Ben Fordham: On the line is the Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Good afternoon to you, Mr Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: G’day Ben, good to be with you.
Ben Fordham: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. You’ve made some sweeping changes to the Safe Schools programme today. So you’re removing these roleplaying activities. You are also restricting access to contentious third party websites. Can you just confirm for me, were these websites pornographic?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the third party websites directly referenced themselves are not what I would describe as pornographic. But there were concerns I guess about where those websites might further lead people on to, and so in the end – out of an abundance of caution I guess, and because we are talking about children and the safety of children online is of paramount importance – I think it’s appropriate that the only type of external sites that are referenced and that children might be encouraged toward are ones where the Commonwealth, State or Territory Government are funding those organisations to deliver mental health programmes or counselling programmes that students may rightly wish to access.
Ben Fordham: The idea of this in the first place was to reduce bullying of kids at school, but it seemed to just go too far. Is that a fair summary?
Simon Birmingham: I think there are elements of the programme that certainly raised people’s eyebrows and raised some genuine concerns, and obviously what we’ve done is two-fold, in a sense. We undertook – with the expertise of Professor Bill Louden, Emeritus Professor of Education from the University of Western Australia – a thorough and careful assessment of the content of the teaching resources and the individual student resources produced under the programme. And separately I have listened to broader concerns about those types of external website links, the alleged political advocacy of some of those involved in the programme, and have tried to draw a really hard line so that parents and children and teachers can have confidence that the resources that are produced are there to provide tolerance for those parents, and ultimately, also support children who might be grappling with questions of their sexuality.
Ben Fordham: You received a lot of feedback, didn’t you, from Coalition backbenchers who signed this petition saying look, it might have started off as something to reduce bullying but it’s become something which has got a lot of parents concerned because there are topics being raised and issues that are being developed in an area where parents would like to have more say over when those things are discussed and how they’re discussed with their children.
Simon Birmingham: And there was a lot of that type of commentary. I’m really pleased that we’ve reached an endpoint that ensures we haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater. We are still committed to seeing a programme in place that appropriately supports students and supports tolerance and encourages that in schools that will ultimately see those type of resources in dealing with homophobia and so on housed alongside other resources that deal with racism, with support for students with disabilities, for understanding of people who come from homes where there was domestic violence. There are a whole range of different issues that our schools have to confront and deal with, and it’s important there are resources for teachers to be able to draw upon, but of course they must be trusted, they must be appropriate to the age of the children, and that’s what we’ve really gone through a thorough process of making sure we get out of this programme.
Ben Fordham: Okay, let’s hope that’s the way it all works out. Thanks for coming on, have a good weekend.
Simon Birmingham: A pleasure, Ben. Any time, mate.
Ben Fordham: Simon Birmingham, the Federal Education Minister, joining us on the line.