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Tempers fray over article of faith

Question time at the ACT Assembly. Opposition leader, Jeremy Hanson, far right, with his front bench.

Question time at the ACT Assembly. Opposition leader, Jeremy Hanson, far right, with his front bench. Photo: Graham Tidy

ACT Labor and Greens MLAs have used their numbers to ban the Legislative Assembly from being associated with religious services.

In an ugly debate in the Assembly chamber on Thursday, MLAs from both major parties accused each other of ''extreme'' behaviour while debating a motion brought forward by Attorney-General Simon Corbell.

Mr Corbell tabled the motion to ban the Assembly from being affiliated with religious services after Speaker Vicki Dunne's controversial church service on Monday.

In an hour-long debate, the government accused the Speaker of dividing the Assembly, while Liberal MLAs attacked Mr Corbell's motion as ''discriminatory''.

The opposition also claimed the government's proposal could have ''unintended consequences'' for the Assembly chamber prayer or moment of reflection, Ramadan dinners, smoking ceremonies, public holidays and even Christmas trees.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher accused the opposition of ''running interference'' by claiming the ''sky would fall in'' and said the motion was simply to make the Assembly's position as a secular institution clear.

The motion, carried nine votes to eight, will prevent the Assembly and the Speaker's office from being formally associated with religious ceremonies but will not ban members from holding or attending such functions in their capacity as MLAs.

Mr Corbell told the Assembly Mrs Dunne should have withdrawn from Monday's church service because of the controversy it caused.

''This is about making clear that we do not want you, as the Speaker, to go and organise ceremonies and events that draw a link between this place and any religious or philosophical belief,'' he said.

The Attorney-General said the government was not trying to prevent MLAs from professing their religious faith publicly in the Assembly or in the community.

''It is not about saying that members cannot organise a service or religious ceremony which they believe is appropriate for the conduct of their business as members,'' he said.

''What we are suggesting, Madam Speaker, is that it is not appropriate for you, as the Speaker, to profess to organise, or lend the authority of your office, to a ceremony which is designed to draw a clear link between the authority of your office, the Assembly and a religious ceremony.''

New Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said the government risked ''turning the multi-faith community of the ACT into a political football'' and that the proposal was ''discrimination''.

The opposition also asked if the Attorney-General's motion would prevent Assembly members from taking part in activities organised by religious groups in the Canberra community or stop those groups from holding functions at the Assembly.

Canberra Liberals deputy leader Alistair Coe said the government was trying to ''stifle freedom'' and was ''anti-faith''.

''What does it mean for the Assembly hosting or supporting religious events such as Diwali, Ramadan, Christmas parties, carols by candlelight, Christmas trees and others?'' he said.

But the government accused the opposition of ''hysteria'' and said the motion made it clear such activities would not be affected.

34 comments

  • Congratulations. This is the best thing the Labor party has achieved in its time in government.

    Commenter
    Mike
    Date and time
    February 14, 2013, 12:49PM
    • Firstly as I assumed we are still a christian society,IE: we have not had our heads turned as yet, what has it got to do with Corbell if people want to or don't want to attend this service, and Secondly where does a person who gained only 1909 primary votes at the ACT elections get the authority to move any legislation at all.
      ACT Green Labor, lord give me strength.

      Commenter
      MIKE the HAMMER
      Location
      ACT
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 12:55PM
      • "Firstly as I assumed we are still a christian society"

        No we are NOT a Christian society and never have been. Australia is a secular society. Section 116 of the Constitution says so.

        Commenter
        Meanwhile
        Location
        in the real world
        Date and time
        February 14, 2013, 5:10PM
    • Excellent move by the ALP and Greens - thank you. There should be no room in the Assembly for religious mumbo jumbo from the magic wizard in the sky!

      Commenter
      JD
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 12:56PM
      • Now to bring on taxing religious institutions same as every other business, and making religious organisation donations to the government also freely available information too.That way the poor are being supported in taxes raised from the church, i am sure these institutions would be glad to see thei $ being spent on the poor and needy in society rather than sitting in collateral somewhere.?

        Commenter
        Dee
        Location
        NSW
        Date and time
        February 14, 2013, 1:03PM
        • It's no wonder they need more Members in the Legislative Assembly; the ones we have (on either side) aren't actually doing what they've been elected to do.

          MLAs, Please save the petty partisan bickering, and controversy-seeking rubbish for your retirement (or electorate-driven removal from office).

          Commenter
          twentytwenty
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          February 14, 2013, 1:13PM
          • Wouldn't this be against the law and the constitutions of freedom of association along political and religious grounds? Isn't this discrimination? I hope the assembly doesn't align themselves with any organised activities outside the chamber such as environmental gatherings etc.

            Commenter
            Tony of Kureelpa
            Date and time
            February 14, 2013, 1:20PM
            • "Wouldn't this be against the law and the constitutions of freedom of association along political and religious grounds?"

              No, this is actually supported by the Constitution. Section 116 to be precise. It precludes the "imposing any religious observance" which the Speaker tried to do.

              Commenter
              Meanwhile
              Location
              in the real world
              Date and time
              February 14, 2013, 5:15PM
          • Greens MLAs??? Isn't there only one left standing after the last election? Hilarious to see the Labor Government getting its bang for its big bucks! Rattenbury is obliged to vote with the Government as has been bought and paid for by them - so much for democracy.

            Commenter
            Bronte
            Location
            Belconnen
            Date and time
            February 14, 2013, 1:26PM
            • never ever will I vote Labor.............remember freedom of choice, you just took that away!

              Commenter
              tara
              Date and time
              February 14, 2013, 1:32PM

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