Ben Davis: Look, there has been plenty of talk today too, and not just today but over the last few weeks about the Safe Schools programme. You know my views on it. I think it- and especially on a day when we’re talking about anti-bullying and anti-violence; it’s what our kids have been hearing about all day at school today, because today is World Anti-Bullying and Anti-Violence Day. We need to have something like the Safe Schools programme in our schools, especially to stop bullying to those- for those about their sexuality. Well today, there has been an announcement that there has been a review into this and there will be changes to this. The Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins me now. Simon, good afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Good afternoon, and good afternoon to your listeners.
Ben Davis: You’ve had a look at this, an independent review of the Safe Schools programme has come out and found there will be a number of changes to this. It still exists, but there will be some changes. Can you talk us through what they’ll be?
Simon Birmingham: That’s right. So I’ve announced some actions today as the result of a couple of things. One is an independent review conducted by Professor Bill Louden, Emeritus Professor of Education from the University of Western Australia, who looked at all of the- particularly content, in relation to the resources that were developed by the Safer Schools Coalition, and assessed whether it was age appropriate education, sound advice, in line with the national curriculum and the like. And alongside of that, I have looked at a range of the other concerns about the programme, particularly its linkages on the internet and otherwise to other organisations and websites and whether or not parental engagement is effective. As a result of those two processes, a range of action has been taken. Firstly, that some of the lesson content as part of the guide for teachers will be changed, because Professor Louden has found that not all of that content was suitable for all children in a classroom setting.
We’ll be putting in place a benchmark that sees a programme delivered in secondary schools that gives confidence to parents that it is age appropriate. I will be taking steps to make sure that all third party linkages and web links in particular are removed from the resources and materials under the programme unless they are referring children off to Government-supported mental health or counselling facilities, because it’s really important, in terms of not just a programme like this that’s trying to stamp out bullying and promote a more inclusive environment for same-sex attracted young people or the life, but also just for general e-safe principles that we make sure that we know the websites children are being directed to and that we aren’t setting up a situation where they’re just one or two clicks away from trouble or something inappropriate.
Ben Davis: And Minister, this has been the problem, hasn’t it? A lot of parents have voiced concerns; a lot of members from inside your own party have voiced concerns, and it was threatening to divide the Federal LNP.
Simon Birmingham: There have been a lot of concerns voiced. Some of those come from voices who probably don’t really like the existence of programmes like this at all, but some of the defence of the programme come from people who maybe are sometimes a little closed minded to looking at whether content . I’ve tried to tread an appropriate middle path where we undertake the assessment to make sure that the programme exists to support tolerance, specifically in our schools, but it is delivered in a same way so parents can feel comfortable and confident that the content is appropriate, and I really hope that that is an approach that most parents appreciate as being the right way to get the best possible outcome for their kids and their school community.
Ben Davis: Minister, can you clear up a question that we did have a few weeks ago when we were talking about this, and it was about the schools having access to this and how much they actually use. Can they cherry pick how much of this programme they use and what they see and deem fit?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. So Professor Louden, who has spent a lifetime working in education, spoke to me at length about it and others, and explained there are many types of resources like this that exist across a whole range of different areas. The curriculum, as we know, it’s a very fully curriculum in Australian schools, and perhaps a little bit too full sometimes. So teachers have to prioritise how they [indistinct] the curriculum. I’d be very surprised if any school actually took any given lesson plan and taught exactly through to those [indistinct]. It’s far more likely that school communities and teachers will pick and choose the elements that work best for their children and their school communities.
Ben Davis: We saw some pretty ugly scenes coming out of Adelaide today. Senator Cory Bernardi, his office was trashed with his stance around the Safe Schools programme. I mean it was- it was- I don’t know, I almost want to say it was almost Trump-like. I mean, it was- you know, there was- his office was trashed, there was slogans put up on his wall. This is terrible. This is terrible behaviour for any Australian to be part of.
Simon Birmingham: It is, and whatever side of this type of debate, or gay marriage debates or the like, that people might stand on, they should deplore this type of behaviour. I mean, here we are talking about a programme that is designed to try to encourage tolerance in our schools, and those who went out protesting in defence of it decided that the way they would undertake that process would be to damage Government property, to act in a destructive way, [indistinct] to employees of [indistinct]. Now that is deplorable conduct and I think that right through this saga at frankly both extremes of the debate, there’s a very clear message here: that people should realise we are talking about the wellbeing of children in schools. They should not be used as a proxy for other political debate for other agendas, and really what I’ve been driven by is getting this programme right, making sure the resources are appropriate, and from there I have absolutely no tolerance for individuals who seek to use this for other political motives. Let alone, [indistinct] they preach tolerance, but then behave in a manner that is totally anathema to that.
Ben Davis: Exactly right, so hypocritical there. Minister, before I let you go, parents would be listening to this very carefully. Do the changes that have been made and implemented and will come into our schools, if there’s still any questions, if there’s still any doubts in their mind, why is this so important to have the Safe School programmes in our schools?
Simon Birmingham: Young Australians who are same-sex attracted or have questions about their sexuality are far more prone not just to be bullied in school but ultimately they’re far more prone to act in self-harm and to suicide [indistinct]. If we’re going to have schools that are environments where every student can succeed, we really do need to make sure that students, whether it is because of sexuality, race, or a whole range of other issues, they feel like they are a safe environment, that their differences are respected, that they’re included in every [indistinct] learning, and if they have problems, they feel comfortable reaching out for help.
Ben Davis: Minister, I appreciate your time this afternoon. A very busy afternoon down in Canberra. The Federal Education Minister there, Simon Birmingham. Changes to the Safe Schools programme. They have been made. An independent body has had a look at this and made some recommendations. For me, it seems to clear up a lot of parents’ woes. You’ve just heard it. Are you comfortable with having a Safe Schools programme in your kids’ schools as it stands now?