National Catholic Education Conference


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand – here in Canberra, the Ngunnawal people, and at the Conference in Sydney, the Gadigal of the Eora Nation – and their elders past, present and emerging.

Thank you to Executive Director, Jacinta Collins, your Commissioners, Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools Executive Director Jim Miles, your executive team and staff for the opportunity to briefly address the Conference today.

I wish I could be with you in person, but it is a Parliamentary Sitting Week.

I understand this is the first time in a few years that Catholic education has held a national gathering.

It is no surprise then that you are covering a lot of ground this week.

Looking at the program, I see you have been discussing many of the issues we are focusing on at a national level.

Teacher workforce.

School improvement.

And mental health and wellbeing.

As you know, COVID has turned our lives upside down and it’s affected students more than most.

The way they learn and, for a lot of young Australians, their mental health and wellbeing.

At the election we promised to deliver a $200 million Student Wellbeing Boost.

Every Australian school will benefit from this next year, with the average school receiving about $20,000 to fund things like school counsellors and psychologists, and extra funding for camps, excursions, as well as sporting and social activities.  

Your contribution to education is significant.

One in five Australian students attend a Catholic school.

Almost 40 per cent of Catholic schools are in regional and remote areas.

Students with a disability make up 20 per cent of the student population in Catholic schools.

More than 40 per cent of Catholic school students are funded for socio-educational disadvantage.

What we do here matters.

The fact is that kids from poorer families are still less likely to go to pre-school than kids from wealthier families.

They are less likely to finish high school.

And they are less likely to go to university.

NAPLAN data tell us that reading and maths skills of kids in primary school have improved in the last decade. But not for kids from poorer backgrounds.

Where you live, how much your parents earn, whether you are Indigenous or not, is still a major factor in whether you are a student or a graduate of an Australian university.

I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on your postcode, your parents, or the colour of your skin.

None of us want that. But that’s where we are today.

I want to work with you to turn that around.

Teachers are a key part of that.

There aren’t many jobs more important than being a teacher and we don’t have enough of them.

We’ve got a shortage of teachers right across the country at the moment, and it’s not just because of COVID. It’s not just because of the flu. It’s more than that.

There are more kids going to school than ever before, and that’s a great thing, but there are fewer people going on to university to study teaching.

We have seen a drop of about 16 per cent in the course of the last 10 years.

We need to turn that around.

That’s why we’ve committed to providing bursaries worth up to $40,000 to encourage the best and brightest to become teachers.

That’s why we are expanding the High Achiever Teachers’ Program to encourage mid-career professionals to switch to the classroom.

It’s also why we’re prioritising visas for overseas teachers to come and work here.

But we have to do more than that, because it is not just a shortage of people signing up to be teachers.

More and more teachers are leaving the profession early because they feel burnt out, worn out.

That’s why I brought together teachers, principals, and other education experts with State and Territory Ministers last month to develop a plan to tackle this.

It was good to have Jacinta there. She made a really important contribution.

We agreed to take action to do effectively three things: encourage more young people to become teachers; better prepare them for the classroom; and help keep the incredible teachers we have got.

Work has started on that Action Plan, and it will be presented to Education Ministers in December.

This is really important work.

Education is the most powerful cause for good in this country. It changes lives.

Paul Keating, an old De La Salle boy, once described education as the “the keys to the kingdom”. 

The master key that opens every door in life. Every opportunity.

If that’s the case, teachers are the key-makers. 

It’s critical that we work together to lift the status of teaching in this country to where it belongs.

To do that, we need to listen to teachers.

And I am keen to work with you on solutions to the teacher shortage crisis and all the other issues confronting us in education.

I want every child to get the keys that Keating talked about. The life-changing opportunity of a great education.

Catholic education is an important part of making that opportunity a reality.

Catholic education has made an enormous contribution to young people, their families, parishes and communities in Australia for more than 200 years, since first Catholic school, Parramatta Marist, was founded in 1820.

You are a big part of education in this country, and I’m delighted to be working with you on this great endeavour.

I wish you well for your National Conference.

Thank you.