Federal election 2016: Labor eyes Greens’ safe schools lead
The Australian, May 18, 2016.
Labor is considering restoring the controversial Safe Schools program after the Greens promised to roll it out fully and strip churches of exemptions in discrimination laws.
As the opposition continues to be forced to defend its left flank from the Greens, Labor may reverse changes the Coalition made to the program this year amid an outcry over 11-year-olds being asked to role play as gay teenagers.
Labor’s education spokeswoman, Kate Ellis, told The Australian: “We established the Safe Schools program and we think it does incredibly important work.
“In contrast, the Liberals are cutting the program entirely next year. Given Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals are intent on pursuing their divisive plebiscite on marriage equality, it’s more important than ever before that LGBTI young people, and kids growing up in diverse families, are safe from bullying at school.”
Ms Ellis’s comments were made after The Australian asked Labor MPs and candidates in the four seats being targeted by the Greens for their position on the Safe Schools policy, including deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and former deputy prime minister Anthony Albanese. They did not respond; Ms Ellis spoke on their behalf.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham ordered changes to the Safe Schools program in March, including limiting it to secondary schools, removing some of the gender-diversity role-playing activities and restricting some programs to one-on-one discussions between students and qualified staff.
Stepping up efforts to steal Labor’s progressive inner-urban supporters, the Greens said yesterday that they were committed to a $32 million rollout of the Safe Schools program.
The party’s LGBTI policy, announced by sexuality spokesman Robert Simms and gender identity and intersex spokeswomen Janet Rice, also promised the end of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination law and the listing of a HIV-preventive drug called PrEP on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Vowing to strip the religious exemption from anti-discrimination laws, Senator Simms said the party wanted to stamp out sexuality and gender identity-based discrimination. “Under current anti-discrimination laws, a gay man can be fired from working at a private school and a transgender person can be turned away from a religious homeless shelter,” he said. “We shouldn’t be giving religious organisations a get-out-of-jail-free card and the right to discriminate. Allowing a right to discriminate undermines the effectiveness of these kinds of laws. These exemptions can ruin someone’s life.”
The Greens’ move comes a week after an anti-discrimination complaint against Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous was dropped. He had been accused of humiliating gay, lesbian and transgender Australians by distributing a booklet on traditional marriage.
The Christian lobby described the Greens policy as “totalitarian, disturbing and wrong’’.
Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton said the Greens proposals were “contrary to the principals of a free society and international law’’. He said the Greens’ intolerance towards people who had a different belief system to them was breathtaking.
Mr Shelton said the Greens policy also defied Australia’s international obligations to protect freedom of conscience, thought and religion or belief.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus repeated Labor’s policy platform pledge to “review national anti-discrimination laws to ensure that exemptions do not place Australians in a position where they cannot access essential social services’’.
“Since the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality, to the present day, Labor governments have consistently been at the forefront of removing discrimination and fighting for the equal rights of LGBTI Australians,” Mr Dreyfus said.
The Greens pitch to the LGBTI community comes as it puts Labor under pressure on industrial relations with a promise to legislate to entrench Sunday penalty rates.
The move appeared to unravel after it emerged the Greens had not made a submission in support of the status quo to the Fair Work Commission.
Labor’s assistant defence spokesman, David Feeney, also blasted Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s questioning of the US-Australia defence alliance in a speech yesterday to the Lowy Institute. Mr Feeney said the Greens wanted to dump the future submarine contract that would see billions of dollars spent in South Australia.
The Greens have directly targeted Labor in the first 10 days of the campaign, attacking Bill Shorten in advertisements on penalty rates and actively campaigning in Labor held seats.
Seeking to build on the success in Adam Bandt winning the seat of Melbourne from Labor in 2010, the Greens are targeting the NSW seats of Grayndler, held by Mr Albanese, and Sydney, held by Ms Plibersek.
In Victoria, the Greens are targeting Mr Feeney’s seat of Batman and Wills, where Kelvin Thomson is retiring after 20 years and former SBS executive Peter Khalil is Labor’s candidate.
With the polls showing the Coalition and Labor neck-and-neck ahead of the July 2 election, the Prime Minister accused Labor of “crab-walking’’ towards a deal with the Greens.
Mr Shorten dismissed as “dishonest’’ Malcolm Turnbull’s charge that Labor would do a power deal with the minor party under a hung parliament. “We’ve made it perfectly clear that we will not form a coalition with the Greens, full stop,” he said.
Senator Di Natale has dismissed Labor’s declarations it would not negotiate with the Greens, arguing that Mr Shorten would not reject a chance at power.