Faith-Based Higher Education Summit




Welcome to Parliament House.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I also want to acknowledge Peter McKeon – Chair, Australian Christian Higher Education Alliance (ACHEA) and his team for your work in pulling this all together.

And bringing us all together for this inaugural Faith Based Education Summit.

Bringing together people of all different faiths. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims.

We are the best country in the world.

A big part of that is because of this – because we’re made up of people from all different backgrounds, and all different faiths.

All living here together. In harmony. 

I’m not a person of faith. But I want you to know I value what you do. That’s why I really wanted to host this event.

Paul Oslington from Alphacrucis College said in The Australian last week that faith-based higher education was here before our public universities.

He gave the example of St James College on King Street in Sydney that was operating before the first brick was laid at the University of Sydney.

But the truth is, you can go much further back than that.

Before the first universities emerged in places like Italy, Spain, or France at the end of the 20th century, there was already a culture of monastic learning centuries-old. 

For centuries, monks and nuns were the keepers of knowledge. Passing it on from one generation to the next.

We only have the words of Tacitus or the wisdom of Cicero or the Hippocratic Oath because of them. And so much else from the ancient world.

Because of monks tucked away in monasteries. Nuns in scriptoriums. Transcribing and re-transcribing words that would have otherwise been lost to the elements, lost to the void of time.

And not just keeping knowledge but creating it.

In everything from mathematics to medicine, and training doctors and engineers and lawyers and religious officials.

Madrasahs which emerged in Iran in the 10th Century were centres for religious and secular learning.

And you still play that role today.

Institutions here in this room help train teachers, nurses, counsellors, lawyers, care workers.

You also train pastors and priests, ministers and monks. But we don’t train Rabbis or Imams in Australia. Not yet.

I’ve spoken a number of times to leaders in the Jewish community and Islamic community and others, like Murray Norman, CEO of Better Balanced Futures, about this.

I think it’s in our interest as a country to change this. For Australian religious leaders to be able to get the training and qualifications they need here in Australia.

Today I also want to talk to you about the reform that’s underway in higher education.

What the next decade looks like. And the decade after that.

We live in a world where almost every single new job that’s created will require you to finish school and go to TAFE or uni. Vocation or higher education.

That means we need more people to do that.

36 percent of the workforce has a uni degree today. The Accord Interim Report that I released a few months ago estimates that that could jump to more than 50 percent by the middle of this century.

And if that’s right, that means over the next two and a half decades, there will be more people in higher education and more higher education institutions.

The core argument in the Interim Report is this – the only way to do this, the only way to increase participation in higher education, the only way to get the skills we are going to need is to significantly increase the number of higher education students from poor backgrounds, from the outer suburbs and from the regions.

For a kid from Cabramatta that sits well with me. At the moment about 45 per cent of young adults have a university degree. But not where I come from.

In the outer suburbs of our cities it is only around 23 per cent. In the regions it is about 22 per cent. Among Indigenous Australians it’s even lower. A lot lower.

The Accord is a chance to change that.

There’s lots of ideas in that Interim Report.

Some big. Some small. Some pretty uncontroversial. Some a bit spiky. Almost all of them cost money, and we can’t do everything.

That’s why the debate we are having about the ideas that are in this report, and aren’t in it, are important.

That’s part of the reason why events like this are important.

The Accord team will hand me their Final Report at the end of the year. Between now and then they have some big decisions to make.

What are the most important things we have to do?

What’s the best way to do it?

What can wait? Be staged out.

What should be ditched?

This is not just about one Budget.

This is about the next few decades.

And I want to thank you for the role you are playing in it.

I mentioned a moment ago the discussions that I’ve had with my friends in the Jewish and the Muslim community about the training of Rabbis and Imams and it’s not lost on me that some of some of those friends are here today.

And that this might be the first time in some time that leaders in the Jewish and the Muslim community have been in the same room in Australia.

I fear that there are darker days ahead.

That there is more bloodshed to come overseas. And with that bloodshed, more division here. More fear, more grief and more anger.

A few weeks ago, a Jewish friend of mine told me that he felt afraid to send his children to school here in Australia.

The same day, a Muslim friend of mine told me that he was afraid his family in Gaza would not be alive tomorrow.

Those dead bodies on both sides of the border, they have names.

And a lot of Australians of Jewish background and Muslim background know those names. They know them.

That’s why they’re afraid. That’s why they are angry. That’s why they’re asking for a bit of understanding and a bit of compassion.

What’s happening on the other side of the world has an impact here in Australia. We can’t let what’s happening here pull us apart.

That’s why days like today are important.

It reminds me that in the midst of all this darkness, that we have more in common than divides us.

That we can grieve together for the lives lost on both sides of the border.

That we can hope, however improbable, that there will be no more bloodshed.

And that we can come together like we have today and believe, however dark things might seem right now, that there is still a better world that lies ahead.