The former prime minister Tony Abbott has welcomed New South Wales’ announcement the Safe Schools program will be replaced by a new anti-bullying strategy in the state’s schools after the federal government refused to fund it beyond mid-year.
Abbott stressed that, even though the strategy was implemented under his government in 2014, it was a Labor policy.
“Good that NSW is scrapping so called Safe Schools, a social engineering programme dressed up as anti-bullying,” Abbott posted on Twitter on Sunday.
The NSW education minister, Rob Stokes, said in a statement on Sunday the government was working on a replacement strategy, which would be available to teachers by term three.
“The Australian government, who fund and oversee the Safe Schools program, have advised that they will no longer be providing funding for the program by mid-year,” Stokes said.
The Safe Schools program with many conservative MPs criticising the program since its inception. But Stokes said it would be replaced with a program which still supported children who struggle at school.
“Bullying will never be accepted in NSW public schools – whether it be because someone is overweight, gay, based on the colour of their skin or for any other reason,” he said.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said the program had been used as a “political football by conservative critics” but his party was interested in seeing the new proposal.
“If the NSW government wants to run anti-bullying programs in one way and not another, we’ll have a look at what that means,” Shorten said. “It is important that children go to school and are not bullied on the basis of their sexuality.”
Shelley Argent, the national spokeswoman for PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), said: “As far as social engineering goes, I think that was the last thing that [Safe Schools] is doing.”
“It’s not coercion. You cannot encourage a child to be gay. So by having this program in the schools, its benefiting those children by providing support and education to those who aren’t to be more supportive of their schoolmates.”
It should be noted that it was the Abbott government that implemented this program. It was announced and introduced to state education systems by Abbott government ministers. Government backbenches have claimed that Abbott when PM did nothing to curtail the program when it was rolled out. It should also be noted that it was Howard and Abbott who were responsible for putting the clergy into government schools in welfare roles. This is still fully funded by the commonwealth.