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Faith in Our Future speech, Brisbane

I did have a couple of wonderful years working in Brisbane, reading the channel nine news and reporting up from that cafe in the Midnight East, and that was a lot of fun. But, of course, I ended up serving in the Parliament, and it’s a great honour to do so.

To Mark, to Vanessa, Alistair, I want to acknowledge all the incredible job that you have done on behalf of Christian schools. To my great friends, Senator Paul Scarr, to Bert Van Manen and to Luke Howarth. Luke and I used to actually sit next to each other behind where the Prime Minister stood when we were in government. We were in sort of view of the cameras, and we were always doing a bit of shuffling to work out who could get their head right on camera behind the Prime Minister. I think I used to win more than Luke. We are all great friends, and one thing that I do want to say about three magnificent men is that we have many magnificent men in the Coalition, and I’m very proud to work with great men and great women in my Party. Ladies and gentlemen, I have great faith in your future.

The Coalition has great faith in your future because your faith matters. Tonight we heard some wonderful stories up here on the stage, stories which took some courage to tell. Thank you so much for sharing those beautiful stories, and to Jonathan. Wow. So inspiring. What a magnificent story. Thank you so much for sharing that with us this evening.

We, as members of the Coalition, stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the mission to take your schools forward, not backwards. As Alistair mentioned, there are a couple of bills proposing new laws, but they are secret. The Shadow Attorney-General has seen those bills, but I have not been able to see them and nor have any of my colleagues. And so we only know what is being reported publicly but we do know that they do constitute, based on public reports, a direct attack on faith and religion, which is contrary to the promise the now Prime Minister gave before the last federal election. We were certainly very concerned when the ALRC interim report was released. We knew we had a big mountain to climb.

We have kept the faith and we are going about this, in good faith. But with the release of the final report of the Australian Law Reform Commission, I think it’s fair to say, knowing that that report has been fairly discredited. it’s fair to say that there is a big challenge ahead. But together, ladies and gentlemen, we can win.

We can win because we know that schools of faith are not seeking to discriminate. We know that your ability to employ teachers and other staff in accordance with your tenants and beliefs is fundamental to your school, to your school community, and to your faith. I want you to know and have confidence that we get it.

You cannot build a community of faith unless you share the values of your community. So when we saw that first report handed down by the ALRC which confined the ability to employ people of faith to those who only taught religion, we understood straight away that is not sufficient. Sharing and building a community of faith means sharing it with all people in your community. And I have to say, I have met with many school leaders. I have met with many faith leaders, and we’ve talked about very difficult problems and challenges in schools. But I have been so impressed with the stories that I’ve heard, how schools manage difficult issues, complex problems, challenges for kids, challenges for young men and women, including what we heard tonight.

So many young people are suffering mental health challenges, particularly out of Covid. And without giving anything away, I’m a parent. I have an 18-year-old son. I’ve lived and breathed Covid in the dreaded state of Victoria, where we were effectively locked up for the best part of two years, I think even worse than here in Queensland. And I have been so impressed with how schools have dealt with complex issues faced by their students with love and compassion, and empathy, and tolerance. And I look upon the way that you run your schools and your school communities. And I have to say that apart from this issue in the 12 or so months that I’ve been the Shadow Minister for Education, I am concerned about where we are going, because I am not getting a strong sense of confidence that the government has the same confidence in non-government schools as perhaps it did when we were in government.

I say that because there is a black cloud over private school building funds. The Productivity Commission has recommended that DGR status deductible gift recipient status for schools and religious institutions be abolished. So what does that mean? It means an end of school building funds, an end of school library funds, an end of scholarship funds, an end to you having the ability to raise funds for your school, for your future.

Now, the minister responsible happens to be Jim Chalmers, the treasurer. He has responsibility for the Productivity Commission. He happens to represent this local electorate. So if you do bump into him, please pass on that you don’t want to see these changes. The other thing that I’ve been very concerned about is the announcement of teacher scholarships. There are lots of challenges with teacher shortages right across the country, particularly in regional areas. But I was very disheartened when I saw that $50 million invested in teacher scholarships was only going to student teachers who were going to teach in a government school. That is just not fair. The fact is that more than 35 per cent of students attend religious or independent schools. This is founded in the respect that we place in parental choice, the choice to believe, the choice to pray, the choice to follow your faith, the choice to provide our children with an education which aligns with our values. As the Shadow Minister for Education,

I’m very proud to fight for higher school standards founded in evidence-based teaching. I’m very proud to fight against indoctrination because the classroom is for education, not indoctrination. I’m very proud to fight against division and hatred in our universities, as you may have seen in recent weeks and months, and I’m doing that right now fighting antisemitism, which is rearing its ugly head in a number of universities and now here at UQ (University of Queensland). I am very proud to fight for your freedom to follow your faith and I’m very proud to fight for you.

Thank you.

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