Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has issued a warning over the Safe Schools debate, telling all politicians they should “choose their words carefully”.
According to its website, the Safe Schools Coalition offers resources and support to equip staff and students with “skills, practical ideas and greater confidence” to create a safe and inclusive environment for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.
It has been the subject of heated debate over recent weeks as it underwent a review amid concern from a number of conservative politicians.
The PM on Thursday called out those using disrespectful language, including Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who has previously referred to Coalition Senator Cory Bernardi as a homophobe.
“The way that he has sought to describe any critic of the Safe Schools program as being an extremist or an ideologue, or worse, is utterly unworthy and he should recognise that inflaming this debate is unworthy,” Mr Turnbull said.
“I address this to every member of this House: all members expressing views on this program should choose their words carefully and remember the impact their statements can have on young people and their families.”
His comments come amid the promotion of a petition calling for the gender diversity program to be suspended or axed.
The petition was instigated by George Christensen – a strident critic of the gender diversity program – who on Wednesday intervened in the debate under parliamentary privilege.
Mr Christensen accused the Safe Schools program of being linked to a “paedophilia advocate” and named that person as Professor Gary Dowsett from La Trobe University.
The university said it stood by Professor Dowsett, describing the attack as appalling.
Program will see young people ‘sexually liberated’: Christensen
Mr Christensen told media on Thursday the Safe Schools program should be suspended because he did not want to see young people “sexually liberated”.
He said the author of the program said it was about Marxist ideology and sexual liberation.
“I don’t want to see sexual liberation of young people, I don’t want to see young people sexualised at all,” he said.
“They need information, they need to have bullying stamped out and cracked down on in schools.”
Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said the anti-bullying program should not be scrapped.
When asked whether the program should be subject to a full review, Mr Pyne answered “absolutely not”.
There needs to be a voice of reason, Warren Entsch says
Queensland LNP MP Warren Entsch also defended the program and said a lot of the commentary criticising the program was inaccurate.
Mr Entsch said he was shaking his head “in disbelief” at one point during the debate.
“The lack of understanding is more towards those who are advocating, I think the children are a lot more tolerant,” he told the ABC.
“There needs to be a voice of reason.
“You only have to look at the statistics in relation to attempted suicide.”
Mr Entsch said he refused to sign the petition against Safe Schools and said it does not contribute anything positive at all.
Tony Abbott has signed the petition, despite being responsible for launching the program while Prime Minister.
Mr Shorten has urged Mr Turnbull to “show leadership” on the issue, calling for him to support the program and his Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
Addressing the chamber, Mr Shorten said it was time to stand up to the “rabid ideologues of the Liberal National Party”.
“When it comes to the welfare of our children, if I have to choose between the teachers, the principals and the school counsellors of Australia or the rabid ideologues of the Liberal National Party, I choose Australian teachers and schools every day,” he said.
“Mr Turnbull has a very simple choice here: stand with a great majority of Australians or a small right-wing fringe.”
Mr Shorten said 533 schools had opted into the program, 32 of which signed up since the government announced the review – a rate of more than one a day.