Malcolm Turnbull requests investigation of Safe Schools
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has requested an investigation into a taxpayer-funded program helping LGBTI school students. The Safe Schools education program is set to be reviewed after criticism from some Coalition backbenchers.
Coalition MPs have been agitating against the program, saying it raises sexual issues which are inappropriate for teenagers and young children.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham has written to state and territory education ministers, asking them to confirm that parents are being consulted before schools introduce the scheme.
The review of the program's material and its use is expected to be completed by mid-March, little more than a year before its funding agreement with the Commonwealth expires.
In a statement, Senator Birmingham said homophobia "should be no more tolerated than racism, especially in the school environment".
"However, it is essential that all material is age appropriate and that parents have confidence in any resources used in a school to support the right of all students, staff and families to feel safe at school," he said.
Program is indoctrinating children, Bernardi says
Senator Cory Bernardi told the ABC the program was seeing children "being bullied and intimidated into complying with a radical program".
Senator Bernardi has called on the Government to withdraw funding for the program.
"It's not about gender, it's not about sexuality," he said.
"It makes everyone fall into line with a political agenda.
"Our schools should be places of learning, not indoctrination."
The program's federal funding was allocated by the Labor Government in 2013, when an $8 million investment was announced for the program convenor, Foundation for Young Australians.
It also receives some state funding, with the Victorian Government allocating $1.04 million in its 2015-16 budget.
Safe Schools Coalition Australia's Government website described the program as the first "funded by the Australian Government, aimed at creating safe and supportive school environments for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people by reducing homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination in schools".
Government had said program was 'right thing to do'
Labor Senator Penny Wong, who was among those who announced the initial funding, dismissed criticisms that the program was ideological.
Senator Wong told the ABC that the program was "designed to address the terrifying statistics" surrounding discrimination against young people in the LGBTI community.
"We all want our children to be safe and this is a program about that," she said.
"Let's hope that the more sensible people in the Liberal Party will continue to focusing that objective."
Safe Schools Coalition Australia was launched in 2014 by Liberal Senator Scott Ryan, who acknowledged it was a commitment of the former Labor government.
At the time, Senator Ryan described the program as "simply the right thing to do".
"Every student has a right to feel safe at school," he said.
Comment has been sought from the Safe Schools Coalition.
PM accused of 'caving in' to conservatives
The Greens are calling for a Senate inquiry into homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools in response to the review.
Senator Robert Simms criticised comments made by Senator Bernardi and the reaction of Mr Turnbull, accusing the PM of "caving into the conservative forces".
"Opposition to the Safe Schools Coalition seems to be based on the absurd idea that simply by talking about differences in sexuality or gender identity you're going to recruit people," he said in a statement.
"Anyone with the most basic understanding of human sexuality knows how ridiculous that is."