Federal MPs and senators representing Canberrans should take inspiration from the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly and advocate for more modern and inclusive practices in the new parliament.
The Rationalist Society of Australia has written to the ACT’s two senators, Katy Gallagher and David Pocock, and three MPs, Andrew Leigh, Alicia Payne and David Smith, to urge them to advocate for replacing Christian prayers with a moment of silent reflection.
In the 1990s, the ACT Legislative Assembly became the first – and only – state or territory parliament to introduce the practice of asking its members to reflect or pray in silence at the opening of its daily proceedings.
In her letter, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig said the ACT’s model provided a good example of how the chambers of the Australian Parliament could begin their daily work in a more modern and inclusive way.
“We believe the Australian Parliament should be similarly secular – that is, it should treat religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs equally, privileging no particular religion,” she said.
Dr Doig noted that the ACT was one of the most diverse communities in Australia and one of the least religious. According to the 2021 census, 44.2 per cent of people in the ACT said they did not have a religion, a figure well above the national result of 38.9 per cent.
She also noted that the current ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, has publicly urged other parliaments to replicate the ACT’s model. In 2020, Mr Barr told the National Secular Lobby: “The ACT Legislative Assembly has proved that it is possible to reflect the diversity of our community through the reflection opportunity.”
In her letter to Labor’s Senator Gallagher, Dr Doig noted that Senator Gallagher had first-hand experience of the reflection model having previously been the Chief Minister of the ACT. Last week, Senator Gallgher told The Australian she was not religious but that the prayer was “very much part of Senate tradition” and there was “a clear view the Lord’s Prayer is to stay”.
“We have since received a deeply reflective and considered response from Senator Gallagher. And we are grateful for her taking the time to write to us,” said Dr Doig.
“We hope that all the senators and MPs from the ACT will now take inspiration from the ACT Legislative Assembly and work with their colleagues to modernise the Australian Parliament’s opening procedures.”
The controversy over the recital of the Lord’s Prayer has re-ignited following comments from the new President of the Senate, Sue Lines, that she would like to see the practice changed.
In the past week, Civil Liberties Australia has written to the new Speaker, Milton Dick, and President Lines to urge the House of Representatives and the Senate to adopt a more inclusive opening ritual.
More than 6,200 people have signed Dr Doig’s petition calling for prayers to be replaced with something more inclusive.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Photo: Katy Gallagher (Facebook)