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ACT And Victoria Will Defy Government Changes To Safe Schools Program

While some education ministers are saying the changes to the anti-bullying program are sensible, ACT and Victoria disagree.

In the midst of well-publicised changes being made to the Safe Schools anti-bullying program, ACT and Victoria are pushing back against the government’s propositions.

The federal government plans to reduce lesson content, restrict access to the Safe Schools program to secondary schools, re-establish the website as a government website, remove links to third party groups, and will require schools to have parental consent before introducing the materials.

Both Victoria and ACT have defiantly offered funding from their own budgets to keep an unchanged anti-bullying program in place instead of complying with the changes.

The decision was made following the review ordered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in February. The review, performed by the University of Western Australia Emeritus Professor Bill Louden, found that the anti-bullying program was consistent with the national curriculum goals. He did, however, recommended that teachers were given more guidance for classroom exercises and certain resources were made available only through counsellors.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said about the government’s decision, “There are areas where the content could be improved and we will make sure that it is improved. The actions we’re taking I think are strong but measured to make sure we get the welfare of students’ rights.”

New South Wales Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said, “The federal Minister has outlined some sensible changes.” He also stated that he has consulted his department “for urgent advice on how they are best implemented.”

The Tasmanian government is following suit with Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff, saying, “The State Government will ensure the program complies with the new Federal Government guidelines. As announced last month, the Tasmanian Government is currently developing a new overarching anti-bullying program that all Tasmanian state schools will have access to during next year.”

However, the Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said that the content was already approved by experts and will remain as it currently is in his state. He said, “Absolutely we can go it alone and we will if we need to. The Federal Government’s recommendations completely undermine the Safe Schools program.”

ACT’s Education Minister Shane Rattenbury highlighted how odd it is that schools should need permission from parents before running certain programs. He said, “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.”

“The Safe Schools program supports a school culture that is happier, safer and more inclusive for all young people. Young people of all ages should have access to a program which supports young people dealing with their sexuality at the time that they need it.”

Kate Ellis, Labor’s education spokesperson, highlighted the potential repercussions of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s apparent surrender to pressure from right-wing conservatives about the program.

She said, “How do we expect any student in the schoolyard to stand up to bullies if Australia’s own Prime Minister can’t stand up to the bullies within the fringe of his own party? This review shows that the sort of radical, disgusting and extreme statements that were being made by Liberal backbenchers have shown to be totally wrong and totally untrue.”