Liberals Elizabeth Kikkert says children being ‘groomed’ by Safe Schools program
Canberra Times, 24 August 2017
Liberal politician Elizabeth Kikkert has accused teachers of “asking 13-year-old girls to fantasise about sexual intercourse” with another woman as part of the Safe Schools program.
Opposition education spokesman Andrew Wall tabled a petition in the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday with close to 1000 signatures calling on the ACT government to withdraw all current and future support of the program, which is designed to stop bullying of LGBTIQ students.
An ACT-specific program is being developed by Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT and will be rolled out over the next 18 months after a split from the national program following federal government changes.
Education minister Yvette Berry said Mr Wall should be “ashamed of himself” for bringing the petition forward.
“It says to LGBTIQ kids there’s something wrong with you, you’re not welcome to be included in our community,” Ms Berry said.
“We know LGBTIQ kids are more likely to harm themselves or take their own lives. I will not tolerate children in our schools who are LGBTIQ being intimidated, treated differently or excluded.
“I will stand by every LGBTIQ kid and the ACT government will not be changing its mind about Safe Schools.”
Greens MLA Carline Le Couteur questioned if those who had signed the petition had actually read through the resources, which are available online.
She said she could understand why parents wanted more clarification about the program’s aims but feared some were subscribing to “mistruths”.
But Mrs Kikkert accused the government of having “tunnel vision” about the Safe Schools program.
She said the program should also provide support for students who were the subject of bullying because of their race, religion or intellectual ability.
However Mrs Kikkert also said she’d heard cases of children who were unable to sleep at night because of materials contained in the program.
She said asking a “13-year-old girl to fantasise about being sexually attracted to another girl” could “accurately” be described as “grooming”.
“And then we let teachers ask a 13-year-old girl to fantasise about sexual intercourse. I have personally met with youth in Canberra who have gone home from their classes in tears so upset they couldn’t sleep for several nights all because of the resources from the Safe Schools program,” Mrs Kikkert said
“These are not the children of bigots or homophobes, in fact these students were given written permission by their parents to participate in discussions on Safe School material.
“I ask the Assembly to carefully consider the words of one student: ‘I have been told my whole life that people don’t have a right to touch my body in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable so why is it OK for a teacher to touch my mind in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable in the exact same way?'”
The ACT Education Directorate’s director of school improvement in Tuggeranong Kate Smith said she could not “verify” the experiences Mrs Kikkert described, but said the Safe Schools program was only one of a number of resources teachers accessed to help students feel included.
“I can say as a previous principal we really believe that every student has the right to feel safe and included, and everyone has the right to feel welcome regardless of their individual circumstances,” Ms Smith said.
“With the concerns about the Safe Schools program, it’s a resource, it’s not a curriculum, that school leaders can access to make sure they’re going about inclusion in an evidence-based way.”
The number of signatures on the petition means it will have to be referred to the standing committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs, on which Mrs Kikkert is deputy chair and Mr Wall is a member.
Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson chairs the committee and his colleague, passionate LGBTIQ rights campaigner Chris Steel, is the final member.
Mr Steel called on Mrs Kikkert to either take what she knew to the police or retract her statements.
“Her claim that teachers are grooming children for sex is deeply disturbing,” Mr Steel told the parliament.
“It is simply untenable to hang such serious matters out in the Assembly under privilege and not have them addressed.”
It is not the first time tempers have flared about the controversial program around the ACT Legislative Assembly recently.
Earlier this month a rally organised by NSW MP Fred Nile and Australian Christian Lobby leader Lyle Shelton to protest Safe Schools next door in Civic Square was drowned out by supporters of the program.