ANTHONY Marsh this week seemed destined to make an early impression as a councillor by proposing that Mornington Peninsula Shire drop the prayer that has preceded meetings since the start of local government on the peninsula.
Scrapping the prayer is not new to local government, with Mount Alexander Shire Council dispensing with it in 2013 and Kerang in 2016, but Cr Marsh’s decision to introduce the subject as urgent business at Monday’s council meeting was likely to be challenged.
A prayer has been part of council meetings since local government was established on the peninsula with the formation of the Shire of Mornington nearly 150 years ago.
In an email to other councillors, Cr Marsh acknowledged he ran the risk of “being controversial in my first 48 hours in the role” [as a councillor] but saw the new council’s first meeting as the “most appropriate time” to advocate dropping the prayer.
He said introducing the subject as “urgent business” was the only way of getting it on the agenda at short notice.
“I assure you that I will not make a habit of raising items of urgent business in place of a notice of motion in order to short circuit the five-day requirement, but I deem it appropriate in this instance,” Cr Marsh said.
He said it was noteworthy that the “vast majority of us” had opted not to take the Oath when being sworn in as councillors.
The latest Census shows 70 per cent of the shire’s 167,636 (estimated) residents class themselves as Christian.
The next largest group those with no religion or secular beliefs (21.4%), non-disclosed religious affiliation (4.5%), Buddhism (2.1%), Hindu (1.7%) and Islam (1.4%).
Cr Hugh Fraser said the move by Cr Marsh “looks like the strength and discipline of the new faction on council is being tested”.
When contacted by the Peninsula Atheists in the lead-up to the 2012 council elections Cr Fraser said he was against removing the prayer from council meetings.
In his email to councillors Cr Marsh said he respected the freedom of people to practice religion but saying a prayer before council meetings was not in the “interests of inclusivity”.
Dropping the prayer would acknowledge that councillors “represent a broad and diverse community”.
“Additionally, as this is a recommendation to alter the meeting procedure to be more inclusive, it is reasonable to consider this matter immediately rather than defer it.”