Safe Schools Program
(Discussion, 22 September 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
By leave: I join the member for Coogee as the other openly gay member of this Chamber. I begin by making two important points. First, I assure the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] students who are concerned that this petition is being debated in this place that there is strong support for the LGBTI community across all political parties in the New South Wales Parliament—the Liberal Party, The Nationals, the Labor Party, The Greens and the Independents. We are all committed to working together to protect them. Secondly, I assure the members of the multicultural backgrounds who are in the gallery today, and who have expressed their concern by signing this petition, that just as they do not want young people in their communities to be bullied, taken advantage of or treated poorly, I do not want young people in my community to be bullied or treated poorly. Indeed, that is why the Safe Schools program should continue to be available in New South Wales schools.
Some involved in this debate have politicised the program—a program that simply aims to reduce discrimination towards young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex or same-sex attracted. Schools play a vital role in social and personal development, and the impact of discrimination, unfair treatment, abuse or bullying on children and young people at school can have long-lasting impacts. LGBTI students are particularly vulnerable. The 2013 National LGBTI Health Alliance briefing paper reported that LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicide and self-harm of any population in Australia, which is why we are concerned to protect this program. Programs are needed to promote inclusion and acceptance, and to prevent violence, bullying and abuse.
The Safe Schools program provides teachers with materials founded on evidence-based research and developed to suit various age groups in line with the Australian curriculum. This program is voluntary and each school can select materials that best suit the needs of its students. It operates in government and non-government schools, including faith-based schools. I believe that everyone would support a program aimed at preventing violence, abuse, bullying and harm, but I am concerned that attacks on this program have been based on scare campaigns and misleading information—and we have obviously heard some of that in this debate. This is at odds with the feedback that I have heard from parents, students, teachers and clergy who are grateful for this program. I am confident that the LGBTI community, our friends, allies, advocates and representatives in this place will continue to work with this Parliament and this Government to ensure that we do not get distracted by the politics of extreme, but we work hard to ensure that resources like Safe Schools are available to vulnerable students.
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