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Uniting Church boycotts opening

Vicki Dunne.

Vicki Dunne. Photo: Supplied

Canberra's Uniting Church presbytery has refused to attend Vicki Dunne's controversial church service for the start of the Legislative Assembly year because it is ''not multi-faith enough'' and too politically divisive.

And in what has been described as ''an oversight'', the Canberra Liberals Speaker did not invite the chair of Canberra's Interfaith Forum to the service, which will be held at St Paul's in Manuka on Monday.

The Canberra Liberals have also come under fire for emailing invitations to party members on Friday night asking them to attend the ceremony.

The church service has divided the Assembly's MLAs, with Labor MLAs and Greens minister Shane Rattenbury refusing to attend.

Mrs Dunne has staunchly defended the service, which has not previously been a tradition for the start of an ACT political year, as a chance for the Assembly to connect with the Canberra community.

The Speaker said the service would run according to Christian liturgy but representatives of other faiths, including Canberra's Bahai, Tibetan Buddhist and Jewish communities, had agreed to take part.

But Reverend Kevin Dilks, secretary of the Uniting Church Canberra Region Presbytery, said the presbytery had declined the invitation because the multi-faith aspects of the service had not been ''clearly evidenced'' by Mrs Dunne.

He said individual Uniting Church ministers were still free to attend. ''The other [reason we declined] had to do with the fact it was becoming a political football,'' he said.

''We'd certainly be happy to be part of some event that acknowledged the full diversity of our community and had the full support of the Assembly.''

Mrs Dunne said about 350 invitations had been sent to MLAs, community members and religious organisations, as well as to embassies and high commissions, about 15 of which would attend.

But Dean Sahu Khan, the chairman of Canberra's peak body for

promoting interfaith dialogue, the Canberra Interfaith Forum, said he had not received an invitation.

''I could have represented the Canberra interfaith community and I wasn't invited and I'm disappointed,'' Mr Sahu Khan said.

''This was one place where we could have promoted interfaith dialogue.''

Mrs Dunne said it was ''an oversight'' and the interfaith forum had not been deliberately excluded. Mr Sahu Khan was ''certainly welcome to attend''. Meanwhile the government criticised the Canberra Liberals for emailing invitations on Friday night to the service to the ACT party membership.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said Mrs Dunne was ''abusing'' the role of Speaker. ''It does make us start to question her role as Speaker,'' Ms Gallagher said.

''One thing is that she has politicised her role as Speaker and the other is that it's purporting to be an Assembly service when it's clearly not.''

But Mrs Dunne said the service was not an initiative of the Assembly. ''It isn't an initiative of the Assembly, it's an initiative of the Speaker and I took the view from the outset that people could come or not according to their own lights and I haven't changed that view,'' she said.

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