The New South Wales Government has confirmed its current Safe Schools program will be replaced by a new, broader anti-bullying strategy in public schools.
The new program will be available in schools from July this year, but the state education minister insists public schools will continue to support LGBTQI students.
The current program, designed to educate students about sexual and gender diversity in reducing bullying, has attracted criticism from some parts of politics.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has described it on social media as a social-engineering program dressed up as anti-bullying.
Liberal senator Jane Hume says Mr Abbott’s criticism is valid.
She has told Sky News it is state governments’ responsibility to reshape the program.
“Well, to some extent, it has been a tainted program. I think it has been recalibrated in the right direction, but it’s a secondary-school program and it really should fall under the purview of state governments. The New South Wales state government has made the right decision to run with its own program. The Victorian government has made a very different decision. It’s decided to continue on with the Safe Schools program and to fund it with an additional $300,000.”
The initiative, funded by the Labor federal government in 2013, is used in around 500 schools across Australia.
Some Coalition MPs have been critical of the program, saying it includes material which is extreme and aimed at sexualising children.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says critics have been using the program for political gain.
“We feel that the Safe Schools program’s been made a political football** by conservative critics. It is important that children go to school and are not bullied on the basis of their sexuality.”
Labor’s Amanda Rishworth has told the ABC the program in its current form has many benefits.
“The Safe Schools program provided material to particularly tackle bullying on kids about their sexuality. That was the approach and the resources that were part of the Safe Schools program and something that was widely taken up by schools. And the fact that so many schools took up the program and the resources shows that there was a need in schools for these types of resources.”
But Liberal MP James Patterson has told the ABC employing a broader anti-bullying strategy would benefit more students.
“I think the best way to address that is about teaching young people that they need to respect all of their peers, regardless of whatever the criteria is that is causing them to be bullied. That’s a much better way of doing it.”
Supporters and members of the gay and lesbian community have rejected the criticisms of the Safe Schools program as a social-engineering project.
The national spokeswoman for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Shelley Argent, says the program has been an important support for lesbian and gay children.