Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has requested a government investigation into an anti-bullying program aimed at helping LGBTI kids.
The investigation comes after weeks of sustained pressure on the Safe Schools Coalition program, which has been the target of an ongoing campaign from the Australian Christian Lobby, who believe it should be defunded.
In recent weeks the program has been the subject of coverage in The Australian newspaper, which called on the government to reconsider the program.
“Homophobia should be no more tolerated than racism, especially in the school environment," education minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement.
“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.”
An independent review into the program will look at whether the material is appropriate to meet the objectives of the program and provide advice by mid-March.
In a statement, the Safe Schools Coalition said they welcomed the opportunity to "demonstrate the positive impact of this important program".
The program has been voluntarily adopted by almost 500 schools across the country since it started in 2013.
"This program was developed in response to requests from Australian teachers and principals looking for advice and resources to better support the diversity and well-being of their students and create safe learning environments," the statement said.
"All students, staff and families deserve to feel safe, included and valued at school. Ensuring the well-being of all students and their equal access to education is what this program is all about."
The investigation is a big win for the Australian Christian Lobby, which has been campaigning against the anti-bullying program for months.
“Parents expect their children to be safe at school but encouraging boys who identify as girls to use the girls bathrooms and share school camp accommodation is not the way to do this,” managing director Lyle Shelton said.
Shelton called for an immediate end to the program.
“The Government should immediately pay out its contract with the program providers," he said. “The break fee would be a small price to pay to ensure all children could be safe at school.”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said PM Turnbull had to reign in the right wing of his party.
In a press release, shadow education minister Kate Ellis said Turnbull had put the views of "extremists" in his party ahead of the needs of young LGBTI people.
“It isn’t good enough to stick our head in the sand. Every time bullying occurs in our schools, it distracts students from learning and saps them of their potential,” she said.
Senator Penny Wong told the ABC the program was "designed to address the terrifying statistics" around young LGBTI people.
A 2010 study found that 75% of same-sex attracted young people had experienced some kind of homophobic bullying or abuse.
Of those young people, 80% said the bullying and abuse happened at school.
The anti-bullying program was the hot topic of this morning's Coalition joint partyroom meeting, with six Coalition MPs taking it in turns giving their views on the matter.
One MP said the program "indoctrinates kids with a marxist agenda of cultural relativism".
Education minister Simon Birmingham said the program was initiated by the former Labor government and "we would have done things differently".
Senator Cory Bernardi last night told the Senate that the program goes beyond preventing bullying.
"It promotes a radical political and social agenda and seeks to indoctrinate students to make them its advocates," he said.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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