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Thursday, 8 February 2018
Page: 841


Mr LEESER (Berowra) (12:24): At the end of last year an important new Australian educational institution was launched. That is the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. I was proud to be present at the launch, not only as a board member but also as the architect of the centre's program, mission and structure. The centre's mission is to instil in Australians a knowledge of and appreciation for the cultural heritage of Western civilisation, which has shaped our society. The centre hopes that with that knowledge more Australians will understand and be influenced by a tradition which has given the world liberal democracy and the rule of law and has preserved and advanced individual freedoms to speak, to worship, to associate and to choose one's own destiny. Anchored in traditions which come to us from Greece, Rome and Jerusalem, burnished in the crucible of Britain and its legacy to Australia, and adapted to our own conditions, the Western tradition has been downplayed in educational circles for the best part of 30 years. The foundation of any education in the humanities must be Western civilisation and its tradition of debate, discussion and deductive learning.

Leaving aside Indigenous history, prior to 1788 Australian history was British history. It includes the Judeo-Christian roots of the West and its pre-Christian roots in the ancient world. Knowledge of Western civilisation is not confined to history and philosophy, but includes theology, literature, music, art, architecture and the history and philosophy of science. Studying the great texts leads to an engagement with fundamental questions about what it means to be human and how one should live a good life. Both the factual content and the method of debate and discovery that underpins the pedagogy of Western civilisation are equally important. Providing Australians with knowledge of Western civilisation should lead us to better decisions being made, as Australians will develop a deeper appreciation for past debates and the universal challenges which confront leaders, decision makers and ordinary citizens. A sound grounding in Western civilisation should help students be better able to think for themselves.

It's important to remind Australians of the origin of our culture and traditions, or we are doomed to undervalue our institutions, to take them for granted without realising the important role they play in society, or to be prepared to jettison them or to repeat historic errors by making decisions without understanding their consequences. Unlike in America, Australians have never had the opportunity to study, deeply and broadly, concepts of Western civilisation. That's why the Ramsay Centre is so important.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is made possible because of the generous endowment from healthcare entrepreneur the late Paul Ramsay AO. Paul Ramsay had a clear vision for the Australia he wanted to leave for the next generation. He mixed with a wide variety of Australians in business and through other public and charitable activities. As Paul met people from government, business and the professions, he became increasingly concerned that so few of them had a full appreciation for the culture which had shaped the society they prospered in. Fewer still had a desire to protect and preserve that culture. Paul came to the view that Australia's culture needed shifting. Paul's vision was to create a new generation of leaders with a knowledge and appreciation of Western civilisation.

Personally, I'm proud to have played a very significant part in the creation of Paul's vision. In early 2014, with my background in university administration and my enthusiasm for Western civilisation, at the recommendation of Tony Clark and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Paul commissioned me to undertake a scoping study to examine what would be needed to bring about his vision for education in the Western tradition. As part of that project I met with academics, foundations and university and scholarship administrators in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada. I visited famous institutions like Columbia, Chicago and Yale, liberal arts colleges like St John's at Annapolis, and, in the Catholic tradition, Loyola and Boston College, which all had versions of programs in which undergraduate students learn about Western civilisation. It was clear there is much to be gained from similar courses in Australia and I recommended as such in my report.

The Ramsay Centre, which was launched last year, will have four major streams, Bachelor of Arts degrees in Western civilisation in collaboration with two or three Australian universities. It will support these degrees through a suite of Ramsay undergraduate scholarships and through the creation of new academic positions. It will endow a number of Ramsay postgraduate scholarships, open to graduates from a range of disciplines for study at prestigious international universities. And it will establish a program of summer schools, distinguished visiting lecturers and other events designed to promote a wider appreciation of Western civilisation.

The centre is led by Professor Simon Haines, who is the executive director and has a board of management that comprises luminaries such as John Howard, Kim Beazley and Tony Abbott. Thanks to Paul Ramsay, tomorrow's leaders will be instilled with the intellectual, cultural and spiritual formation that yesterday's leaders were fortunate enough to take for granted. I commend the Ramsay Centre to the chamber.