Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says Labor MLAs will not take part in the ceremony as a matter of principal.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says Labor MLAs will not take part in the ceremony as a matter of principle. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Religious tension between the ACT’s Chief Minister and the Speaker of the Assembly has escalated nearly three weeks before the chamber is first due to sit.

Liberals’ speaker Vicki Dunne has become more insistent that Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and her Labor MLAs join in a church service to mark the beginning of the new Assembly on February 11.

But Ms Gallagher is insisting ‘‘as a matter of principle’’ that she and her colleagues will not take part in the ceremony.

Liberal Vicki Dunne wants all MLAs to attend a church service to mark the beginning of the new Assembly.

Liberal Vicki Dunne wants all MLAs to attend a church service to mark the beginning of the new Assembly. Photo: Colleen Petch

Mrs Dunne wrote to the Chief Minister last week asking her again to attend the service and to join a procession at the beginning of the ceremony and address the congregation.

‘‘Notwithstanding the Labor Party’s stance on the issue, I still am pleased to invite you, as the territory’s Chief Minister, to attend and participate in the service,’’ Mrs Dunne said in her letter.

‘‘Firstly, I invite you to walk with me in the procession at the commencement and in the recession at the conclusion of the service.

‘‘Secondly, I invite you to speak to offer a greeting to the gathering. I would appreciate your co-operation by keeping the greeting to about 300 words.’’

Mrs Dunne said the service would be conducted according to Christian liturgy, but she would invite representatives from the ‘‘broader spiritual community’’ to the event.

‘‘I hope this church service will establish a strong and lasting link between the Assembly and the many spiritual communities across Canberra,’’ Mrs Dunne’s letter said.

In her reply, Ms Gallagher reiterated the government’s position that ‘‘as a matter of principle, we are opposed to creating a formal nexus between religious worship and the Legislative Assembly.”

The Chief Minister said Canberra had been well served by the secular basis of the Assembly.

‘‘I therefore advise that I will not be accepting your invitation to attend and participate in the service, but I wish you all the best for the day.’’

Ms Gallagher said on Tuesday that the ceremony could be seen as the beginning of a formal link between the Assembly and the church if she attended. ‘‘‘I don’t want to appear churlish or disrespectful, my declining of the invitation is to make sure we keep the Assembly as the secular institution it has always been.

‘‘If that is to change it should be done by a vote of the Assembly, not a day that was organised by the Speaker.’’

Mrs Dunne confirmed that the ceremony would go ahead whether the Chief Minister attended.

‘‘As is completely proper I extended an invitation to the Chief Minister,’’ she said.

‘‘Whether the Chief Minister decides to attend this community event or not is completely her decision.’’