The Government Is Breaking Apart Over An Anti-Bullying Program
Right wing MPs were left red-faced and angry, demanding a full parliamentary inquiry into the anti-LGBT bullying program.
The author of the government’s Safe Schools addressed politicians during a late night briefing on Tuesday, but it did nothing to satisfy furious conservative MPs who rocked up to the meeting in numbers.
Professor Bill Louden from the University of Western Sydney presented his review of Safe Schools to the government backbench education committee alongside Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
The meeting ran for over two hours, which one politician told BuzzFeed News isn't typical for a backbench committee, and more than 30 MPs and Senators attended.
Some were also surprised when former Abbott ministers Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz turned up to voice their objection.
Conservative MPs want the program defunded, or heavily edited, and their views are now backed by the key Abbott loyalists; Andrews and Abetz.
"Is it typical to have two former cabinet Ministers in the room on a backbench policy committee? No," one politician in the room told BuzzFeed News.
Most of the two hour long meeting was devoted to questions from staunch opposers to Safe Schools - QLD Senator Barry O'Sullivan, Nationals MP George Christensen, ACT Senator Zed Seselja, WA MP Andrew Hastie and SA Senator Cory Bernardi.
Professor Louden told the committee that some of the websites linked to the program he would "consider not appropriate", but overall he couldn't find too many problems with the program.
His review found Safe Schools was a good tool, with good objectives.
But conservative MPs told BuzzFeed News the review is a "joke" and a "fraud" because Professor Louden only visited five of the 500 schools that run the program, and didn't assess all the content supplied to students.
500 schools out of over 5000 in Australia have signed up to the program, Professor Louden reported, or less than 2%.
Supporters of Safe Schools told BuzzFeed News Tuesday night's meeting was an "airing of grievances" which gave conservative MPs the chance to "preach upon high."
Government backbencher and gay MP Trent Zimmerman spoke in favour of the program, mounting a case for allowing teachers to use their discretion when deciding what to teach in the classroom.
Witnesses say he was very measured in his argument, that giving teachers less information is not the right thing to do.
But conservative MPs are worried about parents in their constituency, who contacted them after George Christensen likened the program to child grooming.
Barry O'Sullivan first raised objections to the program 14 months ago, while Tony Abbott was Prime Minister.
"Eric and Kevin were cabinet ministers under Tony Abbott when Safe Schools was being rolled out, and they didn't say a word. Not a word. It's only since Malcolm's come in. It's another way of pointing Malcolm as being in bed with the Greens."
But less than 24 hours later, George Christensen flicked the switch. He claimed on Sky News a "majority of the backbench" have signed a letter to the prime minister demanding the scrapping of Safe Schools.
He's also asking for a full parliamentary inquiry, which guarantees that the issue will continue to be symbolic for the conservative faction of the Liberal government.