There has been much talk about this just lately. Arthur posted on it recently: Appeal to tradition fail. He says pretty much what I would expect him to say. Of course the fact is for the time being that the issue is settled. The tradition of opening Parliament each day with The Lord’s Prayer is likely to continue.
There is no established religion in Australia, and we certainly do not put “In God we trust” on our money, a rather odd place to put that sentiment when you think about it; if it was meant to remind Americans that they shouldn’t trust money it doesn’t seem to have worked, does it? We did begin here with a British Act of Parliament that offers a formulaic and conventional reference to God:
Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:
And whereas it is expedient to provide for the admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian Colonies and possessions of the Queen:
Be it therefore enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows…
But the Constitution doesn’t get into religion, except to say “the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion…” That just may include establishing anti-religion… The position seems to be to avoid privileging any viewpoint in this area, though the original intention was probably aimed at the Catholic/Protestant sectarianism that arrived with many of our early settlers, including my own lot with their Orange Lodge connections.
The tradition of The Lord’s Prayer has gone on with, one could say, more than a touch of hypocrisy about it, as the content of the prayer and Parliamentary behaviour would seem to be, much of the time, as contradictory as the US invocation of God on their coinage. So as a Christian, of sorts, I wouldn’t mind at all if the tradition was shelved.
On the other hand beginning the Parliamentary day with a reminder that some things just may be more important than politics is not a bad idea. Perhaps a Welcome to Country, or Acknowledgement of Country at least, would be a better way to go, followed by a period of quiet reflection where parliamentarians could evoke in silence whatever spiritual tradition, practice, or lack thereof, that is good for each member. The Welcome to Country really should belong to everyone, as Australians.
I really don’t get too excited about this matter, I have to say. Australia is ambiguously secular*, and always has been. No doubt we are chary of undue influence by any group, religious or otherwise, with a bee in its bonnet, and that I think is a good thing.
* See Chinatown 27: Central Station to Chinatown 4 for an example. The issue “Is Australia a Christian Country?” is one I have visited before. The answer really is “No” with the qualification that it is easier to say what Australia is not in this area… See also Is Australia a Christian country? Revisited… and This just about nails it, I think. More on "Is Australia a Christian Country?"