Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has requested an investigation into a taxpayer-funded Safe Schools education program following concerns by some of his MPs that its teachings may be inappropriate for children.
The program, which is run by Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA), is aimed at raising awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and/or intersex (LGBTI) school students and includes a strong anti-bullying focus.
The SSCA says research suggests that school remains one of the most unsafe places for same sex attracted and gender diverse people, where verbal and physical abuse and discrimination occurs for a majority of same sex attracted students.
However, Coalition senator, Cory Bernardi, told the ABC that children were “being bullied and intimidated into complying with the radical program” and has called on the Government to axe its funding.
“It's not about gender, it's not about sexuality. It makes everyone fall into line with a political agenda. Our schools should be places of learning, not indoctrination,” Bernardi said.
Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, has written to state and territory education ministers, asking them to confirm that parents were being consulted before schools rolled out the program.
The review of the program’s material and its use is expected to be completed by mid-March, little more than a year before its funding agreement with the Commonwealth expires.
In a statement, Senator Birmingham said homophobia “should be no more tolerated than racism, especially in the school environment”.
“However, it is essential that all material is age appropriate and that parents have confidence in any resources used in a school to support the right of all students, staff and families to feel safe at school,” he said.
Australian Education Union (AEU) federal president, Correna Haythorpe, called the Prime Minister’s decision to review the program “a disappointing capitulation to extreme conservatives within the Coalition”.
“The Safe Schools program is a successful initiative which is tackling the bullying of LGBTI young people at schools,” Haythorpe said in a statement.
“This kind of bullying is a real issue that can seriously hurt young people. A majority of young LGBTI people report bullying and 80% of those say that it happens at school.”
She added that despite “scare campaigns” around the program, schools have control over whether they use Safe Schools and how much of the program they use.
“Schools need to have the freedom to run these kinds of programs if they believe it is necessary to help create a safe environment within the school,” she said.