Chapter 8 - Sittings, quorum and adjournment of the Senate

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50    Prayer and acknowledgement of country

The President, on taking the chair each day, shall read the following prayer:

Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy special blessing upon this Parliament, and that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper the work of Thy servants to the advancement of Thy glory, and to the true welfare of the people of Australia.

Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

The President shall then make an acknowledgement of country in the following terms:

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples who are the traditional custodians of the Canberra area and pay respect to the elders, past and present, of all Australia's Indigenous peoples.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SO 53

Amended: 26 October 2010, J.203 (acknowledgement of country added)

1989 revision: Old SO 53 renumbered as SO 50; minor rephrasing of lead-in

Commentary

It was this petition from the Presbyterian Church of Australia in 1901 that led to the inclusion of a prayer at the commencement of each sitting day  

It was this petition from the Presbyterian Church of Australia in 1901 that led to the inclusion of a prayer at the commencement of each sitting day

 
  Parliamentary Prayer
 

The parliamentary prayer is recited by the President at the commencement of each sitting day, followed by the acknowledgement of country.

The temporary standing orders adopted by the Senate on 6 June 1901 did not provide for the offering of a prayer.

On 21 May 1901, Senator Walker (FT, NSW) presented the first petition to the Senate, from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. The petition was in favour of opening Senate proceedings with a daily prayer.[1] On 14 June Senator Walker presented another petition from Mr W.R. Poole praying that each session of both the Senate and House of Representatives be opened with a prayer.[2] After presenting the petition, Senator Walker moved a motion instructing the Standing Orders Committee to draft a standing order which would provide for the Senate to be opened daily with prayer. At that time, the President informed the Senate that he had received a number of communications from various organisations urging the Senate to agree to Senator Walker’s motion.[3] The motion was agreed to after a short debate.

The Standing Orders Committee presented its report on 20 June 1901 with the recommendation that “…the prayers adopted by the House of Representatives be adopted by the Senate”.[4] The Senate agreed to the recommendation and prayers were offered for the first time on 27 June 1901.[5] The form of the prayer included in the standing orders adopted in 1903 was similar to that made in the House of Representatives except that the preamble to the Lord’s Prayer was slightly different.[6]

On 28 October 1997, Senator Bob Brown (AG, Tas) gave notice of a motion to amend SO 50 to remove the preamble and Lord’s Prayer and replace them with an invitation to senators to pray or reflect on their responsibilities.[7] Two days later the Senate agreed to refer Senator Brown’s motion to the Procedure Committee and that senators be consulted.[8] The Procedure Committee’s Second Report of 1997 reported that those senators who joined in the prayer considered its retention as important; and those who did not join in the prayer did not have a strong view as to its abolition.[9] Senator Brown’s motion was moved and negatived on 27 November 1997.[10] During debate on a motion to take note of the Procedure Committee’s report, Senator Harradine (Ind, Tas) foreshadowed some minor amendments to the prayer but did not pursue them.[11]

Standing order 50 requires the President to read the prayer when he or she takes the chair each day. It was previously thought that there was no provision for prayers to be read when the Senate suspends from day to day rather than adjourning. If the Senate were in committee of the whole when the suspension occurred, it resumed in committee the next morning. In these circumstances, the President does not technically take the chair. On Saturday 11 July 1998 (a rare Saturday sitting), when the Senate resumed meeting in committee of the whole on the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 1998, Senator Boswell (NPA, Qld) requested that the prayer be read. Progress from committee of the whole was reported and, finally, after almost one hour of heated debate on a procedural motion, the President read the prayer “with the concurrence of the Senate”.[12] Similarly, on 17 August 2007, a committee of the whole reported progress so that the prayer could be read.[13] The interpretation now adopted is that the prayer is read at the beginning of each day regardless of whether the Senate has adjourned or suspended the previous day. If the Senate is in committee of the whole, progress is reported before the suspension is moved or takes effect.

Over the years, there have been many calls for the prayer to be abolished, modified or replaced by an acknowledgement of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land. In the aftermath of the 2010 general election, a minority government was formed in the House of Representatives following agreements between the ALP, the Australian Greens and certain independent members of the House. [14] The terms of those agreements included a commitment to include an acknowledgement of country in the procedures of the Houses. On 26 October 2010, the Senate agreed, without debate, to include an acknowledgement of country after the prayer each day.

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