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Backbenchers say “defund safe schools coalition” but education minister says teachers can choose

NEWS  |  Kaley Payne

Monday 15 February 2016

Federal education minister Simon Birmingham has backed away from responsibility for the content of the controversial Safe Schools Coalition teaching materials, All Of Us, and told parents it is their school communities who make the decisions about what is appropriate to be taught in the classroom.

Mr Birmingham told Australian Agenda on Sky News yesterday that it’s “not my job to endorse content,” though admitted, “some of the language that is used in aspects of [the All Of Us materials] I would think is … is not at a level that you would expect to be included in a school classroom.”

“There are parts of this programme … that do raise an eyebrow,” he said. “I understand why people would be looking at some aspects of it and thinking, ‘Well, this language doesn’t really seem [to be] what I would expect to be taught in the classroom.’

“To those parents, I would seek to give them the reassurance that this is a voluntary programme that schools opt into. It is, of course, the classroom teacher in conjunction with the principal and the rest of the school community who choose to pick things out of this programme that they think are worthwhile and translate them into that school environment.”

The All Of Us programme, developed by the Safe Schools Coalition and Minus 18, a youth-led LGBTI advocacy network, was initially funded by the Labor Government for $8 million over four years, due to wrap up in 2018. It is an opt-in programme for schools. (To read more about the teaching materials, click here).

Mr Birmingham told Sky News the content would be examined at the end of the current funding period.

The education minister said that the programme has “perfectly reasonable objectives” to “counter any attitudes of homophobia.” Yet it has caused controversy, with conservative groups including the Australian Christian Lobby arguing the materials push “graphic, sexualised” content that can harm children and calling for the programme’s removal.

A series of Coalition backbenchers are also pushing for the programme to be defunded. Federal MP George Christensen from North Queensland has said on Facebook that “come hell or high water, the perverted Safe Schools programme will be defunded.”

“Why? Because it’s very much a propaganda tool being used in the schools to not just break down stereotypes about gay and lesbian people — that would be fine — but it’s almost become a promotion tool for the gay and lesbian lifestyle and the whole notion that you don’t have a gender that you should conform to,” said Mr Christensen.

Cory Bernardi, Liberal Senator for South Australia, said in a statement that the programme contained “alarming” content which “encourages children as young as 11 to become advocates for the homosexual cause.”

“The programme also isolates students in front of the entire class if they don’t comply with the mantra demanded of the homosexual activists. This is bullying on a grand scale and the fact it is in any way sanctioned through federal funding is a disgrace,” said Senator Bernardi.

Education Minister Birmingham has given no indication that the programme will be defunded, offering this to parents concerned about the materials:

“The confidence I would seek to give to parents is that it is their school community who makes the decision about whether any of this is actually used, and that they decide the way in which is used in their classrooms.”

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