David Penberthy: Well that slogan, gay, straight, black, or white, was some of the chanting that you were hearing from the protesters here in Adelaide outside Senator Cory Bernardi's office in Kent Town on Friday. The wooden thud was the sound of his front gate being kicked over by the protesters, and presumably these people are all sort of of the socialist persuasion, most of them I think were linked to the hard left political organisation Socialist Alternative. It's a funny definition of socialism that you'll kick down a fence at an MP's office, because the bill for that inevitably is returned to the taxpayers, meaning that it is blue collar people who end up paying through their taxes to repair the results of their vandalism, so a pretty funny little definition of socialism that one. The impetus for the protest obviously was in large part the political stink over the Safe Schools sex education and gender identify program that has been rolled out in more than 500 schools around Australia. The Education Minister Senator Simon Birmingham announced a number of changes to remove the more controversial aspects of that program on Friday. He joins us now, Senator Birmingham thank you so much for your time. It would probably be helpful for our listeners if you could just recap what the key changes you made to the content were as a result of this review into Safe Schools.
Simon Birmingham: Sure Penbo. Well good morning to you, Will, and your listeners. Essentially what I announced on Friday was that after an independent review by Professor Bill Louden, Emeritus Professor of Education for the University of Western Australia, we would request the content he found that may not be suitable for all children would be removed from the school resources. Further than that that any external organisations who were branded, mentioned, or had internet links in any of these school materials could only in future be organisations that were Commonwealth, state, or territory funded counselling or mental health services, so that the concerns that people had that there were links to organisations that could contain inappropriate content for children, and it would all be removed, and there'd be no risk of that in the future.
Further that we put in place some restrictions that it required parent bodies to approve the roll out of this program within their schools, and then for information to be provided to parents in a similar sort of way to information provided to parents in sex education or religious instruction type classes so that they're properly informed of what's being taught, and have an option to opt out for their kids if needs be.
And finally concerning that this program is to be run in secondary schools only. So a number of other minor things, including some positive things in terms of recommending that perhaps for children who are struggling with issues of their gender identity where there is factual information available for them, that there should equally be some factual information prepared that the school could use to help in conversation with their parents, because that seemed to be a particular gap in the type of resources that were there.
David Penberthy: What's the status of the future funding, because I saw yesterday that Labor were arguing that you guys are going to cut the funding from next year? Is that the case?
Simon Birmingham: So this is a program that was established at the tail end of the last Labor Government. It was established via a contract with the Foundation for Young Australians, which was only ever a four year contract. So there were calls, as you'd well know over the last couple of weeks, for funding to be axed instantly, and that contract to be axed instantly. We've rejected that, and we've rejected those calls. We will see out the contract, we'll use the remaining funding to ensure that we fix the program, and one of the other things we will do in that timeframe is rather than having a particular specific site that is just about dealing with homophobia and the like, we will actually transfer this material over to the education hub that deals with all safety issues at schools; racism, how to help children from families with domestic violence, how to deal with ensuring the inclusion of children with disabilities, all of those different areas that schools grapple with.
I think it's entirely appropriate that issues of homophobia and inclusion for children with questions around their sexuality can actually be essentially sourced in mainstream in that education portal or hub that we have that schools and education departments from around Australia use. And that ensures then that this material, once it's fixed, will live on well beyond the life of this program, alongside all of the other relevant material for schools to be able to access.
Will Goodings: The issue that came through and really got picked up by a lot of our listeners is that Safe Schools itself, most of it- almost all of it seems to be completely non-contentious, but the- some of those modules, and some of those training exercises that were in it, and often they were through links to external or separate entities such as, I think it's called Minus18 in Victoria, while most of it was contentious, the stuff that was uncontentious… the stuff that was truly contentious was really sort of off in a league of its own.
So you know, if it's a question of striking a balance, how do you feel about the manner in which the debate has been conducted and played out? I mean because you know, you're one of the most prominent advocates within the Liberal Party in support of same-sex marriage, yet we heard yesterday morning on Sky News we had Senator Di Natale saying everyone who supported modifying the crazier aspects of this proposal is some sort of homophobe.
Simon Birmingham: Yeah look I'm really frustrated I guess by both extremes of this debate. There were essentially two sides hammering away in some senses, one side to an extent saying you must axe the program instantly, strip all funding, and there was another side saying this thing is perfect and can't possibly be altered or varied at all. Now we have chartered an appropriate middle way, and as I said to you guys when we spoke a few weeks ago about this, I just need to be objective with the program, because the objective to say that we shouldn't have bullying in terms of homophobia in our schools, and we should support kids who are dealing with very personal issues themselves, are objectives that I would hope that basically everybody could support.
The execution is the challenge, and I said a few weeks ago that some of the content did certainly raise an eyebrow. And when we got through more of the detail of that it was clear, and the independent review found that not all of the content was appropriate for all kids. Now ultimately teachers are the arbiter of what goes on in the classroom, but in terms of the type of language that's being used, and the fact that some people at either extreme want to use a school program around safety and inclusion and intolerance as a proxy for a gay marriage debate, well I'm not interested in that. I'm not interested in it being a proxy for anything. It should be solely about the wellbeing of kids in schools, and that's certainly how I've [indistinct] the response, and focused on the next step we take in relation to it.
David Penberthy: Senator Simon Birmingham thanks for your time, that's the Federal Minister for Education Simon Birmingham.