Safe Schools debate cold shoulders parents

The Australian,  June 9, 2016

A sexual-health academic whose research helped inform Safe Schools has dismissed parental concerns over its content, blaming a “hate campaign” by The Australian for controversy around the program.

As La Trobe University grapples with restoring the reputation of the program, emeritus professor Anne Mitchell has defended Safe Schools Coalition Victoria co-founder Roz Ward, who returned to work on Monday following a brief suspension, claiming her Marxist links were “an absolute gift” to detractors.

At a Safe Schools event at Melbourne’s RMIT university a fortnight ago, the retired academic was billed to speak on her research, but spent significant time attacking those who criticised the program for its promotion of gender ideology and sexualised content.

“These are the strategies that are effective all the time,” Professor Mitchell said, discussing a slide titled “The anatomy of an Oz Hate Campaign” attributed to a 2014 report by journalism academics Andrew Dodd and Matthew Ricketson, both former journalists at The Australian.

“It gets to the anti-communist rhetoric; Roz Ward was a gift to that, an absolute gift. They played that mercilessly,” she said. According to a leaked recording from the event, Professor Mitchell criticised the “depravity narrative” of the purported hate campaign, pointing to articles that revealed resources about penis tucking and breast binding — practices adopted by some transgender people — were being made available to students.

“You know what’s going to happen to the world if that goes on, especially in primary schools,” she said, prompting laughter from the audience. “Distortion is just so common in those articles; children as young as five may be taught that gender is not fixed or may be taught about homosexual sex.

“Deliberate distortion that frightens people.”

Professor Mitchell declined to comment yesterday, but an RMIT spokesman said she had been awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2014 for her sexual-health research and policy development in support of marginalised communities. Some of that research has come under scrutiny recently.

Safe Schools materials cite the fifth National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health, co-authored by Professor Mitchell, for its repeated claim that 10 per cent of people are same-sex-attracted. However, this is not backed up by findings of the study, which relied heavily on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex networks to recruit trial subjects.

It is not the first time an associate of Safe Schools has dismissed concerns about the program.

As The Australian reported in March, Ms Ward has advised principals to say “tough luck” to parents who disapproved of the program, while her colleague Joel Radcliffe said “parents don’t have the power to shut this down”.

Professor Mitchell’s strident defence took place on May 26, several months after the federal government ordered an overhaul of the taxpayer-funded program after a review deemed some parts inappropriate for young students.

It also came the night before La Trobe announced an investigation into Ms Ward after she denounced the Australian flag as racist in a Facebook post.

Despite dropping the investigation last week amid legal pressure, La Trobe vice-chancellor John Dewar said Ms Ward’s conduct had imperilled the program and the research institution.


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