A vote for the Greens is a vote against Catholic education

In Australia most of the parties agree on most things. On some issues differences between Labor and Liberal policies can sometimes lie more in emphasis than substance. Our great democracy is better for these points of consensus. On a number of policies there is only one party that stands alone. On their published policy the Greens hold little in common with widely held beliefs and understandings.

Christians and Catholics will find policies in the Greens' platform that they can endorse. This could include policies on sustainability, protection of the environment and others. However they can also find policies antithetical to basic Christian freedoms and beliefs.

I differ with Father Brennan in his belief that there is no harm in giving a vote to a party such as the Greens even if only in the Senate. If the federal election comes down to a few seats the Greens may well play a role in forming a minority government, as we've seen in Tasmania. They may also determine many important issues with the balance of power in the Senate.

If this comes to pass we simply don't know the extent to which they might diminish the place of Catholic schools with their new found power.

As the Director of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, with 330 schools and 141,000 students I understand the implications of education policies. The Greens' policy on funding for Catholic schools will force school closures, increase fees and change the ability of Catholic schools to be genuinely Catholic.

The ability of Catholic schools to continue to help the poor and the marginalised, to serve the neediest students across Victoria and Australia would be much diminished. Cuts would likely flow through to cuts to our current programs for recent arrivals and refugees in Catholic schools.

Greens senators and candidates may well claim that this is not what they intended. But it is the responsibility of those seeking to lead to inform themselves of the implications of their positions. We estimate the Greens funding policy would cut $427 million from Catholic schools including more than $110 million taken from Victorian Catholic schools to serve the neediest in the community.

I take little comfort from Father Brennan's view of the Greens. The Greens policy is to significantly strip Catholic schools of funding. If they don't want this outcome why not change the policy?

It is incumbent upon all leaders in the Church to faithfully inform, as Cardinal Pell did, everyone who is interested of the consequences of policy. Voters will need to ask: If the Greens have a compassionate asylum seeker policy, will it come at the expense of Catholic schools? If they promote sustainability, will it be at the cost of unsustainable government funding for Catholic schools?

It is always for individuals to make decisions according to their own informed conscience when it comes to important matters of principle. Voting is squarely among such important matters. The conscience of the individual is at the core of Catholic teaching.

As Christians it is reasonable to vote for policy moderation to keep the major parties honest. The Australian Senate has included fine senators who effectively pursued such a mission on behalf of voters. The Greens have not yet met this measure on many issues. Funding for Catholic schools is a clear example.

As we approach the federal election Christians may well choose to seek out Democrat-like figures again to balance the agenda of the major parties. The Democrats were a diverse, genuinely centrist party who didn't always get it right but filled this role well over time.

Greens should be welcome as the moderators of the Senate if that is indeed what they are. Their current policies will undermine the viability and work of Catholic schools and other important social policies. I have great faith that Christian voters can decide.

Stephen ElderStephen Elder is Director of Catholic Education,Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Topic tags: Greens, Frank Brennan, George Pell, Bob Brown, Jim Wallace, Australian Christian Lobby, Catholic Schools



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Existing comments

Stephen Elder's election advice is undisguised. It's clear "big guns" are being enlisted to combat the Greens. I suspect it's finally dawning on hierarchical and establishment elements of the Church that a great tide of disenchantment with both the major parties and the bishops themselves threatens their long-established cosy arrangements. The battle is for hearts and minds: the major parties and some bishops both want submissive members who never cross the floor. Education's an integral part of this process, hence the sensitivity about funding. I think this election campaign is revealing both the policy vacuity of the two major parties and the essentially beseiged or fortress mentality of some of the hierarchy, which is completely at odds with the instincts of many in and outside the Church. Mark Latham had one policy right: he was unashamed to divert monies to the schools most in need. It may sound superficially reasonable for Stephen Elder to argue Catholic schools shouldn't close or lose an exclusive Catholic character. Catholic schooling's a choice not a minimum service; until he can demonstrate that Catholic schooling should remain privileged, funding-wise, at the expense of public schools, or communities with little access to quality educational resources, his attack on the Greens bears all the hallmark of a vested interest.

Stephen | 12 August 2010  


I went to a small school of limited resources. We used the public park for sports and were bussed to a public pool for swimming. I used to marvel at the facilities of the school down the road: multiple ovals, pools, basketball courts, a huge library, laboratories and course options such as aviation. I attended a Catholic school; the school with the facilities that amazed was a government school. It is a misnomer to think that non-government schools are bastions of privilege while government schools are all doing it tough.

Education is a public good. It is sensible for the state to encourage a system where parents have the opportunity to reach into their own supplement government funding without being unduly penalised. If every child in a non-government school transferred to a government school, the per-student cost for the state would be significantly higher - without any improvement in educational quality for those in state schools. As the results of the BER enquiry show, in NSW in particular, centralised state bureacracies are less effective in getting value for money than local schools making their own decisions. This is the key to improve government-run schools, not attacking non-government schools.

This public versus private debate is counter-productive. The terminology is loaded and misleading: "private" schools should more accurately be described as non-government not-for-profit schools. We should see these schools as complementary, subsidising the finite funds governments expend on education.

If you think only government-run schools should get taxpayers money, fine. But you would be mistaken in believing that is going to make the system fairer or more equal. That really will turn non-government schools into the preserve of the elite without addressing the root problem with the government system: lack of choice, centralised bureaucracy and limited power of those at the educational coalface to make the most appropriate choices for their own school community.

Tim Wallace | 13 August 2010  

Stephen Elder - why don't you take a deep breath and read Frank Brennan's article again - carefully.

Marjorie, Brisbane | 13 August 2010  

There are many reasons why no Catholic should ever vote for the "Greens". This article shows one of these many reasons not to vote for them. The 2 major parties look very lame but a vote for the Democratic Labor Party or "Family First" would be a good vote for all Catholics.

Trent | 13 August 2010  

In 1982 I wrote 'The Lost Child' for the Tablet Educational Supplement. My aim was to challenge a culture of indoctrination and propose instead an approach based on dialogue and conversation.

And an end to infant baptism, juvenile confirmation and compulsory school Mass attendance.

Since then, there's been little progress, and I've started to question the very existence of denominational schools. However well-intentioned, they are ultimately tribal, divisive and counter-productive. Northern Ireland is one example.

Do those who support Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, Muslim schools, also support special schools for every other sect and denomination?

In increasing numbers, thinking young people are no longer prepared to accept the results of other people's thinking. This is seen in the declining numbers of young adult Mass attendees.

As my favourite saint, Francis of Assisi declared: "When preaching the Gospel, use words only if essential."

Gordon Rowland | 13 August 2010  

Tim, you make good points; I certainly do not believe only public schools should get some funding: I am not however convinced that the current funding arrangements are fair and equitable and I do believe in Robin Hood redistribution and progressive tax. I do believe there are struggling religious not-for-profit schools. Where the case for their continued existence in their current location is sound, they should get more. I do believe there are well-endowed and financially supported schools that under the current arrangements get money that could go to the poorer schools, public or not-for-profit.

What I also note is that you presented some sound argument; Stephen Elder's article consisted of nothing more than simple assertions and characterisations. So, thank you for your considered reply.

Stephen | 13 August 2010  

I welcomed Frank Brennan's article earlier in the week, in particular his comments concerning the coherence of many major Greens policies with Christian values:
"Consider their stand on overseas aid, refugees, stewardship of creation and the environment, public housing, human rights protection, and income management. On all these issues, the Greens are far more in synch with the periodic utterances of most Church leaders than either of the major political parties."

I joined the Greens, as a Christian, precisely at the moment of the Tampa incident in the Howard era because of their social justice agenda. Greens education policy is based on sound principles including better funding for public schools; funding to both public and private schools based on the principle of equity. As private schools, Catholic schools need to be funded on the bases of equity and justice, and should also support a strong and diverse public school system as part of their mission to justice in the world. What is saddest in Stephen Elder's approach is that he seems to ignore the issues of justice raised by Frank Brennan and one would hope taught in the Catholic schools he seeks to help thrive.

Anne Elvey | 13 August 2010  

Of course Catholic Education is not our only concern. A vote for the greens also means a vote for abortion, gay marriage and any "progressive" cause you can think of

Henrietta | 13 August 2010  

Thank you Stephen for telling me how to vote.

Of course, Fr Brennan did not say "there will be no harm in voting for the Greens", he argued that a Christian or Catholic can choose to vote Green and feel at ease with their conscience.

Perhaps many of us consider Labor/Liberal/National's abdication of our international legal responsibilities and the subsequent human rights abuses facing asylum seekers, not to mention the potential further persecution they receive when illegally "refouled" to their country, a greater moral issue than the allocation of funding to private, public and systemic Catholic schools. I know many Catholics who can not say conscienably "I won't vote to protect asylum seekers because I don't want to risk a drop in funding for my child's school" especially when such a drop is unlikely to pass if, as Fr Brennan points out, not having the support of either major party.

Yes, we could vote Democrat, but in a preferential system we have to choose who to put next, and your comments again imply that it would be wrong to put the Greens ahead of major parties who would fund your schools but continue to abuse human rights.

Interesting defence of Cardinal Pell too, who as I see it, did not "faithfully inform" about "the consequences of policy" so much as dog-whistle, re-invoke fear of Communists (what next? The Yellow Peril?), use throwaway, inflammatory insubstantial rhetoric and, rather than respect the intelligence of his readers, participate in the sort of cheap political comedy we should expect him to be above.

Brendan | 13 August 2010  

Of course Catholic Education is not our only concern. A vote for the greens also means a vote for abortion, gay marriage and any "progressive" cause you can think of

Henrietta | 13 August 2010  

This is a bit off the point of the article, but I agree with Henrietta and Frank Brennan that education is not the sole issue. One issue that I think Catholics need not worry about is the Greens' advocacy of same sex marriage.

The arguments on all sides about same sex marriages seem to proceed on the supposition that the Commonwealth Parliament has legislative power to authorise them. There must be grave doubt that it does. The Constitution gives it power to make laws with respect to "marriage" (Sec. 51(xxi)). At the time of the Constitution "marriage" meant monogamous and heterosexual marriage. A number of High Court judges (including Frank's dad) have held firmly that it still does. Some others have expressed views that it might be possible to extend its meaning. But the point is that it is not for Parliament to extend it. It has no power to define the meaning of words used in the Constitution. That can be done only by the High Court or by a successful referendum. paper by the Parliamentary Library giving references to the cases may be read at www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rn/2001-02/02rn17.htm.

Alan Hogan | 13 August 2010  

Henrietta, If 'A vote for the greens also means a vote for abortion, gay marriage and any "progressive" cause you can think of', does a vote for the Coalition (and increasingly, it seems, their ALP opponents), mean slamming the door on asylum seekers and leaving them to drown at sea, or locking them up in remote prisons and leaving them and their children to go mad behind razor wire?

(Remember? "I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . . I was in prison and you visited me . . .")

Does it mean support for the USA's armed-to -the-teeth military-industrial complex? Does it mean complicity in our ally's multiple abuses – killing people who resist the US invasion/occupation of their homeland, and anyone else who gets in the way; water-boarding and the rendition of suspected 'terrorists' for torture?

Unless you convince me otherwise, I'll probably vote for the Greens.

I certainly won't vote for either of the main parties. How could any conscientious person even think of doing so?

Gordon Rowland | 13 August 2010  

Stephen - weren't you a Liberal party candidate?

My reading of the Greens policy was that its focus was addressing current inequities to deliver more balanced funding ... I would think that Catholic schools with a mission to bring quality education to disadvantaged students would do just fine and our public schools would be better off - it's only the elite private schools who might expect to lose some public funds they frankly neither deserve nor need.

Chris | 13 August 2010  


I know the coalition's policies on asylum seekers are abhorrent and of course unbiblical...however the murder of innocent children (through abortion) is still worse.

We are in a difficult position this election having to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Henrietta | 13 August 2010  

Well spotted Chris regarding Stephen's previous status as a Liberal MP. Can't believe I didn't recognise the name.

Stephen would do well to declare such interests up front rather than attempt to appear to be acting solely out of interest for Catholic Education.

Brendan | 13 August 2010  

Inter alia, I support Alan Hogan's excellent point v. the Greens' bizarre and unconstitutional concept of 'marriage'.

To use their favourite spin-word against them: The ideas of the Greens are, in the main, 'unsustainable'.

HH | 13 August 2010  

Bravo, Stephen Elder. Your article has thrown a spanner in the works of Father Brennan's alternative magisterium. While your warnings about Green educational funding policy are timely, other apsects of the Green platform are much more disquieting, involving threats to human dignity and vital social institutions. If Father Brennan wants a third voice in the Senate to challenge the political establishment, I suggest the Democratic Labour Party.

Sylvester | 13 August 2010  

I shuddered when I read this article. Its back to the bad DLP days.

I stayed in the ALP and fought for State aid when the "good Catholics" Catholics were sliding over to the Libs under the guise of the DLP. God save me from "good Catholics"

Stephen Elder does not specify what is the Greens' policy on funding for Catholic Schools.If he elects to raise the spectre of Greens pulling back on funding because they have a compassionate asylum seeker policy specify why it follows they will cut back on school funding.

It's right to say the DLP is alive and well in the Liberal party

Bede Hickey | 14 August 2010  

Why the hysteria? At best the Greens will get one or two members in the reps and 1 in 6 senators. Without the support of a major party, their policies can never be enacted. Their chief role will be as the moderators in the Senate, preventing the excesses of whoever wins government. That's the main reason that I will be voting for them.

Trevor | 15 August 2010  

Stephen Elder uses categorical (and it might be suggested inflammatory) langauge in stating: "The Greens' policy on funding for Catholic schools will force school closures, increase fees and change the ability of Catholic schools to be genuinely Catholic".

What is "genuinely Catholic" and what is the proof that Catholics (alone?) serve the "neediest in the community"?

What percentage of "neediest" students are catered for in state schools as distinct from Catholic schools, esp in fees charged to a number of very wealthy parents of independent (inl Catholic) schools?

What evidence is there to show Catholic schools will face closure?!

Gary Wilson fsc | 15 August 2010  

Quick comment on last night's Compass, the most interesting contrast between two women, one Labor, one Green, who came from a Catholic background, and two self-proclaimed practicing Catholics Joe Hockey and Barnaby Joyce. What struck me most forcibly, was that both the men, while sincere in their belief, and a bit more pleasant than when politicking, are still trapped in the macho-adversarial mode which turns ordinary people off. They had no answer to the interviewer's question as to whether this adversarial approach might not be compatible with the ideals and principles they espouse.

The women, on the other hand, were honest and able to express doubt. For the two men, it seems as if they were saying that this is the way politics has to be. Well sorry, that doesn't impress me at all. Did Jesus say 'Turn the other cheek, love your enemies - but not of course if you're in politics,then you can slag off, attack them,sneer at them etc etc '. Of course not. It's a gender issue and that goes for some of our macho, head-kicking religious leaders, constantly denouncing, condemning, judging and occasionally threatening..

Yes, women do adopt the male model to get on, (Thatcher, eg) or they adopt a feminised type of aggro (Julie Bishop sneering and sniggering at the Liberal Launch)but it demeans them. And some men don't act that way: Bob Brown is always polite and doesn't abuse or slag off his adversaries.

Mark Latham is a sad example of where you end up when your aggression is frustrated. Why can't men get it?

Ann | 16 August 2010  

Stephen Elder was in fact the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education October 1992-1999 in the Kennett Government, a time when funding for the public school system was slashed, with 350 government schools closed, and 7,000 teaching jobs removed.

David M | 16 August 2010  

I believe that the two school system in Australia serves us well. When one gets a bit out of kilter with community expectations the pendulum swings in favour of the other.

It is very difficult to get to the bottom of the funding issue, and people like Stephen Elder who are in a position to answer questions re funding rarely make the issues clearer. There is something that as a community we need to keep our eye on government funds going towards building the grand projects of elite schools while schools both Catholic and public do not have the barest essentials. There are policy issues which need an airing and if the Greens help to do it they have done this country a service.

Anne Schmid | 16 August 2010  

Bede - no, the DLP, is alive and well in its own right, the real representative of working-class interests since the yuppification of the ALP.

Ann - adversarial politics is not only a "macho" thing - look at Julia Gillard, a master (mistress?) of sneering, attacking and slagging-off if ever there were one.

Sylvester | 16 August 2010  

Not his fault directly, I know, but I'd be more impressed with Mr Elder's concern about Catholic schools' capacity to help "the poor and the marginalised" if I hadn't witnessed the Catholic system in Sydney unloading difficult pupils with special needs (ie, especially "poor and marginalised" kids) on a desperately overloaded public system - cynical and shameful action that's more of a threat to Catholic education than any posed by the Greens.

DOMINIC NAGLE | 20 August 2010  

The Greens are not against Catholic education. They oppose government funding for religious education. That is a different matter. The US does not allow funding for religious education, but Catholicism and other religions flourish in that country. The Greens want the same thing for Australia.

David Fisher | 07 January 2011  


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