionary daily prayer rituals with more welcoming and inclusive practices.

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig had pointed to the ongoing controversy at Adelaide City Council over the prayer as a demonstration of the divisive nature of the issue.

She also noted that, according to the 2021 Census, 46 per cent of South Australians now identified as not religious, while another 8 per cent were of non-Christian faith backgrounds.

On Tuesday, Adelaide City Council voted 6-5 to formally replace Christian prayers with a secular pledge. But, according to InDaily today, Christian Councillor Henry Davis is now threatening legal action over the decision.

Last week, Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith – a former state Labor minister – told a council committee meeting that separation of church and state was a “long-standing tradition” in Australia and argued it was “entirely unacceptable” for council to direct members of staff to say prayers.

“Which workplace in Australia would force an employee to read a prayer? It’s unconscionable,” she said.

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig welcomed Dr Lomax-Smith’s stand in support of secularism.

“We’re disappointed with Premier Malinauskas’ response. We hope to see Labor members now advocate within the government for replacing prayer rituals with secular and more inclusive practices that better reflect the diversity of the South Australian community,” she said.

“We’ll be writing to all Labor MPs in the state parliament to urge them to advocate for this reform.”

Last year, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Dan Cregan, told the RSA that there were “no present plans” to amend the chamber’s Standing Orders to remove prayers. Within a matter of weeks, Premier Malinauskas made changes to the Standing Orders to formally include an Acknowledgement of Country and Traditional Owners as part of the opening ritual.

In early November, upper house member Robert Simms said there was a growing “mood for change” across the country and vowed to pursue the issue in the current term of parliament.

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Si Gladman is Campaign & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

Image: Peter Malinauskas (Facebook)

Letter from the Office of the Premier, 16 August 2023

Good afternoon

Thank you for taking the time to write and share your views about parliamentary procedures.  

At this stage, the Government has no intentions to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly or Legislative Council.

The Premier’s focus is squarely on delivering the ambitious policy agenda the Malinauskas Government committed to at the March 2022 election, and setting up our state for a better future for all South Australians.

Thank you again for writing.

Yours sincerely

Office of the Premier of South Australia

All the more reason.