STATE Governments have had mixed reactions to the federal government’s proposed cuts to the Safe Schools program, highlighted after NSW Premier Mike Baird defended the changes announced my federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham last week.
So far Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and the ACT have each criticised the proposed downsizing of Safe Schools, while Tasmania and NSW have sided with the Federal Government.
However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s changes to the program were “sensible and reasonable”, Baird told ABC radio station 702 Sydney on Tuesday.
“There is third-party material, links through to websites that I think, if you have a look at it, you’d think: ‘How on earth can our children be looking at this?'” he said.
The remarks come a day after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reaffirmed his support of the Safe Schools program on ABC TV’s Q&A.
“It works, it’s here to stay,” he said.
“If the Federal Government wants to tinker with it and compromise it, we will fund it fully and deliver it properly in every government secondary school across our state.”
Andrews in particular took issue with the Federal Government’s change requiring students to seek parental approval before participating in the program.
“It’s very difficult for some young people to talk to their parents about these sorts of issues,” he said.
ACT Education Minister Shane Rattenbury told the Canberra Times it was unusual for a school to have to ask parent’s permission to deliver an approved program.
“Secondary schools do not seek individual parental permission for students to access lessons on health, sex education or other kinds of peer support – they should not need to seek individual permission to have access to an anti-bullying program,” he said.
However, Baird disagreed: “If these sorts of programs are running, we just want parents to be aware they are running.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who included the Safe Schools program as an election promise in 2015, has not yet weighed in to the ongoing debate, but the state’s Education Minister Kate Jones has reportedly re-affirmed that election commitment in response to requests from teachers and students.
Meanwhile, South Australian Education Minister Susan Close last Saturday called upon the Federal Government to reverse its decision on Safe Schools.
“Safe Schools is a positive and caring anti-bullying program that offers teaching resources and people to support kids, schools and families to support emerging sexuality and gender identification,” Close posted on Facebook.
“The Federal Government has received its review — which is supportive of the program and its resources — and responded with actions not recommended in the review, and with cutting its funding from next year.”
In Tasmania, Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff sided with the Federal Government, despite pressure from opposition backbenchers calling for the state government to follow Victoria in fully supporting the program.
“The State Government will ensure the program complies with the new Federal Government guidelines,” Rockliff told ABC News.
The governments of Western Australia and Northern Territory have not yet weighed in on the issue.