BY SERKAN OZTURK
An announcement on Easter Sunday to axe the Safe Schools program has local gay groups worried, after the NSW Government decided to axe the anti-bullying program in a few months’ time when federal funding runs out.
The decision by the state’s education minister, Rob Stokes, to cut the program has caused the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to break out in near-glee, while LGBTIQ groups have been alarmed at the sudden axing of the youth anti-bullying initiative that has become political football.
In a statement announced during the lull of the Easter long weekend, Mr Stokes said a new anti-bullying program to be funded from state coffers would take the place of Safe Schools after June 30 this year.
“Bullying will never be accepted in NSW public schools whether it be because someone is overweight, gay, based on the colour of their skin, or for any other reason,” he said. “Students and parents should expect that schools are a place where they feel safe.Schools remain one of the most secure and trusted public institutions in our community.”
It is unclear if the new program, which will have input from independent and Catholic schools, will feature modules on sexuality and gender.
The decision saw Mr Abbott – the poster boy of the Catholic hard-right – come out like a bullyboy on social media to celebrate the demise of the program.
“Good that NSW is scrapping so called Safe Schools, a social engineering programme dressed up as anti-bullying,” the Liberal MP posted on Twitter on Easter Sunday.
Despite being a self-confessed follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ, Mr Abbott could not find the time on Easter Sunday to post anything charitable – or indeed post anything else for that matter – on his Twitter account that day. It was Safe Schools he was happy to see “dead, buried, cremated” this time. As a fan of resurrections, you can, however, count on Mr Abbott not wanting to see Safe Schools back anytime soon.
Gay rights and marriage equality campaigner, Rodney Croome, said the campaigning by the likes of Mr Abbott and others like federal Senator Cory Bernardi against Safe Schools was part of a broader offensive against LGBTIQ people.
“The backlash to the Safe Schools program has nothing to do with the wellbeing of schools students and everything to do with slowing down marriage equality,” he said.
The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) said that since July 2014 when the voluntary initiative was launched, almost 250 member schools, including public, independent and faith-based schools, had signed up to the program.
“The program has reached 60% secondary schools, 22% combined and 18% primary schools. 80 (53%) member schools in metropolitan areas, 70 (47%) in regional, rural and remote,” a lobby spokesperson said.
“The program has delivered professional development sessions to 5,452 teachers and education staff.”
The GLRL said the decision to end the program was counter-productive when it had proven to be successful in its aims.
“Program demand continues to be high for professional development and support for schools,” the lobby spokesperson said.
Following the announcement in NSW, the Tasmanian State Government has also indicated it will halt the program once federal funding for it comes to an end in June.