THE 150-year-old tradition of reciting a prayer before local government meetings on the Mornington Peninsula has been scrapped after a motion by rookie councillor Anthony Marsh.
His notice of motion, tabled at Mornington Peninsula Shire’s 8 December meeting and passed with a 6-5 majority, replaces the “prayer” with a “pledge” by councillors to act in the best interests of the community.
Council officers advised that the existing prayer was in the governance rules of the council and that, under the Local Government Act, could not be dropped without community consultation. It could, however, be altered, and Cr Marsh’s notice of motion suggested just that.
The National Secular Lobby was quick to celebrate the removal of God from the prayer, releasing a press release on the night of the council meeting stating, “Tonight’s push to remove Christian prayers from council meetings at the Mornington Peninsula Shire has succeeded!”
The president of the lobby group, Peter Monk, claimed the outcome as a “win for secularism” and that “the [shire] is the first council or parliament to be removed from our list of government institutions that impose prayers on elected representatives”.
Cr Antonella Celi told The News that the thrust of the debate at the meeting was not about the removal of God from the prayer, but the lack of community consultation and engagement on what was an ingrained community issue.
“Not one of the councillors was elected on a mandate to make this change,” Cr Celi said. “I am most concerned about the precedent for future decisions. What’s the next thing that will be changed without community consultation?”
Cr Marsh did not return calls from The News.
In favour of the change were Crs Marsh, Sarah Race, the mayor Despi O’Connor, Lisa Dixon, Paul Mercurio and Kerri McCafferty. Against were Crs Celi, David Gill, Debra Mar, Hugh Fraser and Steve Holland.