A controversial Safe Schools program aimed at tackling bullying and self-harm in South Australian secondary schools will be scrapped by the Liberal party should it win the March 17 election, replaced by a broader anti-bullying program primarily focused on online attacks.
The proposed move follows that of Liberal governments in NSW and Tasmania, which have wound back similar programs and implemented a broader approach to counter bullying.
Federal funding for state-based anti-homophobia programs ended in October, leaving state governments responsible for funding it if they wanted it to continue or to draft their own programs.
Labor states have shown a willingness to continue funding the Safe Schools program, including South Australia and the ACT, and Victoria where the Daniel Andrews government committed to fully funding its own version of the program.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Paluszczuk has ruled out funding the program, leaving schools who want to take part to fund their involvement through their own finances.
The SA Labor government drew ire from many parents when it launched its own version of the Safe Schools program last year and now opposition education spokesman John Gardner says a “broad evidence-based anti-bullying program” is better placed to protect students.
“It (Labor’s current program) has got a very narrow focus in dealing with the particular needs of students identifying as LGBTI,” he said.
“Now, students identifying as LGBTI are an important cohort that we need to look after, the statistics show that they are more vulnerable than the broader student cohort but they’re certainly not the only students who are suffering from bullying, and there are a whole range of reasons why students suffer from bullying in our schools.”
South Australian Education Minister Susan Close said the Liberal policy is “essentially to adopt everything that’s already occurring in schools but to pretend that homophobic bullying doesn’t exist”.
“This means that they’re not adding anything, they’re simply taking something away,” she said.
Australian Conservatives MP Dennis Hood welcomed the Liberal plan, saying the existing program “actively promotes radical gender theory using state government funding”.
“Our offices have been inundated with parents, grandparents and educators who did not want their children taught this theory in the classroom,” he said.