Tony Abbott has signed a petition demanding the de-funding of the controversial Safe Schools Coalition anti-bullying program, as Liberal moderates suggested a similar program be rolled out to educate their conservative colleagues about gay and transgender issues.
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.
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, including Mr Abbott.
Moderate Liberal backbenchers are fighting back in defence of the program, suggesting a similar scheme be rolled out to educate their conservative colleagues about gay and transgender issues.
Warren Entsch, who holds the Cairns-based seat of Leichhardt, defended the review as “quite balanced” and savaged a colleague’s comment to the briefing that “all kids start out confused, but as they grew up they become normal”.
“I shake my head in disbelief… The kids accept this. It seems to me there needs to be more of an education program for some of these adults that are making these noises,” Mr Entsch told ABC radio.
Mr Entsch said the concerns were being “pushed by external lobby groups”.
“I don’t see in the program what some of these guys are arguing, but I do receive letters from some other interest groups that are drawing very, very long bows in their arguments and they don’t deal with the reality of what children in this cohort are faced with,” he said.
“You only have to look at the statistics in relation to attempted suicide… Let’s have a bit of a reasonable think about this practically and reasonably.”
Ewen Jones, who holds the Townsville-based seat of Herbert, said suggestions that a backbench majority supported de-funding the scheme could be “complete rubbish”.
“My wife is a teacher, my brother was a teacher, a lot of my wife’s friends are teachers. They would view this as a tool in their arsenal, that they would use bits and pieces as they saw fit, where they thought it was appropriate, in the manner that they sought, that they thought was best for their school, their class and for that student,” Mr Jones told ABC radio.
“Do I agree with everything in there? No I don’t. Do I think some of the stuff that is there is inappropriate? Yes, I do. But do I want to ban the thing.”
Cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos denied the debate was a “proxy war” between supporters of Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, but an expression of “legitimate” concerns about how best to support children struggling with issues of sexuality.
Christopher Pyne, a former education minister, said he was very familiar with the Safe Schools Coalition material and raised no objection to it.
“I took the view that the materials in it weren’t directed at me – they were directed at a younger audience – and that bullying in schools was unacceptable,” he told Sky News.
“I didn’t want to bring my 48-year-old attitude to the materials as I have children of my own and if they were being bullied at school, I would want people to be able to get the support they need.”