Vicki Dunne  asks a question during question time in the Legislative Assembly.

Liberals MLA and Speaker Vicki Dunne. Photo: Gary Schafer

The new Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has lashed out at “stirrers” who have made her planned start-of-term religious ceremony a “divisive” political issue, but is adamant the service will go ahead.

Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne, who was elected to the position of Speaker after last year’s territory election, was responding to revelations in The Canberra Times that the Clerk and other members of the Assembly’s support staff would not attend the ceremony due to concerns about perceived impartiality.

Ms Dunne accused people of wanting to “stir up” trouble by turning her proposed ceremony into a political football.

“Because it has become such a publicly controversial thing for some people in the Assembly and for The Canberra Times, whether staff attend or not attend they will be seen to be partial, and I resent the fact that impartial staff in the Legislative Assembly who were given an invitation as a matter of courtesy should be put in this position,” Ms Dunne told ABC radio on Friday morning.

“As with all of these things, I consider it entirely uncontroversial if somebody accepts or declines.”

Ms Dunne accused The Canberra Times of using “confidential” conversations with Clerk of the Assembly Tom Duncan, who said he would not accept Ms Dunne’s invitation, in a “divisive way”.

She also expressed disappointment that the Labor caucus had taken a collective view of the religious ceremony, rather than allowing individual MLAs to make up their own mind about whether or not to attend.

“I did express the view that I was concerned that there were possibly members of the Labor caucus who may have attended,” Ms Dunne said.

But Ms Dunne was adamant the service – which now looks as though it could be attended by just Ms Dunne and her several Liberal colleagues – would be going ahead.

“I will not be withdrawing my invitation, I will not be cancelling.”

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher told ABC radio that members of the Assembly were free to attend religious ceremonies, and had done so “a number of times”.

Ms Gallagher said the issue was Ms Dunne had arranged the ceremony “under the auspice of the Assembly”, which Ms Gallagher said created a formal link between a Christian-based service and the legislature.

“My job is to represent all of the people of the ACT, it’s to do so regardless of what their faith is or whether they have a faith, and this creates a formal nexus between the Church and the Parliament, and I don’t agree that that is the right thing to do, and that is why I won’t be attending,” Ms Gallagher said.

“I think it’s very, very unfortunately that it’s turned into what looks like an unseemly brawl,” Ms Gallagher said.

The ceremony is planned for February 10, the day before the first sitting of 2013.