Malcolm Turnbull Defends Safe Schools Review After Fiery Question From Adam Bandt

01/03/2016 9:12 PM AEDT | Updated 01/03/2016 9:14 PM AEDT
Fairfax Media

CANBERRA -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended ordering a review into the Safe Schools LGBTI program, in response to a fiery question from Greens MP Adam Bandt alleging the framework had been "thrown under a bus" due to conservative "bigots".

The daily Question Time in the House of Representatives has recently been almost wholly dominated by questions on negative gearing and tax policy, but Bandt took a different tack with his question on Tuesday.

"The Safe Schools program has been stopping bullying around the country and has helped many young people feel that they fit in. Prime Minister, is your commitment to socially progressive values so skin deep that you will put young people's welfare at risk and throw a successful anti-bullying campaign under a bus just because the bigots in the conservative brotherhood tell you to?" Bandt asked, raising his voice over jeers and shouting from the government benches.

A review into the Safe Schools Coalition program -- which aims to address homophobia in schools and support LGBTI students -- was ordered by Turnbull last week after a concerted campaign by conservative lobby groups and parliamentarians. As we reported last week, LGBTI people are between three and fourteen times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual Australians, one in six young LGBTI people have attempted suicide, and one in three have self harmed.

Calling over the shouting, speaker Tony Smith asked Bandt to withdraw the "unparliamentary term" of "bigot."

"The Member for Melbourne should know full well that the last part of that question contained offensive language to members of Parliament and the PM will disregard it," Smith said.

In response, Turnbull rose to the dispatch box to defend his call for a review into the program.

"Every student, every child has the right to be safe at school, has the right to be safe at home. We have no tolerance for bullying of any kind. Let's be quite clear about that. Bullying, whether it is in the classroom, whether it is on the bus, whether it is on the Internet, wherever it occurs, it is utterly unacceptable," Turnbull said.

"And it is unacceptable on whatever basis that bullying occurs, whether it is on the basis of a child's sexual orientation, their perception of their sexuality, of their race, their gender, their religion, their appearance. Mr Speaker, all of us, all of us know, all of us have been children and many, if not most of us, are parents. And we know how damaging bullying against children is."

He made reference to the claims made by some that the Safe Schools material was inappropriate -- including George Christensen, who likened some aspects of the program to a sexual predator grooming a child.

"Members of this parliament on both sides of the parliament have raised concerns about some of the content in -- that has been made available apparently or purportedly through -- or in connection with this program," Turnbull said, before detailing how the review will function.

"When concerns are raised I've asked the minister to examine the complaints and to report back to me. That is the responsible thing that any PM, any government should do. And the minister, Senator Birmingham, is doing just that. He is conducting a review or having a review conducted... and when that review is completed it will be provided to me and we will make that review public and we will be able to judge the merit of the criticisms and what, if any, steps should be taken consequent on the review."

Bandt's question came on the same day it was reported in The Australian that former PM Tony Abbott had called for Safe Schools Coalition's funding to be cut. This was despite his government being the one that launched the program in 2014.

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