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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8221


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (21:35): Sister Pauline Marcella Coll, my friend, died peacefully on 9 October this year at the age of 76, though, for many of us, she was truly ageless. Pauline was a strong advocate for social justice and an intelligent, engaging woman of faith. Pauline was born on 16 January 1939 in Maryborough Queensland, a strong country girl. She was the youngest child of John and Evelyn Coll. Her Catholic faith underpinned her family life. Pauline was educated in her early years by the Sisters of Mercy at Maryborough—the convent is still there; the sisters are not—and at Clayfield and Gympie before the family moved to Brisbane, where Pauline met the Sisters of the Good Samaritan at Wilston.

After working in the banking industry—'a good job for a girl', she said—on 2 July 1959 Pauline entered the Good Samaritan Novitiate at Pennant Hills, New South Wales, and was given her name of Sister Marie Bernarde. Following the welcome changes after Vatican II, she returned to her own baptismal name, Pauline. She was professed in her sisterhood on 6 January 1962 and, as many sisters in that order did, completed her teacher training that year at St Scholastica's teachers' college, Glebe. She taught primary school in Manly and Canberra from 1963 to 1969. During those years, she completed her Bachelor of Arts. As many sisters did in those days, she did her studies externally while teaching during the day. During this time, her lifelong love for English literature was entrenched, and this was passed on to many students over the next few years.

In 1970, Pauline moved into secondary education, where she worked as a classroom teacher, deputy principal and principal. It was indeed a career service. From 1979, Pauline enjoyed a variety of ministries, including work in an intercongregational development project amongst the people of Shalvey in Western Sydney, secondary school religious education coordination, adult education at Najara in Queensland and secondary school pastoral care. After a year of clinical pastoral education at St Vincent's in Sydney and two years of school-community liaison, Pauline returned to ministry at Najara, where she was appointed director of the spirituality centre. She spent many years in this area, working as a resource for reiki and spirituality for life journey. As well as being an extremely dedicated teacher, Pauline was a dedicated student throughout her life. She worked to acquire the knowledge and skills needed in her ministry. She studied both in Australia and overseas and gained qualifications in many fields, including liturgical studies, psychodrama—which she really liked—reflexology, reiki, ecology and world education. Her commitment to environmental issues was well known and she worked for many years in that field.

From late 2004, Pauline was a driving force behind the establishment of Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans—a long title, but we call it ACRATH—a national organisation committed to working to eliminate human trafficking in Australia and internationally. Pauline and other interested sisters began to meet regularly from late 2004 in response to a declaration from the Union of International Superiors General to commit to eradicating the trafficking of women and children. These meetings guided the establishment of ACRATH in 2005, with Pauline as a founding member and the inaugural chair. Sister Pauline worked with a number of organisations in the community to establish ACRATH, and representatives from more than 10 religious congregations across Australia are now part of the vibrant organisation. ACRATH is endorsed by Catholic Religious Australia, the peak body for 180 religious orders in Australia. Pauline believed that collaboration with a range of organisations and individuals was fundamental to ACRATH's foundation and its ongoing development. Pauline said:

It's collaboration that gets you somewhere … that gets the momentum going. ACRATH can truly be said to be a model of being in partnership across many women's and men's religious congregations. We knew that there was power in partnership at national and international levels, and with many other NGOs for the good of the women and children for whom we existed.

ACRATH actively campaigns against human trafficking on a number of fronts: ACRATH raises awareness of human trafficking, sharing information and building networks nationally and globally; it facilitates action to combat and prevent human rights violations related to human trafficking; it provides education on human trafficking through a variety of materials and resources; it offers direct services such as counselling, rehabilitation and reintegration programs for people who have been trafficked; and ACRATH also focuses on collaborating with government and non-government groups and individuals.

From 2005 until her death, Pauline campaigned tirelessly on each of these fronts. She found she had a natural talent for lobbying and there were few political doors which could withstand her visits. That charming, softly-spoken nun was not easily silenced or ignored, and many people in this building learned to look forward to or fear Pauline's visits, depending on the day.

Just one example of this was in 2009, when Pauline spearheaded a campaign to raise awareness about the issue of religious items being produced by child slaves and workers who were exploited. The catalyst for this had been the discovery that crucifixes sold at St Patrick's Cathedral, New York in 2007 had come from a factory employing teenagers working in dreadful sweatshop conditions in China. The crucifixes had been traced to a factory in China, where girls as young as 15 were forced to work up to 19-hour days, seven days a week to manufacture the religious items for a couple of dollars a day. The crucifix workers were reported to have no paid sick days, maternity leave, holidays or health insurance, despite the fact that these minimum conditions were mandated under China's laws. Pauline said the huge USA based Association for Christian Retail 'was found to lack basic codes of conduct and a factory-monitoring program', and that there was little to reassure American Christians that the religious products they were purchasing to celebrate their faith were not made under inhumane conditions.

Pauline pressured for increased attention to this issue in Australia. This led the National Council of Churches in Australia to pledge its support for a Christian goods standard to end worker exploitation in the production of Christian merchandise. The NCCA, the National Council of Churches, campaign requested Australia's Christian retailers to stock items made under Fairtrade, 'No Sweat Shop' label and World Fair Trade Organization schemes. These three schemes ensure basic human rights standards are adhered to in the production of Christian related goods such as T-shirts, bible covers and crosses, as well as any papal visit merchandise. Additionally, church related organisations, such as schools, were encouraged to explore buying things like Fairtrade footballs, which are effective as an anti-child labour initiative in Pakistan. The campaign also created a website to list fairly traded Christian items. Retailers and suppliers of religious goods supported the initiative and the issue of fair trade became entrenched in this industry.

Pauline also warned that Catholics themselves needed to look more carefully at the origins of religious items they buy to ensure that they are not the products of child slave labour. Pauline said:

Unwittingly Christians may be enjoying the results of exploitation of trafficked or enslaved people—we just don't know. It is our privilege to search out and check whether the articles/goods/services we enjoy have any element of this sort of labour about them. It would be a particularly terrible irony if the religious items we used in our devotions were to have been manufactured in this way. We need to be sure that none of this material is being sold by Church organisations.

Many congregations were fearful of having Pauline's wrath upon them. Indeed, Pauline identified a problem then managed to gain the support of religious organisations, consumers, manufacturers and retailers. This demonstrates the level of determination and commitment that she brought to every campaign she was involved in.

In 2011, Pauline Coll received the inaugural Anti-Slavery Australia Freedom Award, a national award for her distinctive contribution and commitment to the fight against human trafficking, slavery and forced labour. According to her award citation, Pauline was:

… indefatigable in her personal endeavours to get human trafficking on the government and community agenda, forging effective and enduring partnerships with a range of diverse groups.

Pauline said she was 'surprised and delighted', 'proud and humbled' to receive the award. She said:

I feel humbled because it is a wonderful recognition not just for the work I have done within Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, but also for all the members of this organisation both past and present.

I also feel that in the face of such a monstrous trade, … a small chink in the solid wall of such evil should be celebrated because it gives strength and hope to continue against the odds.

On 24 February 2014, Pauline was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. This was in recognition for her exceptional and tireless work in the early years of ACRATH, and significant contributions to the Catholic Church and as an advocate for the protection of women and children, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Again Pauline said that she was 'amazed' and 'shocked' to receive a letter from the Governor-General's office informing her she had been nominated for the award. She said:

When I read it more carefully, I realised that I would have to decide whether to accept the honour or decline. When I read the citation, I realised that it was mostly for my work in helping to found ACRATH.

This decided it for her.

If I accepted, then it would once again, at the highest level, bring attention to the work of attempting to eliminate trafficking in humans—and the work of so many women religious in those early years.

Pauline knew that, though the honour was in her name, it was also in recognition of everyone who worked with her, 'especially those who from the early days did the hard yards and struggled'.

She said:

It also includes all those—including the Sisters of the Good Samaritan—who in many ways supported me during those seven years of struggle, joy, pain, success and failure.

In response to the news that Pauline had been nominated for the award, there was an outpouring of support from the community. Messages reflecting a broad appreciation of the amazing work Pauline had undertaken, through ACRATH and throughout her life, came through the internet—that was something she never truly valued, really, that internet, but they came across, one saying:

Recognistion has been a long time coming as has public awareness of this issue. Thank you for all the work you have done in opening eyes to the problem and agitating to get action. A well deserved award.

One message I particularly like said to Pauline:

… Your inspirational leadership of the team of Religious that together with other like minded "angels" rescued, sheltered, counseled in the non judgmental way of "The Good Samaritan" and then set about seeing Governments enforced laws against trafficking, deserves this high award and much, much more. I feel privileged and honoured to have met you and witnessed how you raised awareness …

Pauline once said, regarding ACRATH, that she had:

… had a dream that such an organisation with such collaborative underpinning was needed so that those of us who helped establish it could then walk away when it was time and know that it wouldn't 'fall over' …

and that it would:

… continue in all sorts of new and creative ways.

Pauline did 'walk away' in the last couple of years because she felt it was time for the organisation to move on. But she will never be forgotten. A recent post on the ACRATH website stated:

ACRATH members have precious memories of Pauline’s enthusiasm and creativity which brought spirit and life to this work for justice.

Pauline challenged and inspired. Her strong sense of humour and incisive wit made the meetings—and there were many, many meetings—enjoyable as well as focused, because she just did not value waffle. She lived the principles of social justice. She was truly loved by many, and her inspiration will continue. We miss her, but she knows she continues the fight.