MPs bid to ban prayer in Parliament
Following unsuccessful recent moves in New South Wales, Tasmania's Upper House could break with a 73-year tradition and abolish the reading of prayers before each parliamentary session.
In their place it is suggested that the Legislative Council open with an acknowledgement of Aboriginal communities as the original owners of the land on which Parliament House sits.
The Hobart Mercury reports that the move is part of a push for the conservative House to modernise its practices and be more reflective of a multicultural society.
Informal discussions have been held on whether the reading of the Lord's Prayer and a separate preamble prayer ought to be replaced with a minute's silent reflection.
It is believed no other parliament in Australia has a recognition of Aboriginal communities as a formal part of its standing orders.
However, community groups and local councils increasingly open their proceedings with words such as "We acknowledge the [Aboriginal] community as being the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we are standing".
Under current arrangements, the Upper House starts each parliamentary day with a preamble prayer which reads: "Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy blessing upon this Parliament. Direct and prosper our deliberations to the advancement of Thy glory and the true welfare of the people of Tasmania."
The House then concludes with the Lord's Prayer.
Both Tasmania's Legislative Council and House of Assembly have opened their parliamentary days with these prayers since 1930.
The Lower House is not believed to be considering a similar move.
Meanwhile in NSW, the Legislative Council has resoundingly defeated 30-7 a move by Greens MP Lee Rhiannon to abolish the saying of the Lord's Prayer before each sitting of Parliament.
Ms Rhiannon told the Parliament Australians no longer live in a Christian-dominated society.
NSW Liberal MP David Clarke, a Catholic, said he would never vote to abolish the opening prayer in Parliament.
"Australia is a Christian nation," he said. "Australian society is based on Christian values and on Christian principles. We have nothing to be ashamed of in stating that. We have nothing to be ashamed of in our Christian heritage and Christian achievements.
The Parliament of Tasmania
Greens move to end NSW Parliament prayers (3/9/03)
25 Sep 2003