Statements By Senators - Australian Capital Territory: Schools, Defence Community Organisation – 18 March 2015

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (13:15): On 5 March, I was very pleased to visit Canberra Grammar School for the official opening of the Snow Centre for Education in the Asian Century. The Snow centre comprises a new facility which has transformed the frontage of the school campus and is dedicated to educating students to be global citizens, particularly in the Asian century.

The building has 12 classrooms for the teaching of Asian languages, geography, history, economics and culture. It also includes an indoor and outdoor amphitheatre, an exhibition area, open learning spaces, student collaboration pods, conferencing facilities and networking features to connect students to other education centres around the world. The centre will also work in close collaboration with other educational institutions, such as the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.

The centre was funded by Canberra Airport owner, philanthropist and old boy of Canberra Grammar School Mr Terry Snow. Mr Snow's $8 million gift to the school is one of the largest single donations to a school in Australian history and reflects his dedication to improving Canberra's culture and capacity for education.

It also could not have come at a better time, with this government's efforts to engage further with our Asian partners, with free trade agreements with China and Korea and our economic partnership with Japan. These agreements have the potential to unlock investment and trade in all manner of economic areas, and it is great that this centre exists to be able to train the next generation in preparation for this century.

I wish to offer my congratulations to Canberra Grammar School for this excellent, forward-thinking initiative, and also of course to Terry Snow for his generosity. I look forward to seeing the students who study in this centre impact and influence Canberra, Australia and our world.

On Saturday, 14 March, I had the privilege of attending a welcome for new Defence families who have been posted to Canberra this year. The event was held at the Australia Defence Force Academy and hosted by the Defence Community Organisation. The Defence Community Organisation is a national organisation that offers a broad range of programs and services to help Defence families make the most of the challenges and opportunities that accompany the military life. The welcome event was designed to establish community links between civilian communities and ADF families. The event was an excellent opportunity for me to welcome these new residents of the Australian Capital Territory. I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of over 75 families, each of them a welcome addition to our community here in Canberra.

Previously I have made statements in this chamber about great institutions such as the Australian War Memorial that memorialise the sacrifice of our servicemen and servicewomen. Whilst it is crucial in this, the Centenary of Anzac, that we reflect on the sacrifice of our defence personnel, it is also right that we reflect on the sacrifices made at home by the families left behind. Defence families are often left without a loved one for long periods of time. Further, families are often left dislocated from their extended families, regularly being posted across Australia and overseas. Although organisations such as the Defence Community Organisation go some way to supporting these families, the absence of a parent remains a significant challenge. The resilience and enthusiasm of these families is an inspiration. They shoulder a burden that often goes unseen and unacknowledged.

Meeting these families was a great experience, and I thank the Defence Community Organisation for putting on this great event. I extend the deepest of gratitude and warmest of welcomes to these new members of the ACT community and wish them a pleasant and productive time in the nation's capital.

On Saturday, 28 February, I had the honour of representing the Prime Minster at St Clare's College, Canberra, for the opening and blessing of their school refurbishments. The event kicked off St Clare's College's 50th anniversary celebrations. Catholic Girls' High School Griffith, as St Clare's was originally known, was blessed by His Grace Archbishop Eris O'Brien and officially opened by the federal education minister, Senator John Gorton, on Sunday, 30 May 1965. Since those early days the school has expanded from the original enrolment of 183 girls in the first and second form to just over 1,030 students across years 7 to 12. St Clare's College is now the largest Catholic girls' secondary school in Canberra and teaches a wide variety of subjects, holds a high academic standard and retains a firm commitment to the Gospel message.

I have a personal connection with the school both through my sister and through my wife and her family. In fact, my wife, Ros, has suggested that a new wing at St Clare's could have been named after her family given that there were six McPhee girls who went through St Clare's and they were there for a non-stop period of about 25 years, I think, of the 50 years of St Clare's. No doubt there are many other family stories that have gone into making St Clare's the wonderful school that it is. I want to thank the students and staff of St Clare's for welcoming me and my wife, Ros, and our daughter Grace into their school and hope their school refurbishments and commitment to learning sees the school go on for a long time to come.

I also this month had the privilege of representing the government at St Vincent's Primary School in Aranda here in Canberra for the blessing and opening of their recently refurbished classrooms. The Commonwealth government contributed a little over $500,000 through the Capital Grants Programme so that these classrooms could be refurbished and refitted for up-and-coming students. This project was a great collaboration between the Catholic Education Office, the Commonwealth government and the local school community, who raised nearly $200,000 themselves to see this project completed.

St Vincent's is a vibrant local school that provides a great environment for learning and a strong community for the parents and families of students. I was struck by the enthusiasm and passion of staff and students alike during my visit and I am confident of seeing them take full advantage of these new facilities to get great educational outcomes.

I was grateful to join Monsignor John Woods, who represented the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, and Moira Najdecki, director of Catholic education in Canberra, for their work on the day. It was great to see Alistair Coe, the member for Ginninderra, attending the event as well; he is a great supporter of the school community. I would also like to thank Marg Koenen, the Principal of St Vincent's, who was able to usher this project through to completion and gave us a wonderful and warm welcome on the day.


Finally, I also had the honour of visiting Holy Family Parish Primary School in Gowrie, representing the government to open brand new classrooms also funded through the Commonwealth's Capital Grants Program. Six new classrooms and flexible working areas were built and refurbished, and students and staff get the chance to enjoy these new facilities and teach and learn more effectively. The Commonwealth government provided $700,000 to the project. While it must be said that buildings themselves don't necessarily make great schools, good-quality facilities can enable students and teachers to get the most out of their lessons. These new learning spaces take into account the latest in education research and will see students have the opportunity to learn more effectively. I was impressed as I always am with the professionalism of the Holy Family staff and the attitude of the students, who are looking forward to taking advantage of the new classrooms and learning spaces. I want to congratulate Principal Anne-Marie Marek and the entire school community not just for their work in bringing this project to fruition but also in ensuring that Holy Family continues to be a wonderful school community in the Tuggeranong Valley in Canberra.