Don’t let Safe Schools become a millstone around our necks
Greg Donnelly, On Line Opinion, 7 February 2017
Politicians in one state do not generally take kindly to colleagues in another state giving them advice. There can be exceptions but the unwritten rule is that if you stick your head out and give advice across the border, you are likely to get it knocked-off. With that said, let me now give some advice to my Labor colleagues in Victoria.
The Safe Schools program that the Victorian Government is imposing on public schools in that state is political poison. While it may be just starting to show up in focus groups and other polling activities undertaken by the Labor Party, do not underestimate its malignancy. When it fully manifests, it will be like a fully laden freight train that you will not be able to stop.
The problem for the Premier and the Minister for Education is that the Safe Schools program from the get-go was never about anti-bullying. It was about inculcating into school children hard edged sexuality and gender ideologies. The same ideologies that are examined and debated when undertaking Gender Studies units at university. The same units that such students elect to do by choice; no compulsion or requirement. Not only are these ideologies being presented to school children as a matter of fact i.e. sexuality and gender are not to be understood in any other way, but parents are being kept completely in the dark about what is being presented to their children and by who.
The statement that it was never about anti-bullying but sexuality and gender ideology is not mine. They are the words of one of the original architects of the program, Roz Ward. You can see her boastfully making this claim on a short 2014 YouTube clip that many have seen.
Premier Andrews and Education Minister Merlino have been both doctrinaire and obstinate about the Safe Schools program. As a case in point, in March last year following a review of the resource material located on the Safe Schools Coalition Australia website it was recommended by the reviewer, Professor William Louden, that certain content was not fit for purpose. It was subsequently removed from the Safe Schools Coalition Australia website. In Victoria though the material that was removed from the website was immediately uploaded onto the state’s Department of Education and Training website, presumable under instruction from the Premier and/or Minister for Education. That material still sits on the Department’s website and is being actively promoted. In other words instead of taking into account what were rather modest recommendations by Professor Louden, the Victorian Premier and Education Minister got all hairy chested and gave the whole review exercise the middle finger.
Fast forward to mid-December last year, the Education Minister announces that the Andrews Government is cutting ties with La Trobe University and their now very well known, and controversial employee, Roz Ward. The spin put on the announcement by the Minister was that it was not about throwing the now badly damaged Roz Ward under a bus. The line given was that it ” … was appropriate to bring it [the Safe Schools program] into the Department.” Even Blind Freddy could see through that one.
Why the Victorian Government cosied up to Roz Ward and stuck with her for as long as they did remains a mystery. Anybody without blinkers on could see that she was serious lead in the saddle-bag. If the truth be known, notwithstanding the Minister’s spin to the media, the decision to send her on gardening leave, never to return underscores that in the minds of the punters the Safe Schools program has progressed from being a bit wiffy to becoming seriously on the nose.
Apparently the program is being currently delivered in 60% of public high schools in Victoria. The stated goal of the Premier and Minister for Education is to have it being delivered in every public high school by 2018. They have said time and again that it is a “universal anti-bullying program”. What that is code for is that they want it in every public primary school and once this is achieved, press for its delivery in independent and Catholic schools.
Even from the distant outpost of Sydney, one is hearing of ethnic communities, concerned parent groups, educationalists, mums, dads and grandparents starting to come together and discuss ways and means of challenging this heavy handed action of the Victorian Government. They are not happy and indeed the more they get to see and understand what is being imposed on their kids at school, the more upset they are getting. If what I am saying sounds fanciful, you should have a close look at how the Safe Schools program has gone down with both the Chinese and Greek communities in Sydney. How all this will play out between now and the next Victorian state election will remain to be seen. The hard heads in Spring Street will no doubt say hold the line and don’t cave into those deplorables. Well good luck, that is exactly what all those deplorables were expecting you to say. You can be sure that they will take their opportunity to square-off at the next state election.
For the Premier and the Minister for Education it is not too late to pull back. But they must act now. The dive is steep and the ground is fast approaching. Soon it will be too late.
About the Author
Greg Donnelly is a Labor Party member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. He has been in the Legislative Council since February 2005 and currently serves on three parliamentary committees including Social Issues, Children and Young People and General Purpose Standing Committee No. 5.