ACT News


Assembly church services to get axe

Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne has expressed concerns that a motion moved by Attorney General Simon Corbell to ban religious services associated with the Legislative Assembly would make her job as Speaker “increasingly impossible”.

Mr Corbell will table a motion on Thursday that would enforce the Assembly's neutrality on matters of religion, following Mrs Dunne’s controversial church service to mark the beginning of the sitting year on Monday.

If passed, the motion would prevent the Speaker's office from holding church services to mark the start of the ACT political year.

Mrs Dunne told 2CC radio on Thursday morning she was seeking advice from the Clerk of the Assembly on the motion, but she feared it could also restrict individual members from taking part in religious services – including wreath-laying and smoking ceremonies – in their capacity as a member of the Assembly.

“It would make my job as Speaker and the running of the Legislative Assembly increasingly impossible,” Mrs Dunne said.

But Mr Corbell denied the motion would have any effect on individual MLAs professing their religious faith or philosophical perspective.


“All it means is that the Speaker, who, when she is in the office of Speaker acts on behalf of the Assembly, not herself, on behalf of the Assembly, cannot seek to affiliate the Assembly with any particular religious faith or service,” Mr Corbell told 2CC.

Mrs Dunne's multifaith service divided MLAs, with the government and Greens minister Shane Rattenbury boycotting Monday's event.

''If it had been organised as part of a Christian parliamentary group, or even an interfaith parliamentary group it would have been entirely appropriate,'' Mr Corbell said on Wednesday.

''But the difficulty is that Mrs Dunne decided that it was to be organised as a service, which took and was leant authority by it being directly associated with the Assembly itself.''

Mrs Dunne defended the service as an opportunity for the Assembly to connect with the Canberra community. The Canberra Liberals MLA also described the service as an ''initiative of the Speaker's office'' and not of the Assembly.

Monday's service was divisive in the religious community, with the territory's Uniting Church Presbytery not taking part because the ceremony was not ''multifaith enough''.

''The Assembly is a secular institution here to represent all Canberrans regardless of their religious faith belief or philosophical perspective,'' Mr Corbell said. ''What occurred last Monday was wrong, it should not have happened and this motion is designed to make it clear that it should not happen again in that manner.''

Mr Corbell said the motion would acknowledge the Assembly's neutrality and recognise the right of MLAs to profess their personal faith and to organise religious or philosophical activities that were separate from the Assembly. But the Assembly would ''not in any way endorse or be affiliated with any ceremony that involves the adherence or affiliation with any religious faith''.

''It's saying that those functions should not occur with the imprimatur of the Assembly, its offices or its office holders,'' he said.

''The Speaker represents the Assembly and the authority of the Assembly and any action she makes as Speaker carries with it the imprimatur of the Assembly.

''If Mrs Dunne wants to organise a church service as Vicki Dunne, MLA, I have no objection to that and neither do my colleagues.''


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