Federal Politics

Safe Schools petition 'goes missing' as conservative push fractures Turnbull frontbench

A renewed revolt against the Safe Schools anti-bullying program has fractured the government's frontbench, with pressure mounting on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to intervene.

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Christopher Pyne defends safe schools program

The safe schools program should not be scrapped, says Christopher Pyne, while Bill Shorten attacks 'knuckle-dragging right-wing senators'. Courtesy ABC News24.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, formerly the education minister, said the government-funded initiative should not be scrapped and that he was "absolutely" against a parliamentary inquiry into the program.

But Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is among those agitating for the program to be pared back, having previously described it as "social entrepreneurship" that goes against the wishes of parents.

Coalition MP George Christensen is driving the campaign against Safe Schools.
Coalition MP George Christensen is driving the campaign against Safe Schools. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

And a petition being circulated by another Nationals MP, George Christensen, demands Mr Turnbull suspend all funding for Safe Schools until a "full blown" parliamentary inquiry is held. Upwards of 30 MPs have reportedly signed the letter, including former prime minister Tony Abbott - however it appears the document has since disappeared.

Asked on Thursday if there should be a parliamentary inquiry into Safe Schools, Mr Pyne said: "Absolutely not." The program should not be scrapped, he said, because he would want it to be available if his own children were bullied.


"I was minister for education so I am familiar with the Safe Schools Coalition. I took the view that the materials in it weren't directed at me, they were directed at a younger audience and that bullying in schools was unacceptable," Mr Pyne said.

"I took the view I shouldn't bring my 48-year-old attitude to these materials because I have children of my own and if they were being bullied I would want them to have the support they need."

The Safe Schools program is an opt-in initiative for schools that aims to stamp out homophobia and assist students who are questioning their sexuality or gender.

Launched in Victoria in 2010, it has received bipartisan funding and support until now, when it has become the target of conservative forces in the Parliament and media.

Mr Pyne said while some colleagues have been fixated on the program, he has been focussed on issues such as the economy and jobs.

The petition has proven to be a source of diversion in and of itself, with the letter seemingly having gone missing as it did the rounds among backbenchers.

Mr Christensen sent a message to MPs early on Wednesday evening asking: "Can the letter to the Prime Minister that George Christensen was circulating in Question Time please be returned to his office."

But as of Thursday morning, senator Cory Bernardi - a strong opponent of the Safe Schools program - said the whereabouts of the petition were still unknown and attempts were being made to find it. Mr Christensen's office would not confirm or deny if the document had disappeared.

The letter calls on Mr Turnbull to suspend funding for the program pending the outcome of a proposed parliamentary inquiry. It follows a two-week review by Emeritus Professor Bill Louden, which is currently being considered by Education Minister Simon Birmingham.

Senator Birmingham will soon release the report and his response. Fairfax Media understands the report broadly endorses the Safe Schools program as consistent with the national curriculum, but recommends more guidance for teachers and information for parents.

That has not satiated the program's opponents within the Coalition, who anonymously attacked the review as a "joke", a "stitch up" and a "fraud".

One MP who was present at a briefing by Professor Louden on Tuesday told colleagues: "You've got to understand – most little kids are confused, but when they grow up they become normal."

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