September 2023

For Susan Carter, politics is an opportunity to be of service

A strong and loving family and a well-rounded education at St Scholastica’s College and the University of Sydney gave Susan Carter a lifelong love for learning and a solid foundation from which to launch a distinguished career in law and politics.

By Debra Vermeer

Susan was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council in March this year for the Liberal Party of Australia and appointed Shadow Assistant Minister for Attorney-General, Shadow Assistant Special Minister of State, and Shadow Assistant Minister for Corrections.

After a career in law, family advocacy, and university teaching, Susan was attracted to politics as a way of serving the community and working towards positive outcomes.

“I see this as an opportunity to be of service and to bring different perspectives to the Parliament,” she said. “You need diversity of all kinds in Parliament to bring good outcomes to the community.”

Susan said her upbringing in a warm and loving Catholic family, together with her schooling by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, helped form the direction of her life.

“I was always very interested in the politics of ideas,” she said. “And that was certainly fostered and encouraged at St Scholastica’s in Glebe.”

In her first speech to Parliament, Susan said education was an enormous value in her family.

“The key expectation was that we would apply ourselves and keep learning and growing,” she said.

She told the Parliament that she owed a “deep debt of gratitude to the Catholic education system, especially to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan”.

“We are used today to thinking in terms of jobs, but I had the good fortune to be educated by women who had answered a vocation,” she said. “They were not working for themselves but had answered a call to love and to serve and encouraged all of us to do the same. It was never a question of doing well, it was always if you had done your best, which is different for every person according to their various gifts and talents. The answer was never what have you achieved, but had you offered to God the best that you could.

“To be educated in that environment of challenge with the lived example of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan … was an exciting way to navigate the often-choppy waters of high school and gave me the gifts that I still enjoy today.

“I particularly acknowledge Sister Teresita Sexton and Sister Marilyn Kelleher for their example, for their encouragement, and for driving all of us to give more than we ever realised we could.”

The Hon Susan Carter MLC. Image supplied.

Susan said she was not alone in benefiting from that excellent education.

“I was delighted to discover that the first female Liberal member of this House, Mrs Mabel Furley, was also educated by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan at St Scholastica’s College,” she said.

Following the sudden death of her father on the last day of Year 10, Susan received an ex-students’ scholarship from St Scholastica’s, meaning she could continue on to Years 11 and 12.

“That took the pressure from my mum and allowed me to complete my education,” she said.

It was at St Scholastica’s that, although quite a shy young woman, Susan was encouraged to take up debating, going on to represent the school and, later, the University of Sydney, where she studied Arts/Law.

It was at university that she first became politically active.

Susan Carter (right) and friend in Year 9 at the Colo River. Image supplied.

“At home and at school we had always talked about ideas and what policy should look like. We always talked about what was happening in the world, and that, together with my continued involvement in debating, led me to become involved in student politics,” she said.

Susan joined the university’s Liberal Club, and throughout her time at the university was Director and Secretary of the University Union and was elected as the student representative to the University senate.

She went against the grain of campus politics in the 1970s by speaking publicly in defence of a pro-life position, on one notable occasion, in a meeting of the Australian Union of Students, finding herself the only woman in the room to do so.

“Once you’ve stood up and spoken in front of your peers on pro-life matters, nothing scares you after that,” she said.

After university, Susan worked for a Federal Court judge, a major commercial firm, and then as in-house legal counsel at a television station, before changing course and working in public policy for the Australian Family Association, developing and advocating for pro-family policies, including in the areas of taxation, fair work practices, paid parental leave and childcare subsidies, and policies in support of marriage and life.

A move to the US for a few years followed, when her husband received a posting there and upon her return, Susan began teaching Law at the University of Sydney and then Macquarie University.

Susan Carter (centre) with friends in Year 9 in St Scholastica’s sports uniform. Image supplied.

“I loved it,” she said. “I’ve seen what education has given me in my own life and I’ve loved being a part of helping others gain an education. I’ve worked with a lot of overseas students at Sydney Uni and seen the impact it was having on them.

“Training for a job is really important, but I believe education should be an opportunity to think about the world, your place in it and test ideas.”

Susan said that having two grown children helped underpin her move into the political arena, building on her belief that strong societies are built on strong families and that public policy should enable and empower family life. 

“Even though my kids are young adults, I still want to make sure I’m creating the best environment I can in which they can thrive,” she said.

“And now, in my work, I’m asking, how can we have the best state in which all young people and families thrive?”

Working in the Legislative Council, with its role as a House of Review, Susan said she was relishing the opportunities to be involved in policy direction through committee work.

“I’m very much enjoying it,” she said. “I find myself working with a tremendously good group of people where everyone is committed to good outcomes as well as meeting a wonderfully broad range of people from right across the NSW community.”

Looking back on her life so far, Susan said she would not have foreseen all the paths her life has taken, but she’s grateful for the opportunities that have come her way.

“God lays straight your paths, and you are invited to walk,” she said. “And you see some interesting sights along the way, so I’m thankful for all of that.”  


Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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