Safe Schools: Pre-election hostilities reignite over
The Age, May 14, 2016.
Hostilities over the Safe Schools program have reignited ahead of the election, with Victoria walking away from federal funds to openly defy Malcolm Turnbull’s attempts to amend the controversial curriculum.
After declaring Victoria would go it alone to make the program mandatory in every secondary school, the Andrews government will launch a new web page on Sunday providing access to the original material used to teach students about sexual diversity – rather than any watered down versions produced by the Commonwealth.
The move comes after Safe Schools resources were taken down from the program’s national website in recent weeks, redesigned to remove any lessons or links the federal Coalition deemed inappropriate for students, and placed on a federal government-controlled online portal.
But the latest developments have enraged Victoria, with state Education Minister James Merlino claiming he wasn’t properly consulted before the material was removed, and accusing the Prime Minister of standing “with the bigots and bullies instead of standing up for vulnerable students”.
“We will continue to support SSCV (Safe Schools Coalition Victoria) and will make the existing resources available on the department’s website because Safe Schools saves lives,” Mr Merlino said.
Defying the Commonwealth means Victoria will be required to spend about $1 million of its own funds to roll out the program, and the Safe Schools Coalition of Victoria will not receive any additional financial support from Canberra (worth around $300,000), unlike other states that adhere to the Coalition’s changes.
But it also will mean that teachers and students will be able to use every lesson plan in its original form – including the All of Us teaching manual that conservative Liberal MPs such as Cory Bernardi claimed was “indoctrinating children”. The state will also make available a new resource for students in grade five to year 10, which focuses on same-sex families.
The resource, launched last week, was produced by the makers of Gayby Baby – the controversial documentary that was temporarily banned by from schools in NSW but won the acclaim of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
While Mr Merlino accused Canberra of caving in to right-wing forces, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham defended the Commonwealth’s changes, which include altering lessons contained in the All of Us teaching manual, removing any third-party branding from resources, and requiring parental consent for students to take part.
“The government has stared down requests at both extremes of the conversation, rejecting calls for the program to be axed and rejecting suggestions it was perfect and should remain untouched. Our response is responsible and measured,” he said.
“If the Victorian government wants to use children as political pawns then that is for them.”
Meanwhile, another part of Mr Andrew’s so-called “equality agenda” will move closer to reality on Monday, when the government releases a feasibility study for a $15 million Pride Centre for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
The initiative is expected to be even bigger than San Francisco’s LGBTI centre, showcasing the community’s art and history, as well as house free advisory, health and support services, and community spaces.
While some have questioned the government’s spending priorities, the feasibility study finds that the majority of community groups want a Pride Centre because their existing accommodation is unsuitable or restrictive.