Federal Politics

Malcolm Turnbull orders review of Safe School LGBTI program after right-wing pressure

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ordered a review into a controversial school education program aimed at promoting acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBTI) students.

The move was immediately hailed by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) as a win against "rainbow ideology," while Labor and the teacher's union slammed Mr Turnbull for buckling to the conservative wing of the Liberal Party. 

Up Next

Why the Land Titles Registry matters

null
Video duration
03:31

More National News Videos

Who are the Australian Christian Lobby?

The ACL has been prominent recently calling on anti-discrimination laws to be relaxed during the same sex marriage debate, but who is this group?

The Safe Schools teaching manual, set up by Labor but launched by the Coalition in 2014, has been under fire in recent weeks from conservative politicians, the ACL and News Corp newspapers.

An independent review announced on Tuesday will advise Education Minister Simon Birmingham on whether the program's material is "age appropriate" by mid-March. 

The issue dominated discussion in Tuesday's behind-closed-doors meeting of Coalition MPs and senators. 

In the meeting, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi called for the $8 million program to be defunded because he was concerned it was being used to "indoctrinate children into a Marxist agenda of cultural relativism".

Advertisement

Senator Bernardi added he believed the program was prematurely sexualising children, saying he was concerned young people were being instructed how to hide their breasts or penis. He told Fairfax Media he had collected 9500 signatures in a petition from "concerned Australians" in less than a week. 

It is understood Queensland MP George Christensen, Queensland senator Jo Lindgren and Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic were among those who also raised concerns about the program.

Senator Birmingham told the meeting the Coalition would have devised the program differently but it was important to remember it was aimed at discouraging bullying. This comes after he defended the program's "perfectly reasonable objectives" a week ago. 

Sources said this was not the first time the party room had discussed the Safe Schools program, with concerns also raised under Tony Abbott's leadership. 

About 500 schools have voluntarily signed up to the Safe Schools Coalition Australia, which is convened by the Foundation for Young Australians. 

According to its website, members can access free support to help them respond to "homophobic and transphobic behaviour and to actively create inclusive policies and practices". 

On Tuesday, the Safe Schools Coalition said it welcomed "all opportunities to demonstrate the positive impact" of the program. 

"And provide the facts and evidence behind it". 

Safe Schools Coalition national program director Sally Richardson has previously stressed there is no content which teaches sexual techniques or things like chest binding.

Ms Richardson said critics had wrongly accused Safe Schools of including content which was not part of the program but on websites that the program had links to.  

Resources on the Safe Schools site are targeted at high school students. If a primary school signs up to the program, they are given tailored information. 

The ACL, which has led a vocal campaign against the program, welcomed the review. 

"Parents expect their children to be safe at school but encouraging boys who identify as girls to use the girls' bathrooms and share school camp accommodation is not the way to do this," managing director Lyle Shelton said.

But the move was slammed by the Australian Education Union, which said Mr Turnbull's decision was a "disappointing capitulation to extreme conservatives within the Coalition". 

Labor education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said the Prime Minister had bowed to a "misinformed scare campaign" and "put the views of extremists in his party ahead of the interests of vulnerable young Australians". 

The Greens were incensed by the move, calling for a Senate inquiry into homophobia and transphobia instead. 

A 2010 Australian study of more than 3,000 same-sex attracted young people found 61 per cent reported verbal abuse because of homophobia, with 18 per cent reporting physical abuse

Other studies report 20 per cent of trans Australians and more than 15 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians report current suicidal thoughts. 

Victorian Equality Minister Martin Foley described the federal government's decision as "extremely disturbing". 

He accused Mr Turnbull of abandoning LGBTI youths as the program saved lives.

"It looks like the Prime Minister has given in to the extreme elements of his own party," he said.

With Emma Partridge, Benjamin Preiss

Follow us on Twitter

Advertisement

272 comments

Comment are now closed