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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1150


Mr MURPHY (3:04 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Following the minister’s participation in a bipartisan delegation to the Holy See, will the minister update the House on the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, and the celebrations surrounding this historic event?


Mr RUDD (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for Reid for his question and I acknowledge his strong and continuing commitment to the Catholic Church and of course that of so many other members of the House, including the member for Menzies and the Leader of the Opposition, among others. The canonisation of Mary MacKillop was an occasion of great joy for the entire Australian Catholic community, and Catholic pilgrims gathered in great numbers in St Peter’s Square for the canonisation ceremony. In fact, Mary MacKillop must have been a woman of extraordinary virtue and significance given her ability to bring together a unity ticket on the part of myself, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Barnaby Joyce. For those who doubt the possibility of miracles, I offer that as a piece of evidence to the contrary!

The canonisation ceremony in St Peter’s Square was cause for enormous celebration for the 10,000 or so Australian pilgrims who were present. In fact we could hear across St Peter’s Square that ancient Australian Gregorian chant, ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi,’ which left the entire square bemused except those of us who knew what it meant. The ceremony itself was supported by a bipartisan agreement between opposition and government to provide a $1.5 million support payment to the Sisters of St Joseph and the Mary MacKillop Foundation. In part these funds were drawn upon to provide support for 20 or so young Australians and 20 or so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to go to Rome to participate in the events in St Peter’s Square.

Together the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I opened the exhibition at the Vatican Museum, entitled ‘Rituals of life’. This was an extraordinary exhibition, bringing together artefacts and artworks from across Aboriginal communities sent first to the Vatican in 1928 and not seen since. This was a remarkable exhibition and our thanks go to the Vatican Museum for their assistance. Together the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I also attended the canonisation ceremony itself and the celebratory mass at St Paul’s beyond the walls the following day.

Also, it was my great privilege to open the chancery of the first resident Australian mission to the Holy See, led capably by Australia’s first resident Ambassador to the Holy See, Tim Fischer. Tim Fischer is doing a first-class job for Australia. He is a first-class ambassador. In fact, his Akubra is now almost as recognised as the helmets of the Swiss Guards as it is the subject of much comment by those who frequent St Peter’s Square.

Many Australians have asked, ‘Why do we have a resident mission to the Holy See?’ The first reason is that there are 77 other states that do so as well—most major powers and certainly most middle powers do—and, secondly, we work with the Holy See on a range of important policy areas: religious freedom, interfaith dialogue, food security, disarmament and such matters across the global agenda. But on this occasion we were there to support, as an official delegation, the canonisation of Mary MacKillop. The Sisters of St Joseph led by Sister Anne Derwin deserve particular recognition, as does the leadership of the Catholic church under Cardinal Pell and his archbishops. This was a celebration of an extraordinary Australian woman’s life and, whatever people’s religious beliefs might be, a cause for celebration for the Australian nation.


Ms Julie Bishop —Mr Speaker, on indulgence: I was going to move that the Minister for Foreign Affairs have an extension of time because he answered the question so beautifully and effectively.

Opposition members—Bring back, Kevin!


The SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order.


Ms Julie Bishop —I thank the foreign minister for arranging this bipartisan delegation from the Australian parliament. It certainly was a magnificent occasion and I am grateful that the coalition was able to be represented there and I join with the foreign minister in congratulating the Catholic community in Australia on this momentous event, the canonisation of Australia’s first saint.