The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is disgusted at the decision by the Federal Government to change the Safe Schools Program to appease the Christian right of the political divide. The review undertaken by Emeritus Professor William Louden found that the Safe Schools resources are consistent with the intent and objectives of the program and are appropriate for use in schools. To ignore this review and instead change the program anyway sends these messages to the Australian community:

  1. If the intent was to change the program to appease the Christian right, why go through the façade of a review in the first place? This is a slap in the face for the Australian public, with the implication that public money can be wasted to undertake reviews simply to justify bigoted changes to government policy. Clearly, it was assumed that the Louden review would provide justification for gutting the Safe Schools program. When it didn’t, the government just ignored the review;
  2. The safety, health and wellbeing of LGBTI kids in Australia are secondary to appeasement of right wing bigots in Australian parliament. The likes of Corey Bernardi and George Christensen have been beyond offensive in relation to this program. Christensen’s use (abuse) of parliamentary privilege to attack Professor Gary Dowsett (one of the academics behind the program) and imply he supported paedophilia was reprehensible;
  3. Tony Abbott's enthusiastic support for the gutting of the Safe Schools Program represents a new nadir in political opportunism and hypocrisy, given that he was the PM who oversaw the introduction of the program in the first place;
  4. Under cover of this decision, Minister Birmingham also announced on Friday that funding for the Safe Schools Program would completely cease in 2017. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Federal Government had always intended to axe the program to save money and appease the LNP's Christian hard-Right, and so manufactured a controversy out of thin air to make that later decision more palatable, while also "gutting" (their own words) the program now.

The AFA is particularly disturbed by Education Minister Birmingham stating:

"Just as proselytising is not part of the school chaplaincy program, advocacy must not be part of the Safe Schools program."

The AFA has made its position on the National School Chaplaincy program quite clear. It is most definitely proselytising. The Safe Schools program is about educating Australian school children on tolerance, acceptance and providing a safe environment as opposed to providing a framework of division and in-group bias and prejudice.

The AFA commends the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Victorian Education Minister James Merlino for their stand to continue the Safe Schools program in its current form. It is nice to see that we have at least one jurisdiction in Australia that does not cave to the demands of the religious right.

The AFA calls on the Federal Government to show leadership and representation for all Australians by implementing policies that reflect and support a diverse community – and to fully reverse this religiously inspired decision, which tells vulnerable LGBTIQ youth that their Federal Government doesn't care about them.

Kylie Sturgess

Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PO Box 1062
Lane Cove NSW 1595

Phone: (02) 8007 4503
Email: [email protected]

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