Page 582 - Week 02 - Thursday, 14 February 2013

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faith. They are driving the wedge in the community. They are painting a picture that this motion is about religion and faith. It is about maintaining the secular nature of this Assembly.

It is a very sad day indeed. I find it personally offensive. I find it offensive as a representative of this community—the language that has been thrown across the chamber from those opposite. Madam Speaker, it has been raised too, and it could raise the question, about your office inviting members of the Liberal Party. Did you invite other members as members of the community? I am not quite sure. I, as a member of the Labor Party, did not get an invite. It goes to, I think, ill actions by you in your role as Speaker, and the divide that this continues to cause.

I support the motion. It will put to rest this matter. This is a secular Assembly, and it maintains the rights and freedoms of individuals in their faiths and in their support of faith.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations and Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development) (11.34), in reply: Madam Speaker, I would like to return to where I started, to the words of Professor James Haire from the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, the previous past president of the National Council of Churches in Australia, and a Uniting Church minister. When he was asked about the appropriateness of you, as the Speaker, inviting representatives of a number of faiths to proceed with a Christian service, he said in response, “That doesn’t solve the problem. The point is she is running services. The state is running services. She, representing the Assembly, is running a Christian service. That is not how it works in a liberal democracy.” He was challenged by the presenter, “Vicki Dunne has claimed she is organising services as Speaker, but not on behalf of the Assembly. Does that hold any water for you?” The professor said, “No, none, because she is still Speaker and she is a representative. She is an elected representative. Even more than an MLA she represents the state. For that reason she should not be doing it. It doesn’t happen in the federal parliament.”

That is my argument. That is the argument of my colleagues. There are good reasons why the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate do not auspice, sponsor or organise religious ceremony. Individual members do so. Individual members in their private, personal and individual capacity, as Christian, Muslim or Buddhist or of no faith, make that decision. And they should continue to be allowed to make such decisions.

I am not saying for a moment that any member in this place should not be allowed to go and organise their own personal service, ceremony or other event that professes faith or no faith at all. I have no objection whatsoever. But I do have an objection when the office of Speaker is used to promulgate a religious event, because that is not the job of the Speaker. The Speaker’s job is to represent all of us—those of faith and those of no faith. That is the Speaker’s job, and the Speaker failed in her job when she organised the religious event that occurred last Monday. That is what this motion is about—clear, simple and unambiguous. To suggest otherwise is simply to stir up a sectarian debate which is unhelpful, divisive and unnecessary.

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