Page 567 - Week 02 - Thursday, 14 February 2013

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I ask that the minister reconsider this motion. The unintended consequences of it risk a breach between us as members of the Assembly and the religious community, which is a very important part of our community. Whether you believe or not, I would hope there is no member here who thinks our multi-faith religious community is not a very important part of our social fabric. Today the minister risks tearing that fabric and damaging the relationship between this place and our religious communities. For those reasons, the Canberra Liberals will not be supporting this motion.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (10.39): I would like to thank Mr Corbell for bringing this motion to the Assembly today, and I would like to indicate that the Greens will be supporting it. We are all aware that this issue has come to the forefront of our minds as a result of the invitation that we received from you, Madam Speaker, inviting us to participate in a church service to “mark the beginning of the Assembly’s parliamentary year”. The invitation was made by you, Mrs Dunne, in your role as Speaker, and in your second letter inviting me to attend and participate you articulated your hope that the church service would “establish a long and lasting link between the Assembly and the many spiritual communities across Canberra”.

I wanted to highlight that point at the start of this debate, as it is clear that the intention of the Speaker was to build a formal relationship between the Assembly and a religious body, one that would be ongoing. I believe that it was the Speaker’s intention for such an event, a church service to mark the beginning of the parliamentary year, to become an ongoing event, repeated at the start of each year.

Of course, my position has been reported in the press, but I will take this opportunity to put on record how I responded to the Speaker’s invitation. I wrote:

As the Assembly is a modern, secular legislature, I feel that the introduction of a religious celebration that is formally connected to the institution would not be appropriate. I would acknowledge that MLAs and members of the community of different faith backgrounds may find it valuable to come together to mark the occasion with a religious service or services, but feel this should be done in a private capacity.

That, in essence, sums up my position on this. There is no place to link a modern, secular legislature to a religious organisation or a religious ceremony.

I think in light of some of the debate that has taken place this morning, it is valuable for me to be clear about what my view and the position that I think this motion puts do not mean. It does not mean that I believe there is no place for religion in people’s lives. It does not mean that I believe that there is no place for religious organisations to have a say in political debate. It does not mean that I, either personally or in my capacity as an MLA, have not attended a religious or spiritual event or that I will not in the future. It does not mean that I do not respect the Speaker’s religious views or the religious views of anyone else in this chamber, just as I would hope that they would respect the values that inform my views in this place. What my position on this motion does mean is that in this territory, where we represent people who follow many different religious faiths, people who follow no faith, people whose values are developed against a variety of backdrops, there is no place to instil a religious doctrine into the practices of the parliament that represents those people.

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