Labor has vowed to axe the century-old tradition of reciting the Lord’s Prayer in State Parliament if re-elected, after striking an 11th-hour deal with a crossbench MP to put off a vote on the contentious matter.
Upper house MPs debated a motion to remove the prayer, which has been said at the start of each sitting day since 1918, in Parliament on Wednesday.
The Lord’s Prayer is said each day in the Victorian Parliament.Credit:Michael Clayton-Jones
The push was led by Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, who wants the prayer scrapped in favour of a Welcome to Country and moment of silence for politicians to reflect on their responsibilities to the people of Victoria.
Ahead of the debate, Ms Patten said removing the prayer would “heal division in the community”.
Several crossbench MPs spoke in support of the motion, but Ms Patten failed to win the backing of the major parties to ditch the prayer.
Several Labor MPs who personally supported the reform told The Age they were denied a conscience vote on the issue, binding them to the party’s current stance to continue reciting the prayer at the start of sitting days.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes was the only government MP to speak on the motion and confirmed Labor would “commit to workshopping a replacement model that is purpose fit for Victoria” if re-elected.
Several upper house sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Age Ms Patten struck a deal with the government just hours before the debate which would ensure the motion was delayed, not defeated.
In exchange, Labor had given a commitment to axe the Lord’s Prayer in both houses if re-elected in November 2022.
Ms Patten said she was “delighted with the resolution” as it meant the reform would be adopted “not just in the upper house, but in the Legislative Assembly”.
"We fully understand and support the need to focus right now on the health and economic crisis," she said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Premier Daniel Andrews said Victoria was stronger and better for being a multi-faith community and axing the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t a priority in the pandemic.
“Far from being at the top of my list, this is not even on my list,” Mr Andrews said.
If Labor fulfils its promise, Victoria would become just the second jurisdiction to abolish the ritual, after the ACT replaced the Lord’s Prayer in 1995 with an invitation to pray or reflect.
Liberal and National MPs including Bernie Finn, Craig Ondarchie, Bev McArthur and Melina Bath, spoke against the motion on Wednesday.
Ahead of the vote, the Australian Christian Lobby ran a campaign for its supporters to bombard MPs with letters opposing the move. According to the group, more than 10,000 Victorians contacted their local representatives to voice their opposition to the proposal, mostly through an automated email and phoneline service it set up.
Ms Bath, Ms McArthur and Mr Ondarchie told Parliament they had been overwhelmed by letters and phone calls from constituents pleading with them not to axe the prayer. The three MPs said between 70 and 90 per cent of correspondence opposed the move.
Before the debate, the Australian Christian Lobby’s Victorian state co-ordinator, Jasmine Yuen, said Ms Patten’s motion was an “attempt to remove God from one of the most important institutions in our society”.
“ACL is hopeful that the government will recognise that most Victorians appreciate our Christian heritage and the freedom and democracy it has inspired. They strongly support continuing the tradition of saying the Lord’s Prayer in Victorian Parliament.”
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