Assembly Speaker Vicki Dunne. Photo: Colleen Petch
The ACT's politicians are divided along religious lines over a plan for a church service marking the beginning of the next Legislative Assembly year.
Assembly Speaker Vicki Dunne has accused Chief Minister Katy Gallagher of suggesting ''people of faith are not important'' after Ms Gallagher refused to support a Christian commencement ceremony at the start of the first sitting week in February.
But Ms Gallagher said Labor MLAs would not support the service, to be held at St Paul's in Manuka, because they wanted to maintain the secular approach of the ACT Assembly.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
While there are other jurisdictions that mark the beginning of a new parliamentary year with a church service, the ACT has no such tradition.
Mrs Dunne planned the service after meeting with the Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Stuart Robinson, and wrote to Ms Gallagher suggesting an Assembly committee be established for the event, which Mrs Dunne would chair. The Speaker said the service was open to Canberrans of all faiths.
''A service of Christian liturgy will be prepared and I will be inviting leaders across Christian denominations as well as leaders of other faiths to participate in the service through procession and an offering of greeting from their communities,'' Mrs Dunne's letter said.
But Ms Gallagher replied that the Labor caucus supported people of all faiths having the freedom to practise their beliefs and rituals and, for that reason, was not in favour of a service that could be seen to advocate for one faith over others.
Ms Gallagher said the government was also opposed, as a matter of principle, to ''creating a formal nexus between religious worship and the Legislative Assembly''.
''Should the Assembly actually be presented with an opportunity to express its view on this matter, I can confirm that the Labor MLAs would not support it or any other attempt to alter the secular character of our Legislative Assembly,'' she said.
But Mrs Dunne said on Friday the ceremony was an attempt to make the Legislative Assembly more accessible for the Canberra community.
''It's not a great liturgy,'' she said. ''It's a time to come together and pray and reflect on the work done by the Legislative Assembly.''