Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I am pleased to rise to speak on Ms Pennicuik’s motion, which is asking that the Procedure Committee inquire into whether there are alternatives to the daily Lord’s Prayer — the Christian Lord’s Prayer — whether there are other options, and look into what other parliaments and other government organisations are doing both here in Australia and around the world. I have to say, I actually do not think this needs an inquiry; I think we could just vote on it. I would like to see us just go ahead with this motion and simply change the standing orders. I think the fact that we are still saying a daily Christian, episcopalian prayer in the 21st century in Victoria beggars belief. I really think we need to change that. We have seen that being changed around the world, not so much in Australia but certainly in certain places.
The Australian Sex Party has had a policy around supporting the clear and effective separation of church and state. I think that this is integral to our sense of democracy and our sense of equality. When I have been on the hustings or down at train stations or out talking to people, this has been a very popular policy. People do support a clear separation of church and state. They expect us to have it. In fact they are generally surprised when they see the overlaps like saying the Lord’s Prayer in the Parliament in the morning. This principle of separation of religion and state actually safeguards all religions. That is the intention of that constitutional right to a separation of church and state. It is not to stop religion; it is actually to protect all religions so that one does not take precedence over others. This is a clear statement of freedom from religion and freedom of religion.
Our daily prayer clearly breaches that notion. It clearly breaches the secular principle that the church and state should be kept separate. Almost all liberal democracies around the world recognise this, even our own Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities recognises this. It is very clear about the importance of such separation in preserving the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. I must say I sit with Ms Pennicuik outside; I have not actually ever said the Lord’s Prayer in this place. But having it in our standing orders and having government officials reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the outset of government business implies that we are endorsing that faith. It is a clear endorsement of that faith, and it relegates and sets up those who do not adhere to that faith or who do not have any faith or any religious traditions as outsiders. And certainly we actually stand outside while the Lord’s Prayer is recited in this house.
I noted with interest when we were being sworn in the number of new members — it was nearly 50 per cent of us — who chose to take the secular oath rather than put our hand on the Bible. I thought that was a very interesting move that we and many of the new members in here take a secular approach to this job and to the work that we do here. I think it is very important that we take that secular and independent position and approach to the work we do in here.
Bringing up this discussion of prayers before the commencement of Parliament at the moment raises a number of the issues that we are talking about today — for example, religion, where it sits in the public sphere and what its proper role is. We have been seeing this discussion in recent days and in recent months when we have been looking at special religious instruction in schools, looking at the exemptions to our anti-discrimination laws that are awarded and given to religious organisations in this state, looking at the charitable status being granted to bodies whose only reason for being is to promote religion and looking at ensuring that religious organisations are accountable. Certainly, when we are looking at the royal commission into child sexual abuse in the church at the moment, it is clear that we need greater accountability and that we need a greater sense of secularism in society.
When we as a Parliament say a prayer before Parliament, that is not as a private individual. That is not about a private individual saying a prayer. This is about us as a state giving homage to a god or a supernatural being at the centre of one religion.
Section 8, part 2, of our Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, headed ‘Recognition and equality before the law’, states:
(1) Every person has the right to recognition as a person before the law.
(2) Every person has the right to enjoy his or her human rights without discrimination.
(3) Every person is equal before the law and is entitled to the equal protection of the law without discrimination and has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination.
I would say that saying the Lord’s Prayer is discriminatory. It is in breach of our charter. It discriminates against anyone who is non-religious, and it discriminates against people who do not have the same religion. It shows that we are not citizens that are created equal but that some are more equal than others in this place, and they seem to be of the Christian club.
When this has come up in discussions — and I have many dinner party discussions about this — I am told, ‘What about tradition, Fiona? We are built on a Christian tradition. This is our heritage’.
Mr Dalidakis — Judaeo-Christian.
Ms Patten— Judaeo-Christian. Thank you, Mr Dalidakis. While exclusionary behaviour like this might be part of our heritage, it should not be what we take going forward, because if we did, I would not be standing in this Parliament — neither would Ms Pennicuik, Ms Shing, Ms Wooldridge, Ms Lovell, Ms Bath or Ms Symes, because women were not allowed in here. We realise that that type of heritage was not something we wanted to take forward in the 20th and 21st centuries. We also did not want to take forward laws in favour of racial segregation. Yes, they are part of our heritage, but they are not a good part. I do not think that having an exclusive position on one religion in this house is a heritage that we want to take forward.
As an acting president I am pleased that we no longer have to wear wigs in this house. Some of us may look better in wigs; some of us may like to wear them on the weekends.
Ms Patten — I take Mr Melhem’s point. Maybe a wig would be nice; it would keep the sunburn from hurting his head.
The use of the Lord’s Prayer as the daily prayer is a relic of times gone by. By having a single religion and one supernatural being at the centre of this religion, we shut out our obligations to the entirety of our state. Let us not forget — and nor should we; in fact we debated this yesterday — the 50 000 years of heritage that we have prior to Captain Cook arriving here. Those 50 000 years are not a Christian heritage. It is a celebrated heritage, one that we do not celebrate enough. It is one that we passed a law on yesterday to ensure that we keep and maintain that Aboriginal heritage, and we need to do that in this place.
This afternoon the President was mentioning last week’s celebration of Commonwealth Day, which is about inclusion. The theme of Commonwealth Day this year amongst the 53 states of the commonwealth is ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’, and that is what we should be doing here. We should be inclusive, and I feel that the Lord’s Prayer is not inclusive, and it should be. We need to look at a different way of doing it.
I think it is disrespectful that we have a diverse range of people in our community, yet we only serve one particular section of it. We all know about, talk about and celebrate the multiculturalism of our state, our communities and our own electorates. Half of Victorians were either born overseas or have parents who were born overseas. So many of us in this chamber have parents who were born overseas. Victorians come from 200 countries, speak 260 languages and dialects and follow 135 religious faiths. It is outdated for the people who govern this state to start the process of the house every day by giving reverence to one religion. I think it is not only outdated but actually disrespectful.
Ms Pennicuik raised some of the alternatives that are being practised, even in our own state by our local governments. There are a number of other alternatives that we could look at. I wonder what other workplace starts its work day with the Lord’s Prayer. I think it is absolutely fair for people to say the Lord’s Prayer if they want to; I have no problem with that.
There is the notion of having a rotating pledge. I know that a number of governments and state governments, particularly in the United States and some in Canada, have a rotating pledge with a variety of religions and each day something relevant to one religion is given precedence in the morning. There are 135 religions in Victoria. I think the notion of rotating is probably not particularly workable, but it is worth thinking about and worth considering how we reflect and respect not only the wide range of religions that people practise within this chamber but also in the state and in the electorates that we represent.
A moment of silence is one that I know the ACT government does before it opens. I think a moment of silence in this chamber would be a rare and probably quite beautiful thing. During that moment of silence if you wanted to say a prayer and consider a prayer to your god, to your religion, that would be lovely. I think that that is wonderful, and please go ahead. If you wanted to spend that moment reflecting on what you were going to do today, reflecting on how you might work well and on how you are going — —
Ms Patten — The Lord’s Prayer is for one religion. A moment’s reflection could be any religion. If you are a Buddhist, you could consider your religion and how your religion was going to influence the work you did that day. If you believe that the Lord’s Prayer provides you with that reflection and that moment to enable you to work better in the day, fantastic, but I think we should allow for that diversity.
We have started once a week to give an acknowledgement of country. Once a week we acknowledge the 50 000-year heritage that this country has. Frankly my personal belief is that we should be giving that acknowledgement every morning — that is, we should reflect on whose land we are on and acknowledge the elders both past and present of the traditional owners of this land. I would also like a moment’s silence with that, but it will be up to the committee to consider where we would go on this. Sixty per cent of Australians believe that we should be acknowledging our Aboriginal heritage. We do it once a week. I think we could do it on a daily basis. Most of us do it before we speak at any public engagement. I am sure it is said many times a day by many.
Alternatively we could have a civic pledge, something more of a secular pledge. But again, it has the same notion of why we say the Lord’s Prayer, the words of which give solace to the Christians in this house. Personally it does not mean a lot to me. I would find other words that would mean more to me in starting my day.
I noted that the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Mr Patel, said that the Parliament should not be a Christian club, and that is what it is. I could not agree more with him.
In closing I would like to refer to a suggested civic pledge that was drafted by Dr Meredith Doig, president of the Rationalist Society of Australia and Sex Party candidate for the upcoming federal election.
Dr Doig’s draft says:
We come here today to do the business of governing. Members of this Parliament have pledged to improve the quality of this community and are entrusted with doing so.
As we gather, let us remember that though we have differences, we are linked by our common humanity.
We embrace many traditions and represent many demographics. We are Christians, Jews and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, humanists, atheists, rationalists and sceptics, the unaffiliated and the uncertain. We represent many races and nationalities, men and women, young and old, and all in between. We identify as libertarian, liberal, progressive and conservative.
To be sure, we do not agree about everything and we often feel fiercely protective of what we believe. But there is one thing on which we can all agree and that is, the goal of making our community the best it can be. We unite here today with that noble aim and common purpose.
Our meetings should be characterised with a healthy dose of humility and doubt, being receptive to the ideas of others and having the willingness to change our beliefs given good reason, argument and evidence.
Let us not have intellectual arrogance or emotional intransigence. Let us remember that our beliefs inform our actions and, translated into real-world impact, have the potential to help or harm others. So, in the spirit of goodwill and common decency may we always show respect to others, compassion for the needy and integrity in our actions.