House debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Private Members' Business


4:54 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia;

(2) notes that:

(a) the first official Catholic school was founded by Fr John Therry in Parramatta in 1820;

(b) Catholic schools have educated millions of Australians over the past 200 years; and

(c) today, Catholic schools are the largest provider of schooling in Australia (outside of government) educating one in five Australian school-age children; and

(3) congratulates Catholic schools and their teachers, staff and students on this incredible achievement.

It's with great pleasure that I rise today to acknowledge the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia, and I'd like to acknowledge some visitors here today as well. I'd like to welcome Greg Whitby, Executive Director at the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta; Elizabeth Scully, communications manager; and Geoff Officer, the chief of operations and finance. Greg himself is a graduate of St Monica's Primary School in North Parramatta, which has been educating local students since way back in 1892—1892! How amazing is that? It's great that they're here when the Australian parliament acknowledges and celebrates the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia.

It all started back in Parramatta in 1820—everything starts in Parramatta, it seems!—when Father John Therry and George Marley founded Australia's first Catholic school, on Hunter Street. George Marley was a bookkeeper and a former convict, and Father John was one of Australia's first official priests. They set up a school to provide educational opportunities for Catholic children. However, just as they do today, the school welcomed children from other faiths. Seven of the 31 boys and girls who made up the first class weren't Catholics; the others, of course, were.

The arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Parramatta in 1888 was another important milestone. For those who haven't met the Sisters of Mercy in Parramatta, they're as extraordinary today as they were, no doubt, in 1888; an amazing, extraordinary group of women. The sisters established Our Lady of Mercy College Parramatta in 1889 and went on to establish schools across Sydney, including St Monica's Primary School at North Parramatta. Two hundred years later, there are 1,755 schools across the country that stem from that first one, with 777,000 students and more than 100,000 teachers and staff.

Across Australia, Catholic schools educate around one in five Australian children, but in Western Sydney it's one in four. They are an absolutely central part of our lives in Western Sydney. The diocese of Parramatta stretches from Dundas Valley in my electorate, north to Richmond, west to Katoomba and south to Luddenham, and is home to 80 schools, 43½ thousand students and more than 5,000 staff. What an extraordinary contribution that Catholic schools make. Two of the schools in my electorate, St Patricks Parramatta and Parramatta Marist High School, trace their origins back to that very first school on Hunter Street. For most of the 200 years, Catholic schools have been built and staffed without support from government, but that changed with some Commonwealth grants in the sixties and seventies. Then in 1973 the Whitlam government introduced needs based funding for non-government schools, which continues to this day.

In 2009 I was incredibly proud to attend the opening of a new school in my electorate—home to so many historic schools—the Mother Teresa Primary School at Westmead, an extraordinary school. It was a great day. I visit so many of the schools in my electorate, and I always find a group of teachers and parents absolutely committed to the education of their children and, more than that, innovation in the education of their children. When the Building the Education Revolution funding became available for schools to build school halls, I was astonished to find that virtually every Catholic school in the electorate already had a plan for one—already knew where they wanted to go, already knew how they wanted to change the nature of their classrooms, already had it all laid out—and then when the money became available they leapt in and built these extraordinary spaces where we see children learning every day. You'll also see the schools in the Parramatta electorate already trying to ensure that, when a child first enters an education environment, even in child care, they can stay in the same place through school all the way through; whole-of-life learning. They are incredibly innovative organisations. It's been an absolute pleasure to work with them as I have for so many years.

Can I also acknowledge Christine Howe, the deputy executive director at Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, who started her teaching career at Parramatta Marist in 1984 and was recently awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to secondary education in the 2021 Queen's birthday honours. In closing, I want to congratulate all the Catholic schools on what is now their third century. They've entered their third century! Congratulations to their teachers, staff and students on what is an incredible achievement. I know we will see many more great achievements in years to come.

4:59 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I'm very happy to speak to this excellent motion from the member for Parramatta and acknowledge the presence of several officials from the Diocese of Parramatta, particularly Geoff Officer and Greg Whitby, who are both friends of long standing.

Catholic education is fundamental to the moral ecology of our nation. It wasn't enlightened legislators that first decided it was important to teach Australia's children to read and write, to learn about science and history, regardless of their heritage and background. It was priests, religious orders and lay people in churches. They're the ones who first sparked the idea of education for all children in the colonies and who carried out the pioneering work to begin what has become our education system. For decades before public education existed anywhere in this country, we had church schools, charity schools, which taught children from all walks of life. That legacy has not only been formational in Australia's history but continues to serve the Australian community today, with the incredible service Catholic schools provide to families and communities. Today, one in five Australian children is educated at one of the 1,755 Catholic schools around our country. Catholic schools are spread from near where they began, near my community, to some of the most remote parts of the country, such as Gibb River in the Kimberley and Thursday Island in the Torres Strait.

Catholic education began in 1820, when the newly arrived Irish priest Father John Therry started a school with just 31 students in Parramatta. Father John Therry was born in Cork and arrived as one of the first Catholic priests to be permitted to serve in the colony. These were sectarian times. He established St Mary's Cathedral and was one of the founding Catholics and agitators for civil liberties in this country. He built the first school, as the member for Parramatta said, at Parramatta. That was one of many that would follow as he sought to build the future church that could educate children in the faith of their parents who were arriving in the colony, many as convicts from Ireland. The legacy of this work continues to be steward by remarkable men and women, lay and ordained—teachers, administrators, priests, nuns and family members—who continue to invest and serve for the future.

My electorate is home to a number of fantastic Catholic schools. In the Parramatta diocese, Marian Catholic College was established in 1988 with just 53 students but today has 1,028 students. St Madeleine's Primary School, which began one year earlier, with 78 students, now has 337 students. In the Broken Bay diocese are St Bernard's Catholic primary school and St Agatha's. St Bernard's has operated since 1972, when it was established by the Sisters of Mercy. It teaches 180 children. St Agatha's serves 282 students and is the oldest Catholic school in my electorate, established in 1954 by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. But it had previously been a parish school at Yarrara Road, Thornleigh, from 1928. Beyond this there are four Catholic independent schools in my electorate that reflect something of the spirit of the early Catholic schools established by motivated lay people in religious orders: Oakhill College, which is the largest Catholic school in New South Wales, Redfield College, Tangara School for Girls and Mount St Benedict College.

I want to acknowledge the principals of each of these Catholic schools: Jane Campbell, Gill Austin, Michael Hopkinson, Jeanette Black, Rita Sakr, Brother Steve Hogan and Matthew Aldous. I also want to acknowledge the outstanding diocese and directors of education serving in my electorate: Greg Whitby, who's here, and Danny Casey. I want to acknowledge some of the parent leaders in the school communities: Melissa Kremmer, Des McGurk, Melanie Lord, Peter Gaughan and Gary Doherty. I also want to acknowledge the teachers and administrators—too many to mention. These are people who continue to build the future in the way the Catholic education system has done for 200 years.

I can't imagine Australia without the contribution that Catholic schools make. I've personally been enriched by Catholic education in Australia. Before coming to this place, I had the great honour and pleasure of serving as a senior executive at the Australian Catholic University, the university that's the largest producer of teachers in this country. It's been a training ground for educators to fill many Catholic and other schools across Australia. I also served on a committee of the New South Wales Catholic Education Commission.

I want to express my gratitude to the Catholic Church and to the teachers, the families and the students at our Catholic schools for the important role they play in our education landscape. We often speak about the economic contribution made, the burden that doesn't have to fall on the state because of the initiative of faith based schools, particularly Catholic schools, in looking after the education of so many children. We're fortunate in this country in a way that few countries are to benefit from that service and to give families real choice for their children. I also want to say the contribution is so much more than just economic. The vision and values that sparked the education of children—convict children, Indigenous children, orphans and the children of settlers—continue to infuse Catholic schools today and influence and shape our communities in important ways.

The Parramatta diocese has said, 'Above all we celebrate all that unites us and we commit to a hope that defines us in living out God's love for one another.' To be defined by hope and living out love is a mission that will carry them well for the next century. (Time expired)

5:04 pm

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise also to support the member for Parramatta's motion that acknowledges the bicentenary of Catholic education in this country. Catholic schools have educated millions of Australians over the past 200 years, as said in the member's motion, and today Catholic schools are one of the largest providers of schooling, second only to government schools. I think Catholic schools educate about one in five Australian school-age children.

I also want to note that the national mass was celebrated simultaneously across Australia on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians on Monday 24 May to mark the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia. National Catholic Education Commission Executive Director Jacinta Collins said that the national mass was 'a highlight of the bicentenary year' and went on to say:

As a faith community, our National Mass to celebrate 200 years of Catholic education holds significant meaning …

I think the member for Parramatta and the member for Berowra have touched on the scale of Catholic education in Australia. It's quite unique in the world in terms of the service it provides. I think that, at the present period of time, the Catholic education sector serves over 770,000 students and employs over 100,000 staff in roughly 1,800 schools. The chair of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education, Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, said:

The bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia invites us to remember the past with gratitude, be inspired by that story in the present, and look forward with faith in the future.

He also said:

After two centuries of service, we in Catholic education are determined to make an even greater contribution to the lives of our young people, families, church and society.

And he congratulated the Catholic education sector on its 200th birthday.

Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli led a celebration of mass with more than 600 Catholic school students and teachers at St Patrick's Cathedral. One thing to note is something others have mentioned about the Catholic schools in their constituency. In my electorate of Holt we have seven wonderful Catholic schools that have delivered a profound contribution to our local community. These schools are St Agatha's Primary School in Cranbourne, St Francis de Sales Catholic primary school in Lynbrook, St Kevin's Primary School in Hampton Park, St Peter's College in Cranbourne and Cranbourne East, St Therese's Primary School in Cranbourne North, St Thomas the Apostle Catholic Primary School in Cranbourne East and Trinity Catholic Primary School in Narre Warren South.

I think there was some comment that was made about not only the presence of the schools and the education that they provide students but also the community good that's done by having these schools in our region, which I would completely agree with as someone who went through the Catholic education system as a student at a Christian Brothers college both in Kalgoorlie, in the far-flung regions of Western Australia, and also in Adelaide. I was fairly uniquely placed. I think the brothers and the poor teachers who had to teach me were uniquely placed as well! I can only say, having been through that and having put our two children through the schooling system, that we're very pleased that it served the purpose for which we sent them and I think my parents would have sent me, which was a faith based, values based education system that offers a comprehensive environment to develop the total person, not just educate a person.

I also wanted to say that, particularly when I went to the Christian Brothers College in Adelaide in the seventies, it was a tough period of time economically in Australia and in South Australia. One of the things I wanted to acknowledge before I move on to that particular story I wanted to tell was that, if you look at the diversity of people that actually attend Catholic schooling, you see something that's not fully appreciated by the community generally. When my children went to St Paul the Apostle South, there were children from 70 different nationalities that attended that school. In schools in my region it would be the same or more. People from every corner of the globe come and participate in the Catholic education system, and I think that's a wonderful thing, particularly with some of the churches—I note in particular St Thomas the Apostle in Cranbourne East, which is particularly that with the Sri Lankan community.

The last point I wanted to make about the economically difficult circumstances in the seventies. My mother—we were a single family then—could not afford to pay the school fees, so I went as a 14-year-old and spoke to the principal of the Christian Brothers College. He was a very formidable brother called Brother McApion. I basically said we couldn't do it. As a consequence of that conversation, I was awarded a scholarship on the spot and I was able to attend school without paying fees. There's a lot of work that's done by them, but I certainly want to thank the Christian Brothers College for that. Remember the people who can't afford the fees; they get taken care of. (Time expired)

5:09 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the member for Parramatta's motion. This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Australia's first Catholic school. The school was founded by Irish Catholic priest John Cleary in October 1820, in Hunter Street Parramatta, just down the road from Bennelong, and taught just 31 students. Over the past two centuries, Catholic schools have become the largest non-government providers of schooling in Australia, with one in five school-age students attending a Catholic school. This represents 770,000 students in 1,762 schools across the country employing over 100,000 teachers and staff. Catholic schools will continue to represent a vital part of the Australian educational landscape in the future.

This government is committed to continuing our support for Catholic schools. Under our Quality Schools package, we'll be providing record funding for Australian schools in all schooling sectors, amounting to some $315.2 billion between 2018 and 2029. Catholic schools across Australia are benefiting financially from these arrangements. Recurrent funding for Catholic schools is estimated to grow from $5.1 billion in 2013 to $7.9 billion in 2020-21 and $10.6 billion in 2029. This is an increase of $5.5 billion over 2014 to 2029—an average per student increase of 5.2 per cent each year from 2014 to 2020-21.

Bennelong is one of Australia's most multicultural electorates. While it is famous today for the large Chinese and Korean diaspora of Eastwood, the fifties and sixties were a time of mass migration of Italians and other southern Europeans to the up-and-coming suburb of Ryde. They brought with them their family, their cuisine and their religion. Alongside the churches, a flurry of new Catholic schools popped up to join the many established ones already in the community. As a result Bennelong has 12 Catholic schools educating students between kindergarten and year 12. They span the electorate—from our Lady Help of Christians, at the top of Epping, to St Michael's near the river in Meadowbank. Many of these schools are among the highest-quality schools in Sydney. Many have fantastic facilities and great records. But it is the quality principals and teachers, many of whom I have known for years, who are responsible for the great outcomes of all the students who go through these schools. I have been delighted to work with these schools for many years through my school initiatives like the Bennelong Cup table tennis competition, in which 40 schools participate, and the Bennelong STEM challenge. I've also been delighted to attend schools for graduation ceremonies, building openings and, before 2020, fetes and other regular celebrations, which I'm looking forward to returning to shortly.

I've still been able to have some local connection to these schools. On 27 May, I was delighted to meet with year 6 students at St Michael's Catholic Primary School when they visited Parliament House. I was happy to spend some time chatting with the students about the issues that were important to them. Unfortunately, parliament was sitting during a similar visit from St Gerard's Catholic Primary School more recently. I was also very pleased to visit St Charles Catholic Primary School at Ryde and our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Primary School at Gladesville. I was there to present the schools with new Australian and Aboriginal flags. While I was there, we were also able to celebrate the cause of this motion today, the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Australia. It is great to see this incredible milestone being celebrated across our community.

I can attest to the quality of Catholic schools personally. My office has had such a good reputation locally, purely because of the hard work of one Daniel Severino, my case worker, who was also the school captain of Holy Spirit Primary Catholic Primary School in North Ryde. When we attended there one day, he modestly said, 'My name is on the honour board.' When I said, 'Why is that, Daniel?' He said, 'I was the captain of the school'—they also taught modesty. If all their graduates are as professional, dedicated and hardworking as Daniel, Holy Spirit alone has done a great service to our community and this country. (Time expired)

5:15 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As someone who was raised in the Irish Catholic tradition and educated in Catholic schools—as was Peter Lalor, I assume—I'm pleased to rise on this motion, and I thank the member for Parramatta for bringing it to the chamber. Obviously, as a Victorian I can bring a special flavour to this, and I will use my contribution tonight to celebrate the contribution made by Mary MacKillop in Catholic education, because her mission was to educate the poor, and I'm proud to say that in my electorate many of our Catholic schools follow that mission to the letter. These are faith based schools that are dedicated to social justice, and I think that's really worth celebrating. Catholic schools have been dedicated to ensuring equality and equity for children across the country for 200 years.

I want to pay tribute to the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, who followed Mary MacKillop, now our much-celebrated saint, into that work in schools across the country and who, I'm proud to say, I spent many, many positive hours with as a teenaged girl. I would point out Sister Giovanni Farquer, who was the founding principal of MacKillop college in my electorate and went on to be principal of Mount St. Joseph Girls' College in Altona. I attended both of those and had the pleasure of her leadership at Mount St Joseph's.

I'd also like to play tribute to a particular Josephite sister, Sister Nora. Something that I think only could happen in the Catholic system is that in year 12 I did four subjects, three of which were taught by Sister Nora: classics, literature and English. So I spent a very long year with Sister Nora, and I think it's fair to say that she left a mark on the entire cohort for many, many decades. She was born in Ireland, and I remember quite distinctly a very cheeky friend of mine trying to distract her one day in classics by asking why she had become a nun. Sister Nora's very prompt response was, 'Well, I was from a very large, very poor family in a very poor part of Ireland, and I had a choice: I could get married, stay where I was and have brats like you, or I could pursue an education.' And that she did. At last count, she had three PhDs in ancient languages. I think we learned her lessons well, and I think that, in that cohort in particular, she taught us very well.

I want to celebrate the Catholic schools in my electorate and their principals as well. Let me list them: Corpus Christi Primary School and its principal, Linda Roynic; MacKillop Catholic Regional College, which I attended, and its principal, Rory Kennedy; Our Lady of the Southern Cross Primary School and its principal, Justin Hilton; St Andrew's Primary School, which I attended as a child and where my children followed me, and its principal, Mr Michael Gavaghan; St Clare's Catholic Primary School and its principal, Andrew Leighton; St Francis of Assisi Primary School and its principal, Michelle Gillett; St James the Apostle Primary School and its principal, Mary Abbott; St John the Apostle Primary School and its principal, Simon Dundon; St Joseph's Catholic Primary School, whose opening I attended quite recently with principal Shelley Ryan, who is no relation although we look similar and the children thought we were cousins; St Peter Apostle Primary School and its principal, Karen Wilson; and Thomas Carr College and its principal, Craig Holmes.

But let me be clear. This government was prepared to leave the Catholic sector behind in our recent history, and it was a campaign by Labor and the Catholic education sector that brought this government to make that funding contribution. I'm talking about this federal government and the fact that it was brought to the table. They wanted to leave state schools and Catholic schools behind. They've managed to leave state schools behind, but fortunately they have come to the table to appropriately fund Catholic schools, as they have done for independent schools. I want to make that point really clearly. This year one of my local Catholic schools, MacKillop Regional Catholic College, will celebrate 50 years of operating in my electorate, and I want to wish them well in those celebrations. I will be attending those celebrations as a former student. It is a school that my family have a long connection to. But let me be clear: school funding should be sector blind. It should be needs based. It should live up to the Catholic education ethos of equality for all. It should be about social justice, and this government should join us and make sure that that happens across the country in every school.

5:20 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great privilege to be able to speak on this important motion celebrating the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia. I in the Goldstein electorate, like members across the Chamber, I'm sure, have many Catholic schools that are immensely proud of their contribution as part of the enrichment and wellbeing of the education of the next generation of Australians. I personally did not go to a Catholic school. My husband did and was educated all the way through, including in tertiary education at the Australian Catholic University. But it is the proud tradition and stewardship of young minds, creating opportunities and driving a sense of social justice through empowerment in the Catholic tradition that we should celebrate, because that is what so many Australians look for in their education system. Yes, it is obviously to educate the next generation of minds, but it is to ensure that they are embodied and educated in a fullness and richness in values and, in some cases, in a spiritual tradition which reflects their values. Being Liberals, that goes to the heart of our approach to education.

We have always believed in choice of education not just because we believe in things like competition and what it can do to improve and lift standards so that kids get a better outcome—though that is also true—but because we respect the choice of parents to be able to make decisions to educate their children in their religious and cultural traditions that reflect their aspirations and their hopes. We should be immensely proud of the role that the Catholic education system has played in that story, because it's the story of our nation and how it was built.

The first Catholic school, which Catholic historians believe was in Hunter Street in Parramatta and taught 31 students, was founded in October 1820 by Irish Catholic priest John Terry. It's from these foundations that the Catholic education system has grown to the second-biggest provider of schools based education after government schools. Of course, it's not just the Liberal support for the Catholic education system that has been consistent around all that time around freedom of choice; Liberals have been central to universal education as part of the story of the history of our country as well. Of course, that was most seminal in the second half of the 20th century, where it became a great contest of ideas between the different sides, not just of this Chamber, around attitudes between freedom, choice and responsibility in the Liberal tradition and conformity imposed under the socialist tradition.

One of the big fights that the Menzies government had was in introducing limited federal funding for non-government schools through the passing of the States Grants Act, which provided grants for science laboratories and equipment to both government and non-government secondary schools without discrimination. This, of course, led many of those who wanted conformity within our society finding it very difficult, because they thought it was an attack on government schools. But we have always been believers in lifting all boats and giving people more choice. That is the very definition of 'empowerment' from the Liberal tradition, something we're immensely proud of. We know that that became something that our political opponents opposed. We're very proud of that tradition. We continue to be proud of it, and we will continue to be proud of it into the future.

Of course, Commonwealth funding of Catholic schools began formally from 1970 under the Gorton and McMahon governments. In 1973 we saw a needs based model for non-government schools introduced by the Whitlam government because they saw through harsh lessons of history the role it can play. But today we're very proud to continue our support for Catholic education.

In the Goldstein electorate we have many schools—and I understand these names are from last year—including Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, with principal Anne O'Loughlin and chair of the board Sandra Diafas; Sacred Heart Parish School, with principal Erin Macdonald; St Agnes', with principal Lachlan Foott and chair of the board Myles Whelan; St Finbar's, with principal Pat Berlingeri and chair of the board Kate MacKenzie; St James, with principal Brendan Flanagan and chair of the board Father Martin Dixon; St Joan of Arc School, with principal Tony McMahon and chair of the board David Murray; St Joseph's School, with principal Liam Buckley and chair of the board Melanie Leydin; St Kevin's, with principal Nigel Rodrigues; St Mary's, with principal Matthew Sweeney and chair of the board Paula Cunniffe; St Paul's School, with principal Catherine Tammesild and chair of the board Meghan Speers; Star of the Sea College, with principal Mary O'Connor and chair of the board Lisa Dwyer; Stella Maris, with principal Yvan Frederic; and Xavier College's Kostka Hall, which, of course, is in its sunset, with head of the campus Kathleen Upfold and chair of the board Mr Tony Nunan. We thank you for your service.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order. The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.