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We do have a very different society from what was the case when these sorts of prayers were first read to a chamber under the Westminster system. In Australia, certainly, our society has grown into a multicultural society. It is a society of many religions, many faiths, and many different beliefs about spirituality. I think we would welcome a change of this order because it recognises that there is a quite different society from the one that existed when there was a state religion. The parliament was born, in many ways, out of the leader of that then state religion. Our society has grown and prospered in different directions throughout the old British Commonwealth. The situation in Australia has now come to the point where we can be brave enough, for some, and intelligent enough, I think, to reflect the change in the structure of our society in a simple thing like an announcement in the Assembly about prayer and reflection. That basically summarises some of the issues which I had in mind when considering this matter. This announcement which the Assembly is requested to install in the standing orders will invite people to pray or to reflect on our responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

In the lead-up to this, I think there has been a little bit of hyperbole about the demise of the prayer meaning that it could indicate that there was some intention in the Assembly to end Christianity as we know it. That is an unfair reflection on what is being intended. This is about inclusion rather than exclusion. It is about making sure that all of the community out there are able to consider this announcement as part of their being in this society. I am sure that the ability to pray or to reflect in the way one chooses is an important move in that direction. Take, for example, someone in this place who does not have similar beliefs to those of, say, the Speaker and might be offended by the Speaker preaching the prayer that exists within the standing orders at this point. Indeed, they may be even more offended if they were to know that the Speaker did not believe in the words either. That could be the case if we insist that the Speaker reads these words.

I think it is a far more appropriate course for members to reflect, in their own genuine way, on the job in front of them at the beginning of each sitting. Some will choose to pray, and they will do that in their own way. Some will choose not to. However they reflect, I guess that everybody will reflect differently on the job in front of them in this place. May I say to members that there ought not be a view that this is an attack on Christian values, or any of that sort of thing. It is not an attack on the rights of members to believe in a particular god or not to believe in a particular god. In fact, it is quite the reverse. It invites people to believe in whatever spirituality they so choose.

MR CORNWELL (11.14): Madam Deputy Speaker, the prayer reads:

Almighty God, we humbly ask You to grant Your blessing upon this Assembly. Direct and prosper our deliberations to the advancement of Your glory, and the true welfare of the people of the Australian Capital Territory. Amen.

As Mr Berry rightly pointed out, there was a difference of opinion within the Administration and Procedure Committee about whether the standing orders should be amended to delete that prayer. The argument that was put forward, and I quote from the report of the Administration and Procedure Committee, was that the current prayer “did not reflect all the spiritual groups of the community which they represented”. That is a claim made in the committee’s report.

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