The parliamentary prayer

Andrea Vance writes that New Zealand’s parliamentary prayer is up for review again:

Parliament could get a new prayer after the election in September.

A review of standing orders, the rules that MPs must adhere to, was published this week, putting the prayer back on the agenda.

The review recommends MPs be asked their views on changing the prayer read by the Speaker at the opening of a sitting of the House.

The wording of the present devotion has not changed since 1962. MPs voted in 2007 to retain the prayer, after a petition asked that it not be specifically Christian.

“We acknowledge that not all members identify with the practice of reading a Christian in prayer at the opening of a sitting of the House, although it is a tradition of very long standing,” the review says. …

In my view, the parliamentary prayer is long overdue to be changed. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the prayer, it’s read each day by the speaker before the sitting of parliament.  This is it:

Almighty God, humbly acknowledging our need for Thy guidance in all things, and laying aside all private and personal interests, we beseech Thee to grant that we may conduct the affairs of this House and of our country to the glory of Thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We’ve had a prayer at Parliament since the first session of Parliament in May 1854. It seems silly that in a society as diverse as New Zealand, we still have a Christian prayer. Our public institutions should reflect the New Zealand population at large, and this archaic prayer alienates people from other religions, as well as the growing proportion of New Zealanders who aren’t religious at all. According to the 2013 census, only about 43% of New Zealanders are Christian, and I’m sure a significant proportion of those Christians would feel uncomfortable foisting this prayer on the rest of us. As Allan Davidson has argued:

Tradition is in tension with our growing multicultural, secular society. Finding public rituals that express what we hold in common today is something we should be striving for rather than perpetuating words and practices which reinforce exclusion.

The issue was last looked at by Parliament in 2007, when sitting MPs voted to retain the current prayer, presumably because “we can’t mess with tradition!”.

There seems to be pretty widespread support from people such as Green politicians Gareth Hughes and Keith LockeDavid Farrar of Kiwiblog, media consultant Bryan Edwards, and the Catholic archbishop John Dew to reform the prayer.

From here, I think we have a few different options for reform. We could change the wording to something more inclusive (preferably non religious), we could introduce a system with alternative prayers on different days, or the prayer could be scrapped altogether.

Update: The Speaker David Carter, in his finishing address for the 50th Parliament on 31 July 2014, went out of his way to say something about the Parliamentary prayer at the end of his address. Here’s what he said:

…if I am fortunate enough to continue this role I intend to progress three particular challenges. Firstly, modernising daily prayer in a manner that is acceptable to the vast majority of members of Parliament, [laughter in the House] but with strongly held views this may not be as easy as it sounds. …

That sounds promising! But I guess it all depends on what parliamentarians, with their “strongly held views” think…

Further reading

Updated 24 September 2014

low turnout

There’s been heaps of discussion recently about the low voter turnout at the recent local government elections, and the reasons behind the inevitable trend downwards. (Except, it seems, in Wellington and a couple of other places where turn out has increased somewhat!)

Why is voting so low, and what can we do about it? Continue reading “low turnout”

The veil of ignorance

I’m doing this pretty cool course on moral and political philosophy at the moment and we discussed John Rawls‘ theory of justice. We did a thought experiment at the end of one lecture, which was pretty interesting so I’m going to share it with ya! It’s slightly difficult to explain, but stick with me.

Imagine you’re the ruler of a country and you must decide on a random distribution of money to give to each third of society. Continue reading “The veil of ignorance”

The need for a green stimulus package

banknotesedited8As governments struggle to combat the effects of the economic crisis around the world, there have been calls for stimulus packages to combine tackling the worsening global economy with the ever urgent need to combat climate change. Rather than seeing the recession as a hindrance or obstacle to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it can be viewed as an opportunity. A green stimulus package would be a step towards a sustainable future. A report released by Sir Nicholas Stern and colleagues argues that a green stimulus package could:

provide an effective boost to the economy, increasing labour demand in a timely fashion, while at the same time building the foundations for sound, sustainable and strong growth in the future” — An outline of the case for a ‘green’ stimulus

It appears advice of this nature is being taken to heart by governments around world. The stimulus packages of the United States, Australia, and England have all included spending of various degrees on green projects, including energy efficiency measures that address the opportunity that retrofitting and improvement of housing stock and government buildings presents. Barack Obama has stressed the need to create thousands of  “green collar jobs” to offset the rising number of unemployed across America. These packages recognize that insulation (or weatherization as it is called in the US) and improvement of buildings provides a unique opportunity for investment that has a huge long term benefit.

Ralph Chapman at Victoria University has shown that the benefits (in terms of lower energy consumption, reduced emissions, better health of occupants etc) of insulating houses outweighed the cost by a factor of two to one. It is clear why insulation should be an integral part of any stimulus package.

In the face of such seeming consensus that improvement of housing is a good idea, why does the stimulus package prepared by the New Zealand government only contain NZ$124.5 million of spending on housing? Also, why was one of the first items on the new government’s agenda scrapping the planned NZ$1 billion -revenue neutral- household insulation fund? A decision that is now proving to be an embarrassment in the face of international initiatives and a lost opportunity to tackle climate change.  Lets hope the NZ government recognises spending lots of money on new roads is not the most worthwhile investment and that insulating houses and energy efficiency measures will ultimately provide a greater long term benefit.

Image credit: The.Comedian on flickr.

Edited September 2014