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Libs "dog-whistle to conservatives, whisper to moderates" on Safe Schools

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The Liberal Party’s plan to scrap the Safe Schools anti-bullying program has earned praise from conservative groups this morning, but the party’s education spokesperson appears to be arguing the program doesn’t go far enough.

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The SA Liberal Party says it will end the state’s Safe Schools program if elected, but fund “training and support services for teachers and students to replace (it)”.

Speaking on radio this morning, Liberal education spokesperson John Gardner said that Safe Schools – which aims to prevent bullying of LGBTI children – had failed to provide enough support to primary school students and that did not include curriculum materials, undermining oft-expressed conservative objections to the program.

Asked to describe his objections to Safe Schools, Gardner argued: “It doesn’t have curriculum resources (and) it doesn’t provide very much support for primary schools where a lot of these issues are occurring – we need to take a broader approach.”

Early last year, the State Government announced it would fund a watered down, opt-in version of the federal Safe Schools program which focused on teacher training and jettisoned the Safe Schools curriculum.

In a media release this morning, the Australian Conservatives praised the Liberal Party for adopting the conservatives’ push for tougher laws to prosecute adolescent bullies, while the Australian Christian Lobby congratulated the Liberal Party on its plans to scrap Safe Schools, which the group says contained “age-inappropriate sexual concepts and radical LGBTIQ gender fluid theory”.

Greens education spokesperson Tammy Franks accused Gardner of “dog-whistling to the conservatives while whispering to the moderates” with this morning’s announcement.

“I think they’re trying to present two messages,” she told InDaily.

“The Liberals are shifting the goal posts – they can’t have it both ways.”

The Liberal Party is also promising “new resources” to help schools detect and respond to online bullying – though there is no detail about what new resources are on offer – and changes to the law “to make it easier to prosecute bullies and to ensure penalties are appropriate”.

Gardner told the radio program he supported the Australian Conservatives’ “Libby’s Law” legislation, and would move amendments to “tighten” its measures concerning cyber bullying.

He said that under the law, “a student has been victimised by others to the point where they take their own life or indeed commit serious harm to themselves (there would be) the opportunity for there to be consequences for those actions”.

However, he cautioned: “I have to be a little bit careful here, because there are complexities when you’re dealing with juvenile justice legislation and at what stage adult responsibility takes form, so obviously we’re dealing with the capacity where somebody has the criminal responsibility to be able to commit an act.”

Gardner said the Safe Schools program was “targeted at a narrow group” – LGBTI high school students – and that his party favoured a broader approach, which would focus more heavily on cyber bullying.

“LGBTI students need to be supported, we identify that those students have a particular level of risk, (however) they’re not the only students that need to be supported – we need to have broad strategies,” he said.

But Franks argued that the “nature of bullying” was that bullies focus on real or perceived differences and that a broad anti-bullying program would be less effective than programs targeting particular types of bullying – such as the national ‘Racism. No Way.’ campaign.

“It’s clear that the Liberal Party is willing to throw gay and transgender kids under the bus to win this election,” said Franks.

“When … bullying is based on homophobia and transphobia … it’s discussion about those differences that is needed – not a blanket anti-bullying motherhood statement.

“The very nature of bullying is singling people our because they are different or perceived to be different … you can’t address that by pretending everybody is the same.”

Australian Education Union SA Branch president Howard Spreadbury agreed.

“It would be a great detriment to revamp or replace the current Safe Schools program with something else that negated or deleted reference to sexuality,” said Spreadbury.

“One of the big factors in cyber bullying relates to difference, but in particular, identified sexual difference … it’s probably more common as a put-down.

“‘That’s so gay’ is seen as a derogatory (phrase in schools) – clearly that’s not okay.”

The Liberal Party’s anti-bullying policy document, released this morning, says: “despite evidence that bullying can be reduced through school-based interventions, the so-called ‘Safe Schools Anti-bullying Initiative’ is the only anti-bullying program financially supported by the Weatherill Labor Government”.

Education Minister Susan Close told InDaily: “It is not correct for the Opposition to claim the only anti-bullying activity in SA schools is the relatively small Safe Schools program.”

“Schools across the state work address bullying through specific programs, including those run by non-government organisations like the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and the Carly Ryan Foundation, and programs run across Australia, like Bullying No Way.

“The Opposition’s policy on bullying is essentially to adopt everything that’s already occurring in schools but to pretend that homophobic bullying doesn’t exist and dump Safe Schools.”

The Liberal policy document also says that the Government had “provided state funding for a replacement program that focuses exclusively on supporting LGBTI students – notably through ‘supporting gender diverse and transgender students to be their true selves at school’”.

Australian Christian Lobby SA director Christopher Brohier said that “it was disappointing to parents that the SA Government continued to fund Safe Schools through SHine SA, ignoring parental concerns in favour of advocating for LGBT rainbow ideology in the classroom without parents’ consent.”

“Unlike what is proposed by the Liberal Party, the Safe Schools SHine SA program is not scientifically or evidence-based but is an ideological implementation of unscientific gender theory.”

In total, 66 government schools across South Australia have chosen to participate in Safe Schools, according to the Education Department website.

Student participation in events that are organised by Safe Schools requires parental consent.

InDaily contacted Gardner and SA Best Leader Nick Xenophon.

Tracey Hutt, the acting head of SHINE SA – which administers Safe Schools in South Australia – declined to comment.

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