Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Statements by Senators

Catholic Education, Infrastructure, Ricky Stuart Foundation

1:50 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

I recently had the great pleasure of attending the 200th anniversary mass to celebrate Catholic education in Australia. It took place just down the road from here at St Christopher's Cathedral in Manuka. It was fantastic to join with my local Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn and celebrate the very substantial contribution made by Catholic schools to Australian education. It's often overlooked, but many of us in this place enjoyed the education provided to us by a local Catholic school.

Canberra established its first Catholic school 107 years after the first Catholic school in Australia was established, although, if we go to the broader diocese, there were a number of Catholic schools in the region from the mid 19th century. In terms of Canberra, it was 1927 when St Christopher's school and convent were established by the local archdiocese. This school would later fold and is now the site of the Catholic Education Office adjacent to the cathedral.

Understanding the history of the Catholic school system is crucial to understanding the broader development of Australia and, indeed, the ACT. Of course, it is no lie that, without this private investment, our education system would look very different. I'm reminded that in our region the Goulburn strike famously led to a change in education policy at a national level—a change which I think has been very positive. The 1,746 Catholic schools in Australia underpin the high-quality learning and education of more than 764,100 students and support 77,035 staff and their families. There can be no doubt that this contribution has taken pressure off the public education system as we meet our growing population's education needs. A major theme of Catholic education is to not only contribute to parish life but also serve all facets of secular Australian life.

At the anniversary mass I was reminded of my own education at St Thomas the Apostle in Kambah followed by Padua Catholic High School and St Peter's. They've now merged to become St Mary MacKillop Catholic College, which is a great local school with a campus in Wanniassa and a campus in Isabella Plains. I always valued that education. I was encouraged to explore academic and other goals. The education was also infused in the Catholic faith. This point was made very eloquently by Archbishop Christopher Prowse during his homily on the day: an education system founded on Catholic values and principles will help instil an enduring and positive legacy for future generations.

The Catholic and broader non-government school sector offers choice for parents in their children's education, alongside a very strong and well-resourced public education system. Choice is incredibly important in any sector, but none is more important than the choice parents have in terms of their children's education.

I take this opportunity to thank the Catholic Education Office on hosting a wonderful mass. I congratulate them and, more broadly, the system for their 200 years of contribution to Australian life and education. I particularly thank all of the teachers, all of the staff and all those who have contributed over that time.

Today I want to also speak about some of the great infrastructure initiatives that the federal Liberal-National government has committed to right here in Canberra and in our region. This increased infrastructure funding through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program is a direct product of and part of our government's infrastructure bonanza for Canberra. It has been an absolute bonanza. As part of this program, I was pleased to join with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack to announce the Commonwealth's plan to fund restoration work on the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. For those who have had the pleasure of visiting our great city, the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge is always a major feature along the drive between north and south. The upgrade, which will be delivered by the National Capital Authority, will strengthen the bridge to prevent structural damage, widen the pedestrian pathways and replace the vehicle safety barriers to improve road safety. This comes on the back of that. We had an announcement for a contribution of $132 million for stage 2A of the light rail.

And the bonanza goes on. The federal government has also committed to funding new security landscaping, scoreboard repairs and thermal and smoke detectors throughout Manuka Oval and GIO Stadium; $4 million in extra funding for surge road maintenance, including hot asphalt patching and resealing to repair recent rain damage and prevent future damage; and $1 million to purchase 3,000 plants to enhance Canberra's living infrastructure in areas of low canopy cover and to replace ageing trees. It goes on: $1.26 million to install new shade sails and fencing at priority playgrounds to make these spaces cooler and safer; a new competition-standard half-pipe at Belconnen Skate Park on Emu Bank Road; and, of course, the overall investments in infrastructure I mentioned. That is underpinned by the $500 million that we are investing in the expansion of the Australian War Memorial, something that will be a legacy for future generations as we more fully honour our veterans. It will of course be very important here in Canberra as we see not just those construction jobs but also the uplift for tourism as our most loved and most visited attraction gets a major expansion. We will see more visitors coming to the city from our region, from around Australia and, indeed, from around the world.

As I said, this is part of a bonanza for Canberra; $1.4 billion has been committed to infrastructure projects across the territory in recent years. They include the Monaro Highway, the Tuggeranong Parkway, the Molonglo Valley bridge, the duplication of Gundaroo Drive, the Kings Highway and the Barton Highway. We are seeing huge investments around the ACT.

Finally, I would love to talk a little bit about the Ricky Stuart Foundation. For my fellow NRL lovers, Ricky Stuart has of course been a huge name in the game for many years as a great player and now, indeed, as a great coach for our local Canberra Raiders. I would also like to point out some of his work off the field. The Ricky Stuart Foundation was established in 2011 to support Ricky in raising awareness for autism as well as to raise funds to directly support the aftercare of autism spectrum disorders and help family members who may struggle to cope. Aftercare is critical to ensuring that families and those with autism can carry on with their lives in the most positive way possible once a diagnosis has been given. Together with the help of the government's National Disability Insurance Scheme, foundations like the Ricky Stuart Foundation provide short-term respite right here in Canberra for families struggling with disabilities. Over the past 10 years, the foundation has built and run $3.5 million in respite facilities for Canberra families to use. With Ricky Stuart House in Chifley and Emma Ruby House in Cook already in operation, it was exciting to hear that a third, the John Fordham House, will begin construction shortly.

While this facility will be built just over the border in Queanbeyan, it will add to the tremendous work the foundation has done so far. John Fordham House will aim to be a facility where disabled young adults can learn to achieve full independence. The facility will be individual living and have a village atmosphere for people with disabilities to be able to live on their own while having support available when it's required. I want to reiterate my thanks to Ricky and the Ricky Stuart Foundation and commend them for their outstanding work.


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