Catholic leaders have welcomed the Federal Government’s response to a review of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA), saying that while it was a vindication of critics who had been smeared as “homophobic” and “transphobic”, it still had not gone far enough.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced on 18 March that restrictions would be placed on the publicly-funded program in response to a review conducted by retired education professor Bill Louden after a backlash from backbenchers.
Controversial lessons in the program’s All of Us resource, including an activity asking students to imagine themselves being attracted to members of the same sex, will be removed and other content “realigned” for age appropriateness.
The minister said parental consultation and consent will now be required and that SSCA will be restricted to secondary schools and its apparent links to LGBTI advocacy groups removed.
The director for religious education and evangelisation for Sydney Catholic Schools, Anthony Cleary, said the Federal Government’s response was “a victory for common sense”, vindicating concerns around age-inappropriate content and that the program was, in some instances, an exercise in social engineering.
“For Catholic schools these concerns are not based on ‘phobias’ but are held because many of the program’s materials are at odds with the Church’s teachings on, and our understanding of, the human person,” Mr Cleary said.
“Our humanness extends well beyond our sexuality.”
He said Catholic schools abhorred all forms of bullying and respected the inherent dignity of every person, working to ensure people were always treated with respect.
The director of the Sydney archdiocesan Life, Marriage and Family Centre, Chris Gordon, also welcomed what he described as “the substantial pruning of the so-called Safe Schools program”, but said that its underlying ideology meant that government ought to have scrapped it outright.
He said the two-week review into the program was “a stitch up”, and that its terms of reference were too narrow to be useful.
“Predictably [the reviewer] found the program to be age-appropriate and in keeping with the aims of an anti-bullying program,” Mr Gordon said.
“His only recommendation was for schools to use their professional judgment before involving students from ‘a family with conservative social or religious views on same-sex attraction’.”
Mr Gordon pointed to ongoing issues endemic to the program, including attempts to ban the use of gender specific language such as “he” or “she” and “boys and girls”.
“Most parents would have issues with the ideology of the SSCA program that a person’s gender is a social construct,” Mr Gordon said.
“This is still the underlying idea being taught via the program, which is concerning. This kind of ideological madness has no place in schools.
“Minister Birmingham has stripped Safe Schools of its promotion of dangerous websites promoting sex products and other age inappropriate content. This is a relief to parents.
“And parents are now to be consulted about their children’s participation in the program which restores their right to guard their children from harmful content.
He said that schools will still be encouraged to consider allowing male students identifying as female to use the girls’ toilets and vice-versa; it was unclear if that aspect of the SSCA program had been dropped.