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PM Morrison and 'split personality' Church

  • 31 May 2019


Many Catholic leaders and agencies would have shared the general expectation of a change of government and made transitional plans. Be that as it may the new government will be faced by a range of new faces leading national Catholic agencies and groups.

Three newcomers have been announced and a fourth vacancy has recently appeared. The National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC), Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) and the National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies) have new chief executives, and Caritas Australia may do so before the end of the year after Paul O'Callaghan stepped down in mid-May. Two of these new appointees are former long-serving federal Labor MPs, and the third has an extensive church agency background.

NCEC is now being led by former Victorian senator Jacinta Collins, who announced her resignation from Parliament in February. After a lengthy trade union background Collins served as a senator for most of the period from 1995 onwards, was a parliamentary secretary for school education in the Gillard government and briefly minister for mental health and a Cabinet minister in the second Rudd government. NCEC has had several executive directors recently during which time the Catholic education sector played a prominent role in education politics, including supporting Labor's proposals at the mid-2018 by-elections which damaged Malcolm Turnbull.

The new CSSA head from July, replacing an outstanding national advocate in Fr Frank Brennan SJ, is Dr Ursula Stephens, one of Collins' former senate colleagues. Stephens was a New South Wales senator from 2001-2013 and parliamentary secretary for social inclusion and the voluntary sector, 2007-2010, in the first Rudd government. Since then she has twice been an unsuccessful Labor candidate for the seat of Goulburn in NSW state elections, most recently earlier this year. She was a teacher, small business owner and public servant prior to entering Parliament.

The new national voice for Vinnies, Toby O'Connor, was appointed in March. His brief is to advocate for Vinnies' aim of a fairer Australia. He himself was a former national director of CSSA and has had 35 years working in the social services sector, much of it for the church, including as deputy to Monsignor David Cappo at CSSA during the Hawke-Keating years. He replaced Dr John Falzon, also a well-known and powerful voice against injustice, who resigned pre-election to unsuccessfully attempt to win Labor pre-selection for the seat of Canberra in the ACT.

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