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Bible . . Page.. 699 ..

I was interested to hear Mr Cornwell say that in Sri Lanka there was so much disagreement amongst the people that they could not find a prayer that they were happy with as a group. That, to me, is very typical of the power struggles in organised religion that have occurred throughout history. It is one of the reasons why I am personally concerned about the power of organised religion and the intolerance that results from organised religion. So, I do not accept Mr Cornwell's suggestion that this prayer is appropriate. I am sorry; I do think this prayer is distinctly Christian in its nature. I was subjected to Christian prayers every morning for a long time when I was at boarding school. I know the flavour of them. Then, as now, I see the hypocrisy of what occurs within the parameters of religions.

I am very interested in the proposition that people have the opportunity to pray in the manner which they see to be appropriate. That is why I put this proposal that we all have the right to pray or to reflect in silence. I think it is worthwhile making a heartfelt commitment every morning to the people of the ACT in the work that we do in this place, but I think that Australia at this time is more religiously and spiritually diverse than it has ever been and it is not appropriate that we insist on a particular type of prayer. There are certain spiritual groups who have more than one god as well. You are actually praying to only one god in this prayer. We would support the right of a Muslim to turn to Mecca at the opening of the Assembly, or of Hindus to make an offering. It is quite appropriate for people to express their own spirituality however they wish. We do not think the Assembly has the right to force any member or, indeed, the community to take part in any prayer that may, at best, be irrelevant to their beliefs, and, at worst, offensive.

The prayer makes reference to working for the true welfare of the people of Canberra. I believe that that is a fundamental part of our role here, and I would include those thoughts in my personal reflections. It seems to me that people supporting the status quo are intent on disallowing others who may not share their beliefs the right to reflect on what is important to them. The argument about tradition is a spurious one. When we were sworn into this Assembly we had a choice of swearing on the Bible in swearing allegiance to the Queen. What use is there in swearing allegiance to institutions one has no special belief in? It simply makes a mockery of the process. Members of this place should be required to make a commitment to the people of Canberra based on their own beliefs, not upon beliefs that are irrelevant to them. Traditions have value only if they have relevance. I respect the beliefs of all members of this place. I have listened to Mr Cornwell and I certainly respect his beliefs, and I would ask all members of this place to respect my beliefs as well. If members want to keep this prayer, they should say it to themselves. I support this motion of Mr Berry's and I hope that the Assembly will vote for it.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (11.29): Madam Deputy Speaker, I have heard this motion described as brave and intelligent. I do not think there is anything brave or intelligent about tearing down a very old tradition in the Westminster parliamentary system and putting in its place something which is fairly pointless and meaningless, with great respect. The overwhelming emotion that I notice with this motion being passed - and obviously it will be passed - is simply one of sadness. I think it is quite wrong to suggest that by leading the Assembly in prayer the Speaker of the Assembly is preaching, as was suggested by Mr Berry. I think that the reciting of a prayer, the reciting of almost

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