Take Note of Answers - Education

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:20): You know the Labor Party's in trouble when they start quoting Paul Bongiorno—lovely fellow he is, but clearly a card-carrying member of the Labor Party, and he has been for some time. As I said, a nice fellow, and good luck to him for his wrong political opinions, but don't quote him as an authority.

Senator Collins has brought a sectarian element into this debate, which I find unfortunate. I'd just say to Senator Collins that she should listen to what the Catholic Church said about her and some of her colleagues in the same-sex marriage debate, when many from the Catholic Church felt left by some members of the Labor Party. I really don't think we should get involved in that, but I want to get back to the principal opposition speaker, Senator Farrell. I'm authorised to say, Senator Farrell, that I found your history of your Irish ancestors and the First World War very interesting—almost as interesting, I might say, as Senator Simon Birmingham's Irish grandfather, who lost a leg at Polygon Wood, a major battle in World War I. Simon's grandfather, Patrick O'Loghlen, would probably have shared the battlefields with Senator Farrell's forebears, and I hope they got on well there together.

I'm pleased to enter into this debate, because it allows me to pass on publicly to Senator Birmingham and Mr Turnbull the thanks of a school that I was at just last Friday, up in Charters Towers in Queensland. I pay my respects to Columba College, the amalgamation of the old Mount Carmel College and St Mary's College at Charters Towers. They joined together a few years ago to form Columba College and are the recipients of a $4 million grant from the Turnbull government to do some wonderful extensions to their science blocks, to their school rooms, joining some work that the parents of that school did in improving the school playing fields, the quadrangle and the central meeting area. It was a wonderful experience I had on Friday, and I have many of them in North Queensland, more often than not at Catholic schools. And I mention—not that it matters—that I'm not a Catholic myself. But I love going to Catholic schools. They do wonderful work, and all credit to Columba College Principal Mr Daniel McShea. Congratulations, Sir, on the wonderful work that you and the P&C and all of your staff do there, and congratulations to the wonderful young people at that school.

I promised the Bishop of North Queensland and the principal that I would accede to their request of personally thanking Mr Turnbull and Senator Birmingham for the support that they have given to that school and to most other Catholic schools. I well know Catholic education in Townsville—and I pay respects to Cathy Day, who's just about to retire, unfortunately—and understand how pleased the Catholic Church, particularly in the dioceses of North Queensland and Far North Queensland, are with the school funding they receive from the current federal government.

Mr Acting Deputy President, I don't have much time left, but, finally, I just want to again correct Senator Collins. She seemed to be playing that basest form of politics, in trying to bring religion and sectarianism into debates in this chamber. But she also got Professor Gonski completely wrong. I remind Senator Collins that actually Professor Gonski stood with the Prime Minister and Senator Birmingham when the new, wonderful package increasing funding to all school children was announced. If Professor Gonski was there, supporting the Prime Minister and Senator Birmingham, you can see how totally false are the claims made by Senator Collins in her very, very poor contribution to this debate in the Senate.

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