Andrews ‘on a limb’ as NSW drops Safe Schools

The Australian, 17 April 2017

The Andrews Labor government is “out on a limb” in its support for the embattled Safe Schools anti-bullying project and should replace it with a program for everyone, the former co-chairman of the Coalition’s curriculum review says.

Kevin Donnelly, a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, said the weight of change was against Victoria as federal funding for the anti-bullying initiative dries up and the NSW government yesterday confirmed it would dump the program.

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes yesterday said the state government was devising a broader strategy to take on schoolyard bullies that would be introduced in July after federal funding for Safe Schools was cut.

“It doesn’t surprise me (Vic­toria is) clinging on to it, but they are out on a limb,” Dr Donnelly told The Australian.

Dr Donnelly was one of the first and most strident critics of the program. “It should be replaced with a broader, more general program which targets all the ways students are bullied in schools,” he said.

Safe Schools was designed to help teachers and students deal with homophobia and trans­phobia but has been heavily criticised for promoting sexual diver­sity and gender fluidity.

The initiative was co-founded by La Trobe University employee Roz Ward about seven years ago and adopted by the Brumby government in Victoria.

It was run by the university until Ms Ward, an avowed Marxist, attracted the ire of critics and forced the Victorian government to sack her.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews kept the program, however, and has vowed to maintain it beyond the funding cut. “There are no plans to scrap the Safe Schools program in Victoria,” a government spokesman said yesterday.

Ms Ward last year labelled the Australian flag as “racist” and said she was “shattered” when the Andrews government decided to run the program in-house. She was briefly suspended by La Trobe for her behaviour in defence of the program, but was later reinstated.

While Victoria has become the chief backer of Safe Schools, other states still accommodate the program. Take-up in some of these states, such as Western Australia, has been low.

The federal government reviewed Safe Schools material last year. “Federal funding provided under the previous government’s contract ends in the middle of this year and will not be renewed,” a spokesman for Education Minister Simon Birmingham said ­yesterday.

The NSW government’s replacement program will be available for teachers by term three this year. “Bullying will never be tolerated in NSW public schools — whether it be because someone is overweight, gay, based on the colour of their skin or for any other reason,” Mr Stokes said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott praised the NSW government’s decision to scrap the Safe Schools program while simultaneously distancing the Coalition from the anti-bullying initiative, which was launched under his leadership in 2014.

“Good that NSW is scrapping so-called Safe Schools, a social ­engineering programme dressed up as anti-bullying”, Mr Abbott tweeted yesterday. “This was a Gillard govt programme, not — ­REPEAT NOT — an Abbott govt one.”

Bill Shorten yesterday said: the program had become a “political football … if the NSW government wants to run anti-bullying programs in one way and not another, we will have a look at what that means.”

Kate Doak, who was the NSW representative of the Safe Schools Coalition board between 2014 and mid-2016, said it was hypocritical of the NSW government to announce its departure from Safe Schools in the same week it rejected an independent recommendation to make special religious education an opt-in for high school students.


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