Irate Coalition MPs plan Safe Schools rumble

(Above: Posters promote LBGTI issues at the Sydney Secondary College campus in Leichhardt.)

Barnaby Joyce will personally lobby Simon Birmingham to rein in the contentious Safe Schools Coalition anti-bullying program amid backbench outrage over the Education Minister’s “whitewash” review of the scheme and claims one of its key proponents is a “pedophile advocate”.

Coalition MPs learned at a private briefing on Tuesday that the government’s review of the scheme — which educates secondary school children about ­sexual orientation and transgender issues — had largely ­endorsed the scheme’s content, but recom­mended clearer advice for parents.

Several MPs stormed out of the meeting, blaming the terms of reference that did not require reviewer Bill Louden to consult with parents or visit more than a handful of schools.

Disgruntled backbenchers were last night devising a partyroom powerplay by circulating a petition to suspend the program’s $2 million annual subsidy pending a “full-blown” parliamentary inquiry. It has been signed by at least 30 MPs, which is half the backbench.

The terms of reference of the review, set by Senator Birmingham, also ignored the taxpayer-funded program’s past content or external material recommended to students by the program.

As Senator Birmingham considered his formal response to the review, expected within days, the Deputy Prime Minister said he would arrange a meeting to stress the importance of heeding parents’ concerns. “They just want to make sure that their right as a parent in the instruction of their children is not compromised or overlaid by another program,” Mr Joyce said.

“(Senator Birmingham) is a very adroit and clever politician and I’m sure that he can read the tea leaves on this one.”

Nationals MP George Christensen used parliamentary privil­ege to accuse Gary Dowsett, the deputy director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe Univer­sity, where the Safe Schools Coa­l­ition project originated, of advo­cating pedophilia.

He cited an article by Dr Dowsett, published when he was a school teacher in 1982, in which he recounted having “a friend, a pedophile, who is working very hard on making sense out of his ­relationships with boys”.

“These relations consist of, among other things, a large amount of nurture and support for these boys, a real caring for their welfare and growth,” he wrote in journal Gay Information.

“We have three legal/­social questions to win: custody rights for gay men and lesbians; the legal right of pedophiles and their young lovers; and, finally, the sexual rights of children as a whole. Those gains must be won for the kids, too. We need to protect the youthful partners in pedophilia against the legal and social management systems which treat them as delinquents.”

Dr Dowsett wrote that many mothers and fathers found their children “sexual” and activities such as cuddling, bathing and breastfeeding “generate sexual responses in their parents”.

“How different, then, is that gentle, tentative sexuality bet­ween parent and child from the love of a pedophile and his/her lover?” he wrote. “From all ­accounts, and from many academic studies — some worse than others — that kind of love, warmth, support and nurture is an important part of the pedophilic relationship.”

The article warned that gay activists risked a “Pyrrhic victory” if they achieved recognition of their rights “by doing in the pedophiles … The current pedophilia debate then is crucial to the political processes of the gay movement: ­pedophiles need our support, and we need to construct the child/adult sex issue on our terms.”

Mr Christensen said Dr Dowsett served on Victoria’s ministerial advisory committee on gay and lesbian health between 2000 and 2002, where he was able to advocate the precursor to Safe Schools Coalition program.

“I think it would shock many parents to know that a pedophilia advocate is overseeing the organisation that came up with the Safe Schools Progam,” he told parliament. “Giving this shocking infor­mation, it is imperative all federal funding for Safe Schools is suspended immediately pending a full parliamentary inquiry.”

Dr Dowsett would not comment, although La Trobe University said it stood by him and his team. “We are appalled that a respected academic has been attacked­ using parliamentary privilege,” a spokesman said.

Victorian Premier Daniel ­Andrews, in a statement on his Facebook page, said he would ­ensure the program had a “place in our schools long after Cory Bernardi and the rest of his dinosaurs eventually disappear”.

“The Liberals are still on the warpath about Safe Schools, a brilliantly effective program designed to stamp out bullying, not pile it on. But there is some good news. If the Turnbull government decides to cut the funding for this program, I’m proud to announce that the Victorian government will make up the shortfall. We’ll lock that funding in at a state level — because if it saves just one life, it’s worth it.”

Bill Shorten defended the program. “I remember when I went to school it was the case that periodically kids would be bullied and one of the issues which they could be bullied on was grappling with issues of sexuality. Now, I don’t want to see that happen,” the Opposition Leader said. “Mr Turnbull is going to have to show some leadership. He is going to have to decide does he back his Education Minister or does he back the lunar Right of the party? Because you can’t do both.”

Senator Bernardi, a conservative Liberal, suggested a parliamentary inquiry if the government did not restrict some of the “age-inappropriate” material. “The innocuous­-sounding Safe Schools program provides links to sadomasochism sites, it encourages children to experiment sexually or to imagine themselves experimenting sexually, and I don’t think that’s appropriate for Years 7 and 8,” he told ABC news.

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