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Matter of interest: Removing the Lord's Prayer from Parliament

2 November 2022

 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The matter I rise to speak on this afternoon will be important to all those who believe that this parliament should be inclusive and representative of our community—that is, the status of the Lord's Prayer in our parliamentary sessions. It is my view that this should be abolished in favour of a non-denominational statement.

Tradition is important in this place. Many of the rules and traditions we observe ensure that the business of the parliament runs smoothly, and they are essential to the maintenance of our democratic institutions, but others are in need of urgent review or replacement. I submit to you that reciting the Lord's Prayer at the start of every parliamentary sitting is an anachronism that serves no democratic purpose.

Fundamentally, our parliament is a workplace. There are few other workplaces in our state or indeed our nation that begin their working day with a mandatory prayer. Indeed, prior to joining this parliament I worked in the university sector. I did not have to stand at my desk and recite the Christian prayer before getting into the business of the day or turning my mind to my emails. It really is out of step with community expectations in 21stcentury South Australia.

This tradition simply serves to alienate the parliament and parliamentarians from the community that we seek to represent. The Lord's Prayer has been part of procedures of this parliament, I understand, since 1918, but South Australian society has changed considerably since then. According to the latest census, more people in our state now identify with no religion than with the Christian faith. Indeed, almost 46 per cent of our population identify as holding no religious view versus 40 per cent of those who identify as being Christian. A further 7.8 per cent identify with other religions.

Given our duty to serve the interests of all South Australians, why on earth do we begin our parliamentary session with a prayer that is associated with the religion not observed by a majority of our constituents? As well as being out of step with community opinion, the practice fails to reflect the diversity of this parliament itself. Parliament, like society, should respect various faiths and various perspectives. Why, as an atheist, should I be required to recite a prayer that does not reflect my values or reflect my worldview? Other jurisdictions around Australia have considered secular pledges or statements as alternatives that cause members of parliament to reflect on our vital role—a role that is fundamental to our democracy. I believe, Madam Acting President, it is time for South Australia to join those other jurisdictions.

This is not the first time that this matter has been raised in this place. I note that back in 1986 the then President of the Legislative Council, Anne Levy, who I must say is a truly wonderful South Australian, said that she would consider it inappropriate for her to read the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of each day because of her personal beliefs. It was suggested by some in debate at that time—and Hansard reflects this—that the standing orders should not be amended to allow someone else to read the prayer in the President's place, because she should have known that this was part of her responsibilities when she assumed the office of President of this chamber.

It is a very curious thing to compel members of parliament to observe religious traditions that they may or may not share in our democracy. Across the country, there is growing mood for change on this issue. Indeed, a change.org petition has more than 6,000 signatures to date. In New South Wales, my Green's colleagues are leading the charge for change. In Tasmania, Central Coast Council has recently abandoned the prayer, and South Gippsland Shire Council voted to replace prayers with a secular statement, while in Mildura their council has developed a more inclusive affirmation. Surely it is now time for our parliament to better reflect the diversity of our community. This is a matter that I intend to pursue during this term of parliament, so watch this space.