Education Minister Simon Birmingham has commissioned a report on the controversial anti-bullying program that educates junior high school students about sexual diversity, after a Coalition MP claimed the scheme was a vehicle for Marxist propaganda. The Safe Schools Coalition program, available to Year 7 and Year 8 teachers in nearly 500 schools nationwide, educates students about terms such as “queer” and “pansexual”. It also includes a role-playing exercise in which children are encouraged to imagine how it would feel to live in a same-sex relationship. The issue was raised in the joint Coalition party room, where one backbencher claimed the program “prematurely sexualised” children and should be de-funded. The scheme was designed to “indoctrinate children into a Marxist agenda”, the MP said.

Senator Birmingham, who a week earlier resisted calls to review the program, conceded the Labor-era program would have been done “very differently” under a Coalition government. “However we should not lose sight of the fact that our aim is to deal with bullying and harassment of kids who are having to struggle with their sexuality and gender identity,” Senator Birmingham said, according to a party room spokesman. Senator Birmingham did express “concern” at some aspects of the program and, at Malcolm Turnbull’s invitation, volunteered to deliver a report on the program’s operation to the party room. One government MP cautioned against  throwing “the baby out with the bathwater”. “There are kids who struggle with gender identity, and it is important to protect them from bullying,” the MP said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten hit out at the decision to commission a report. “Tony Abbott sacked Cory Bernardi the last time he made offensive comments, and now Malcolm Turnbull gives him his way,” said Mr Shorten. The Greens accused the Prime Minister of “caving into the conservative forces on his backbench”, arguing one-fifth of gender-diverse young Australians faced physical abuse. Robert Simms, the party’s sexuality spokesman, said. “Opposition to the Safe Schools Coalition seems to be based on the idea that simply by talking about differences in sexuality or gender identity you’re going to recruit people. That is ridiculous.” Senator Simms said he would pursue an inquiry into the impacts of transphobic and homophobic bullying. The program receives commonwealth funding of $2 million per year until next July.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to review the Safe Schools program. ACL managing director Lyle Shelton said bullying children for any reason was unacceptable but the Safe Schools program went way beyond the purview of an anti-bullying program. “Parents expect their children to be safe at school but encouraging boys who identify as girls to use the girls bathrooms and share school camp accommodation is not the way to do this,” Mr Shelton said. Mr Shelton said many parliamentarians were unaware of what Safe Schools promotes to children as young as four. “Telling four-year-olds that no one can tell you what gender you are is confusing and indoctrination in contested and dangerous gender theory.

“Safe Schools tells children they must have access to the Minus 18 website which instructs girls in chest binding so their breasts are flattened and penis tucking for boys.” Since marriage was redefined in countries like Ireland and Canada, programs like Safe Schools had become mandatory. The Victorian Government plans to make Safe Schools mandatory from 2019. “Many people are asking questions about where rainbow ideology is taking our politics. “The Government should immediately pay out its contract with the program providers,” Mr Shelton said. “The break fee would be a small price to pay to ensure all children could be safe at school.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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Schools that promote and instruct students on chest binding, penis tucking and gender dysphoria could be sued decades into the future by students who suffer harm from the advice, according to legal advice obtained by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). Around 500 schools with 330,000 students are signed up to the so-called Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) which says children must have access to this extreme material. Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson Wendy Francis said the $8 million federally-funded government program could create a legal minefield for the government, schools and teachers who may be vulnerable to litigation. She welcomed the opposition to SSCA that was voiced by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Mr Joyce joined coalition colleagues in expressing concerns held by many federal and state parliamentarians. “It is irresponsible for the Government to be funding this ideologically-driven program when government-run schools could be hit by potential litigation claims,” Ms Francis said. “The program, through its Minus 18 affiliate and the cobranded resource “OMG I’m Trans’, teaches young girls seven ways to bind their chests and boys to tuck their penises, which by Safe Schools’ own admission is dangerous and can cause long term physical damage. “Legal advice to ACL has warned that State Government’s face potential liability for endorsing and promoting material distributed by the Safe Schools Coalition Australia. “As with liability of school authorities for cyber bulling we may well see litigation occur in the future.”

The legal brief obtained by ACL states: “The school authority owes a duty of care to its students. The duty is a non-delegable duty. That is, it is not sufficient for a school authority to say that it employed competent teachers. The authority has the legal duty to ensure that reasonable care is taken of the students.” It goes on to state: “Further the liability of the school is not dependent on whether the relevant incident occurred in school hours or on school premises.” Ms Francis said SSCA had a duty of care and must explain to schools that are taking on the program that it carried a litigation risk. “There is enough to indicate that school authorities which run the SSCA program should be aware of, and take steps to protect themselves from, the risk of claims being made against them.

“More importantly, they should consider whether their pupils are protected from possible harm. “The school authority may only be notified of claims many years after the relevant events.” Ms Francis said it was time for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to heed the advice of his colleagues and ensure the government is protected from a potential legal minefield, and that children are not damaged by following the advice contained in the program. “We call on State Parliaments and the Federal Parliament to hold an urgent review into Safe Schools and to remove this material immediately,” Ms Francis said. “The Commonwealth Government should cancel its contracts funding Safe Schools because it is not safe. A thorough investigation must be undertaken to see how this has slipped into our school system.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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Former Prime Minister John Howard has offered a strident defence of “traditional” conservative views, raising concern that opponents of same-sex marriage are being unfairly maligned as “homophobic”. In a television interview with Sky News the former prime minister said he believed there remained a “wide consensus” in support of traditional marriage that was being attacked. “It’s interesting, if somebody supports the traditional definition of marriage, they’re branded as some kind of far right wing extreme homophobe. It’s an absurd proposition,” he said. “Of course you have an obligation to be respectful of other points of view, but the tendency to brand anybody who’s got a conservative position on these social issues as a bigot or a homophobe or somebody who’s reeking with prejudices has become far too prevalent.”

Mr Howard also flagged a warning about an “anti-religious” sentiment that was becoming more widespread in Australian society, saying it was “ridiculous” that the Catholic Church should be restricted in expressing its support of traditional marriage. He referred to a case in Tasmania where a booklet opposing gay marriage published by the Catholic Church was viewed as discriminatory. “By no possible interpretation could it be seen as offensive to gay people, no way in the world. It just states the traditional view. And a view that had a wide consensus within the Australian community until fairly recently,” he said. “People are entitled to be concerned, about the anti-religious streak that is creeping into the attitudes of some parts of government around the country.”

Mr Howard, who has said gay marriage should be resolved by a free vote in parliament rather than by plebiscite, said the government should now honour its commitment to a public poll. “I believe in representative democracy,” he said. “But having seen a plebiscite promised, the government must honour that promise. People would feel very let down if the government walked away from that commitment,” he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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