Page 571 - Week 02 - Thursday, 14 February 2013
me—probably at least two letters from me and perhaps three letters from Madam Speaker—despite other members of this place raising concerns about the religious service proceeding and despite a majority of members expressing concern about that and concern with the way in which it had been organised, the presiding officer chose to continue.
I also had concerns around public servants being invited to attend and then having to RSVP to the Speaker’s office. I felt that that did place public servants in a very difficult position and was an unusual step to take in facilitating this service. And that was after concerns had been raised about the presiding officer of this parliament hosting and running a religious service for the commencement of the Assembly sitting year.
I also was concerned that the Speaker, the presiding officer of the parliament, or her office emailed the invitation as Madam Speaker to the membership of the Canberra Liberal Party. Again, I do not think that reflects well on the parliament and I think, in what was becoming a politicised debate, added weight to that in quite an unfortunate way. From my point of view, this should never have got to this point but I think the persistence that was shown and, to some extent, the ignoring of the concerns that were raised by other members of this place, and raised clearly, meant that we, as members of this place, had to take this step.
But I do want to be clear that this has nothing to do with hosting Ramadan dinners or attending religious events. I have already attended probably three or four this year in my role as Chief Minister and I will continue to do so. The only thing this motion does is stop and seek to prevent the Assembly, as an institution, being formally linked with a religious service, in this case, at the commencement of the Assembly sitting year. I think it is important that we clarify it.
I hope that the comments made in the debate clarify the concerns that have been expressed by members who are against this motion but are supportive of a religious service. I hope that clarifies it and really we should pass this motion and lay to rest once and for all what has been, I think, quite an unseemly debate for the Assembly. For members who choose to follow particular faiths, to attend particular faith ceremonies, indeed, to host them as individual members, this motion does not seek to impinge on your role to do that. But as an institution, yes, it does. The Assembly is secular. It should remain secular and that is why this motion has been moved today.
MR COE (Ginninderra) (10.56): I am very concerned about the motion on the table today. I am concerned about the intended and unintended consequences of the government’s proposal. If passed by the Assembly, I believe it would severely damage freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of worship. What the government is proposing is wrong. In my maiden speech I said:
Whilst I firmly believe in the separation of church and state, I recognise the importance that faith plays in many of our lives, and it is a real disservice to free speech when some of the more strident people in politics attempt to sneer at those who have Christian conviction, or to argue that they should be shunted to the fringes of any policy debate.