New Senate president Sue Lines says she would like to see the longstanding tradition of reading the Lord’s Prayer at the start of each sitting day “gone”, as she prepares to put her mark on the chamber by warning senators she’ll be tougher on those who demean their colleagues. Senator Lines, only the second woman elected to the role of president, said as an atheist she did not want to say the prayer, which has been read by the presiding officers in the lower and upper houses at the start of each sitting day since 1901. “On the one hand we’ve had almost every parliamentary leader applaud the diversity of the parliament and so if we are genuine about the diversity of the parliament we cannot continue to say a Christian prayer to open the day,” Senator Lines said.

“Personally, I would like to see the prayers gone. I’m an atheist. I don’t want to say the prayers. If others want to say the prayers they’re open to do that. “Personally I would like to see them gone but again it’s not something I can decree. It’s a view of the Senate.” Senator Lines said the abolition of the Lord’s Prayer was “certainly on the agenda” and would be raised with the Senate procedure committee, which considers any matter relating to procedures referred to it by the chamber or the president. Senators and members are not required to be present or participate in the reading of the Lord’s Prayer. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to change the standing orders to replace the prayers with a personal prayer or reflection, including by former Greens leader Bob Brown in 1997.

It is understood the House of Representatives Speaker Milton Dick has no desire or plans to change the arrangements for the Lord’s Prayer or acknowledgment of country. Mr Dick, 50, hails from the Anglican faith and has spoken at the parliamentary prayer breakfast. He is a known supporter of religious communities in his Brisbane electorate of Oxley. Senator Lines said she had a particular interest in implementing the Jenkins review recommendations and making parliament a safer place to work, revealing she had been sexually assaulted when she was five. While she has witnessed bullying and name-calling in federal parliament, having been called a “squawking seagull”, Senator Lines said she had never seen or experienced sexual harassment or assault in the building.

But she said the chamber was too accepting of bad behaviour and it was up to her and other Senate chairs to raise standards. “The standing orders do say you can’t demean a person and I think in the past we’ve kind of let that go unless it’s been really particularly bad. We have to raise the standards as chairs, whether it’s me or the deputy president or the deputy chairs,” Senator Lines said. “We actually do need to start to pull people up a little more. That’s one of the areas we’ve developed too high a bar for moderating bad behaviour.” She will push for the chamber’s hours to be brought into line with the house’s after the Jenkins review found long and irregular hours of work could exacerbate aggressiveness in the workplace. Though Senator Lines conceded, there would still be occasions when the Senate needed to sit for long periods.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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