By RACHEL BAXENDALE, VICTORIAN POLITICAL REPORTER 📷 CREDIT: TIM CARRAFA
Daniel Andrews says a “multi-faith moment at the beginning of the parliamentary day” may offer a better reflection of modern, multicultural Victoria than the Lord’s Prayer, backing a move by his Special Minister of State to consider scrapping the century-old tradition or add prayers from other faiths alongside it.
Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings today referred the matter to an upper house committee of review, following calls from Reason Party leader Fiona Patten and the Greens to end a tradition Coalition MPs have defended as an important part of our Judaeo-Christian heritage and the Westminster system.
“There’s a proposal to have a look at whether a number of different prayers from different faith traditions might be a more appropriate way to begin the parliamentary day,” the Premier, who is a practising Catholic, said today.
“If that was something that had bipartisan support or support across the political divide, then we’d be happy to look at that, but it should be done in a respectful way.
“I think that some traditions are worth valuing. At the same time though, we do live in a multi-faith community.
“If it were a multi-faith moment at the beginning of the parliamentary day, perhaps that would be more reflective of what modern Victoria looks like.”
‘Major step forward’: Patten
Ms Patten welcomed the move as a “major step forward” for those who wished to see further separation of church and state in parliament and recognition of Victoria’s 153 religions.
“It’s high time we found an alternative, such as moving the acknowledgement of country to the opening of parliament every day,” Ms Patten said.
“Victoria is built on diversity and multiculturalism. This is a secular society and most religious people I speak to are surprised to find out that this is how we start every day here.
“Removing the Lord’s Prayer is a nod to how diverse the Victorian Parliament is.”
Prayer ‘an important part of our Westminster tradition’: Coalition
Liberal frontbencher David Davis said he supported the Lord’s Prayer remaining part of the parliamentary standing orders.
“It’s a very important part of our history. It’s a very important reflection of the Judaeo-Christian tradition that’s very much part of our history, and part of our Westminster parliamentary tradition too,” Mr Davis said.
State parliament has opened each sitting day since 1918 with the prayer, but in recent years has also recited an indigenous acknowledgement of country.
Conservative Liberal MP Bernie Finn has controversially refused to stand for the acknowledgment.
Replacing the prayer with the acknowledgment or silent reflection — as practised in the ACT Legislative Assembly — has been mooted as an option.
The issue last flared in Victoria in 2015 when Greens MPs Ellen Sandell and Sam Hibbins were criticised for entering the chamber once the prayer had finished.
The Lord’s Prayer is recited in federal parliament and every other state and territory parliament except the ACT.
At the federal level, a Senate inquiry last year rejected a Greens-led push to dump the prayer from the start of upper house proceedings.
Victoria has the highest rate (10.6 per cent) of affiliation with a religion other than Christianity, according to 2016 Census data.
But Christianity (47.9 per cent) is the most common religion in the state, while 32.1 per cent of Victorians have no religious affiliation.
Prayer ‘helps direct our thoughts to the greater good’: Sustainable Australia
Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes said he believed a prayer at the beginning of the parliamentary week helped focus MPs attentions on “the greater good”.
“I think that there should be some sort of prayer. I think if they’re going to replace the Lord’s Prayer, which I’m not particularly pushing for … I think we should consider another prayer which should be suitable to all faiths,” Mr Hayes said.
“I don’t think that (Parliament) is a holy place, but I think that we all come in there concerned about our own matters and think they’re very important, but when we stand and reflect for a minute about society’s needs on a wider basis, I think something like that helps direct our thoughts to the greater good.”
Catholic Labor MPs supportive of including other faiths
Corrections Minister Ben Carroll said that as a Catholic, he had no problem with the Lord’s Prayer, but was also open to including prayers from other faiths.
“We live in a democracy. I’m in favour of keeping it,” Mr Carroll said.
“I’m also open to other religions and whatever the parliament chooses to go with.
“I would certainly support rotating different faith groups.”
Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz, a Maronite Catholic, said she also supported the Lord’s Prayer but was open to introducing additional prayers from other traditions.
“We have one of the most diverse parliaments, and it’s something that I’m extremely proud of, and if we need to share other prayers and recognise other religions or other traditions I’m more than happy to consider that,” Ms Kairouz said.