Senate debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022


Education Workforce, Domestic and Family Violence

5:29 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to put on the record my response to some material that I received by correspondence and which has also been handed to me in consultations that I've had while I've been here in these first two weeks of the parliament.

It's very clear that as we come to this task of serving our nation, the people around this chamber represent a range of views in all areas. Some are people of faith, some are people of no faith and there are a whole lot of people who might not have made up their mind and could be anywhere on a journey between those two things. But we bring to our work here a common belief in the dignity of each person and the value of that in a democracy. And that is the fundamental oil that we need for this machine to work.

There have been attempts throughout history to silence voices at the margins, particularly the LGBTQIA+ community over many, many years. At this time I fear that there have also been significant attempts to silence the voices of faith communities. That is not to excuse any of the terrible things that have happened—

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

They're not actually in conflict; they can be LGBTQIA+ and people of faith.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not to say anything about the problems with the faith communities that we know have been documented through institutional abuse. Those realities cannot be denied. But if we are to move forward as a nation, we need to keep returning to that sense of multiple voices. When we get it right, we sound like a choir and when we don't we sound like a cacophony. We've got to find a way forward.

I think it is important to put on the record two important things that have happened in recent days. I had a meeting with Alphacrucis University College representatives earlier this week. They reminded me of a visit that I had to the St Philip's Teaching School in the Hunter region, which is one of seven teacher-training hubs that are underway. We know that there is a crisis in teaching. These seven hubs are being facilitated through a community of faith which believes in the power of education as transformative and which, obviously, wants to prioritise teaching in a particular tradition, which is the Christian tradition. They are now being rolled out in teaching schools in Sydney, which are elite sandstone schools; at the St Thomas Aquinas Teaching School in the Tasmanian Catholic diocese—and I see that Senator Bilyk is here; it's great to see Tasmania being involved in this sort of research as well and not just the mainland; the CEM Teacher Training School, which is a regional Christian education network; and, very importantly to me, in the seat of Parkes there is a north-west New South Wales cluster in a public school network. Critically, this work is being inspired by a sense of faith in action in the community to make life better for very many people and it's proving incredibly successful in keeping 95 per cent of those enrolled in the program. So there is a lot of research being done about that and I want to acknowledge that leadership.

I also want to speak very briefly on another topic, and I encourage people to look at a document that was provided to me by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference. The Australian Catholic Church is celebrating Social Justice Sunday on 28 August. There is a report from them, which I have read, in which I think there is some very significant truth-telling. This will just give you a little taste of the humility that I think is important for the church to bring to the public conversation. The voice shouldn't be silenced, the work can be done, but this is telling truth that I think is important.

I'm reading from Ellen and her sister, Frances, who are adult survivors of an abusive relationship in their Christian family during their childhood. This is what they wrote:

… domestic abuse is not restricted to Christian culture; it is important that we realise the power of religious manipulation to keep people in abusive relationships. Abuses and victims can use various religious lenses to justify their reasons (Battaglia, 2001). The church must begin to recognise and condemn the use of Biblical references to justify abuse. Mail-headship in the home does not give a man the right to abuse his wife. Yet to both the abuser and the abused, Biblical interpretation plays a crucial role in how the relationship is perceived. Many Christian women who experience intimate partner abuse feel it is their duty as a Christian wife to sacrifice and forgive their spouse. The children in these relationships often feel, as we did, that they must respect the father and not say anything about what is truly going on inside the home—

…   …   …

… when it comes to sharing our story with our Christian friends, we both feel incredible resistance from people listening to and accepting our family narrative. They think we are lying.

It's important to have these conversations. The language of faith and the language not of faith should never be allowed to continue to result in the terrible tragedy of home and family violence. (Time expired)