The Australian – 28 June 2016
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will fund the Safe Schools Coalition. Picture: Kym Smith
Bill Shorten has confirmed Labor’s commitment to financing the Safe Schools Coalition, assigning an additional $6 million to the sexual and gender diversity program.
The grant, contained within the ALP’s just-released policy costings, represents a $2m-a year allocation, restoring funding for the program to the previous level initiated under Labor in 2013.
Although the Opposition Leader had previously pledged support for the program if he were elected, he had previously not detailed specific funding.
While the commitment is in stark contrast to the Liberal Party’s decision to scrap funding from next year, Labor looks set to retain at least some of the changes introduced by the federal Coalition government following a damning review that deemed some of the Safe Schools’ materials and lessons to be inappropriate for some children.
In a policy statement posted to its website, Labor said it would work with schools and experts to ensure that the program was based on “the most effective strategies to reduce bullying” and incorporated “best-practice parental engagement”.
“Labor will implement the program in line with the findings of the independent review,” it said.
The statement highlights the widening political chasm between federal Labor and its Victorian state branch on the issue, with Premier Daniel Andrews recently shunning the federal government’s overhaul of the program, stepping in to fund its compulsory rollout to all state secondary schools over the next two years at a cost of more than $1m.
The Victorian government last year announced an extra $1.04m to Safe Schools Coalition Victoria to ensure every Victorian government secondary school was a member by the end of 2018. That is in addition to the $215,000 a year it gives to La Trobe University to run the program in Victoria.
Australian Christian Lobby spokesman Lyle Shelton yesterday criticised Labor’s support for the program, questioning its priorities. “It’s appalling that the taxpayer should be funding a program that teaches children … that their gender is fluid and gives out information about gender reassignment surgery,” Mr Shelton said. “School just isn’t the place for it. If you are going to promote gender theory in schools, it needs to be debated as part of the election campaign. But there’s been no scrutiny — apart from in The Australian — of the decision to fund this policy.”
Founded in Victoria but rolled out nationally with federal government support in 2013, the Safe Schools Coalition was initially designed to help counter homophobic bullying in schools, attracting support from organisations such as beyondblue and The Black Dog Institute. While the program has long been opposed by conservative politicians and Christian groups, concerns spread to the wider community as aspects of the program’s curriculum, as well as the overtly radical politics of several personnel and supporters, came to light.
Safe Schools co-founder and Victorian manager Roz Ward was recently suspended by La Trobe University over comments made on Facebook, before being reinstated under legal pressure.
Numerous websites and Facebook groups have sprung up over the past few months to lobby against the Safe Schools program.
One such site, You’re Teaching Our Children What?, last week posted a video highlighting a Melbourne mother’s experience with the program at her children’s school.
Labor, however, has defended the Safe Schools policy, arguing that every student deserved to be treated with respect and dignity.
“Unfortunately, school is still a very difficult place for too many LGBTI Australians, “ Labor said.
“Every time bullying occurs in our schools, it distracts students from their learning and saps them of their potential.”
The program is run nationally by the Foundation for Young Australians, which receives one-third of its funding from government sources. Labor funding has been committed for three years from 2017-18.