Blacktown Council’s prayer a throwback to ‘darkest days of colonial past’

The scene has been set for a heated debate over Blacktown Council’s treatment of religious minorities, Aboriginal people and even Catholics at its meeting tomorrow night.

Labor councillor Stephen Bali has accused mayor Len Robinson of taking the council back to the ‘‘darkest days of our of colonial past’’. The Liberal-dominated council has been criticised by followers of large minority religions in Blacktown, as well as Labor councillors, for introducing a Christian prayer to meetings.

The council invited representatives from other faiths in Blacktown to say the Christian prayer but came under fire when only Christian churches responded.

Only one of the 18 churches is Catholic, which further irked Cr Bali.

Mayor Len Robinson has also faced criticism for not acknowledging Aboriginal custodians of the land as his predecessor did and for returning a picture of the Queen to the chamber.

‘‘(The) council is retrograding back to its colonial past with Aborigines, Catholics, Orthodox and all other non-Christians being discriminated against by being excluded from prayers,’’ Cr Bali said.

‘‘It seems we have gone back to the darkest days of our colonial past.

‘‘A third of Blacktown Council residents are non-Christian and more than a third are Catholics or Orthodox.  

‘‘The new prayer that is scheduled to be reintroduced at the next council meeting will be recited by Protestants and evangelistic church ministers for the rest of the year, with only one Catholic priest nominated.

‘‘It is an absolute disgrace that this council cannot work towards a prayer that unites the city.’’

Representatives from Hindu and Muslim communities said the council had been inappropriate in asking non-Christians to recite the prayer to ‘‘God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit’’.

Khimji Vaghjiani, president of the Shree Swaminarayan Temple, said: ‘‘It doesn’t mean anything to Hindu people’’.

Reverend George Macdonald of the Free Presbyterian Church, Riverstone, is one of 18 representatives on the schedule to recite the prayer.

‘‘I was happy to do so,’’ he said.

‘‘The prayer suggested is more or less what is said in the Federal Parliament and I think it’s beneficial we have consistency across local, federal and state government.

‘‘And another thing is, for many years Australia has decided to have a queen as the head of its constitution and that constitution is very clearly a Christian constitution.’’

Reverend Macdonald said the the prayer chosen by the council was considered a ‘‘large prayer’’ and would be recognised by most Catholic and orthodox denominations.

Despite his church being on the council’s prayer schedule, Pastor Ian Jeffress, of the Church of Christ in Doonside, added to the mix of views by saying he would not participate.

‘‘I wouldn’t say a prayer at the council because it wouldn’t be for all the faiths in Blacktown,’’ he said.

‘‘It wouldn’t cover everyone. I think it’s best a prayer isn’t said at all, it’s more a civic sort of event.’’  

Cr Robinson’s response to criticism was: “I do not wish to comment any further on this issue’’.

■About two-thirds of Blacktown’s 301,099 residents identified as Christian in the 2011 Census;

■There were 17,398 Hindus; 17,5001 Muslims; and, 32,300 people who said they practised no religion.

Under fire: Blacktown mayor Len Robinson.

Under fire: Blacktown mayor Len Robinson.