Early warning over Roz Ward attack
The Australian, August 29, 2016
The youth organisation behind the Safe Schools Coalition was warned more than a year ago that its outspoken co-founder Roz Ward risked alienating schools to the detriment of the many vulnerable young people it was trying to help.
Tim Wilson, a former Australian human rights commissioner and one-time member of the Safe Schools steering committee, contacted the program’s national convener, the Foundation for Young Australians, in June last year after Ms Ward publicly criticised the Catholic Church.
Ms Ward, the program’s Victorian director, had described moves by Melbourne archbishop Dennis Hart to have Catholic schools lobby parents to vote against same-sex marriage as a “direct attack” on gay people.
Mr Wilson, now Liberal MP for Goldstein, put his concerns in writing to the foundation, arguing that the comments were “wholly beyond the remit (of) Safe Schools Coalition, whose job is to focus on bullying and harassment in schools.
“While I disagree with the views expressed in the documents circulated by the Catholic Church, they merely reflect the current law and it is absurd to attack their freedom to advocate for the status quo,” Mr Wilson wrote in an email dated June 5, 2015. “The objective of this program is to work with religious schools and co-operate to tackle any bullying or harassment of LGBTI youth that may exist.
“These comments have seriously harmed the prospects of working with those schools. The losers from such behaviour are the significant number of LGBTI youth in religious schools.”
Mr Wilson also noted he was not convinced that Ms Ward’s comments would be a “one-off” and he considered them “indulgent and belligerent”.
The outspoken Marxist has since been at the centre of several controversies that have politicised the program, which was already under fire for promoting contested ideas about gender and sexual fluidity. Speaking at a Socialist Alternative conference earlier this month, Ms Ward hit out at the program’s opponents, describing them as homophobic.
In June she was temporarily suspended from La Trobe University over a Facebook posting in which she decried the Australian flag as racist.
And while the Victorian and ACT governments have pledged to take over funding of the program, its future in other states remains in doubt with federal backing to cease from next year. The foundation, which gets one-third of its funds from government, has pledged to continue its support.
Mr Wilson has backed the Victorian opposition’s plan for a broader anti-bullying program that promoted tolerance and empathy for gay and gender diverse people.
Neither the foundation nor Ms Ward responded to requests for comment.