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Elizabeth Kikkert questions Safe Schools program, says children should be taught the law on underage sex

Liberal Elizabeth Kikkert has questioned the Safe Schools program in ACT schools, asking why children are not being taught instead that it is illegal to have sex before 16.

"Is it illegal or is it breaking the law if you perform sexual intercourse underage?" Mrs Kikkert asked education officials at parliamentary hearings on Friday.

"Im not an authority to speak," an education directorate official responded.

"I don't think that's relevant," Education Minister Yvette Berry said.

"I'm pretty sure it is [illegal]," Mrs Kikkert shot back. "So what I'm trying to get at is why is the Safe Schools program teaching safe sex to underage kids? Why don't we teach them that this is breaking the law first. I think we have it all backwards."

The ACT is developing its own Safe Schools program to help LGTBIQ children and children coming to terms with diverse sexuality after the federal government backed away from its national program. The ACT material, funded by $100,000 added to the budget this year, will be ready for schools in term 3. 

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There was confusion at Friday's hearings about whether Canberra teachers are teaching the Safe Schools program in their classrooms, with officials saying the program was not delivered in classrooms, but later conceding they couldn't be sure what individual schools did with it.

Mrs Kikkert asked if parents could choose whether their child took part in the Safe Schools program, to which the Education Directorate's head of policy, Jacinta Evans, said there was no need to opt in or out because the program provided individual support for students and advice for schools on how to help students. It was not a program delivered in classrooms, but was material available to schools, she said. 

Ms Berry said classes had not been delivered on the Safe Schools material.

"The Safe Schools Coalition has not delivered a class on the material on the Safe Schools website that was provided by the Commonwealth government," Ms Berry said. "Teachers in their classrooms may have received advice from the Safe Schools Coalition on curriculum support materials to complement lessons on health and well being."

Mrs Kikkert hit back: "Are you in denial, because we want to know the truth. The Safe Schools program was taught in the classroom in an ACT school. It was provided to the teachers. They had training on it. Students were given a consent form to the parents asking whether the kids  were okay to attend this program called the Safe School program." 

Ms Howson asked Mrs Kikkert to provide more information about the case, but Ms Berry asked her not to name the school in public.

Ms Howson said schools in the ACT had autonomy, and principals could make thier own decisions about programs they "invite in from outside".

​"So you're right, Mrs Kikkert, to be absolutely categoric is probably foolish from me at this point."

Mrs Kikkert said "It's also more than teaching kids to be respectful for other people and to respect who they are, it's teaching them about having safe sex, so the Safe School program, it's not safe school, it's safe sex. That's what it is."

"I'd ask you to be respectful," Labor committee chairman Michael Pettersson told Mrs Kikkert.

Ms Berry said she had spoken recently with students who said the program had made them "feel like they were included and part of their school community, they weren't treated any differently because if their different sexual identities, that they were ordinary people loved and respected by their school community".

Ms Berry said she would not be concerned to discover such a program had been taught in classrooms.

​​"So the teacher could stand in front of the classroom and teach it?" Mrs Kikkert asked.

"They could," Ms Berry said. "They could use some of the tools, some of the materials that's being developed to support individual students and  students within their classroom. Yes they could."