SUBJECT/S: Safe Schools and Malcolm Turnbull’s failure to stand up to the extreme right; closure of Holden and more South Australian job losses; Mal Brough's resignation

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Safe Schools anti-homophobia program is continuing to stir political debate. Earlier this week Education Minister Simon Birmingham ordered a review of the program after it was criticised in the Coalition party room. The details of that review have been announced this afternoon. Kate Ellis is the Shadow Minister for Education and Early Childhood and she joins us now. Welcome back to RN Drive.


KARVELAS: Here's Malcolm Turnbull this morning after Nationals MP George Christenson compared the Safe Schools program to “grooming work that a sexual predator might undertake”.

AUDIO OF MALCOLM TURNBULL: I encourage everybody who's discussing these issues to do so in very measured language and to consider very carefully the impact of the words they use on young people and on their families.

KARVELAS: So he's basically saying everybody calm down, take care with what you're saying, we're talking about children here. Isn't that a good response? Isn't that enough?

ELLIS: Well I'd say that that's an incredibly weak response. What we've seen is that Malcolm Turnbull has given the extreme right wing of his party a license to go out and divide the community, put forward hysterical falsehoods and to whip up what is a ridiculous debate about a program which sets out to try and end bullying in our schools and tackle our too high youth suicide rate. This is a time when the Prime Minister actually needs to put his own internal politics aside and stand up with the leadership that we all know is necessary here. I mean even when Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister, when Cory Bernardi came out and made extreme comments he paid for it with his job in the executive. We now see under Malcolm Turnbull that Cory Bernardi, Eric Abetz, a number of his backbenchers and now this really disgraceful contribution by George Christenson, has just been kind of brushed aside, I don’t think that is good enough.

KARVELAS: On RN Drive my guest is Kate Ellis, she is the Shadow Minister for Education and Early Childhood. The Prime Minister today saying that everyone needs to calm down in relation to the Safe Schools campaign and think about the children. Kate Ellis telling me that that's not good enough. I wonder what you think? Is it good enough? Is his intervention the right tone? 0418 226 576 our number.

Kate Ellis, as I said, the terms of reference for the Safe School review have been announced today, this afternoon, which is why we are covering this story again. They focus on the appropriateness of the resources used, including whether those resources are age appropriate. What is wrong with those terms? Why don't they have your support? Because it's a review of the age appropriateness, no one has said that the program will necessarily be dumped, it may be modified, what's the problem?

ELLIS: Look I think that we would all agree that all materials in our classrooms need to be age appropriate, there is no question about that. But we all know that the motivation behind this review. This is the first step and it is the first victory for those that are campaigning to shut down this program. What the Prime Minister didn't say today is he didn't calmly come out and put the facts on the table so that all of these myths that are circulating about what this program does or doesn't do are laid to rest. The Prime Minister should of just come out, he should of just said that this is a program that is guided by the National Safe Schools Framework, which has been endorsed by all state and territory governments from 2003. He should of come and said that we have programs in place that tackle all different sorts of bullying in our classrooms. But if you listen to Cory Bernardi or some of the other extremists this week, you would've thought that under this program in Australian schools they're learning to read, they're learning to write and they're learning about gay sex. Now that is clearly ridiculous, that is not what is going on here. This is a program that means that people who are going through a very confusing and hard time in their lives get some guidance as to how they might feel included and to how they might create an environment that is less threatening to them. There shouldn't be anything controversial about that and if the Prime Minister wants to ensure that all materials are age appropriate, and of course everybody should shares that goal about all Government education programs -

KARVELAS: But that's what he's doing, I need to interrupt you, the review will be conducted by two academics, Professors Bill Louden and Donna Cross, both from the University of Western Australia. I've got to say I've Googled them, I've looked at their academic credentials myself. Who are these people? They seem very respected academics in education. Are you comfortable with their appointments and their capacity to do this review independently? 

ELLIS: I'm certainly not placing any judgement on the individuals who have been selected here. My judgement is solely about the fact that this one program, that has been particularly designed for young same-sex attracted students is the one element that Coalition members have complained about. Now if people want to speak up about what's happening in our schools, and what's happening in our classrooms, that's a very good thing. But these are the same people who have said absolutely nothing as every single school funding and school reform election commitment have been broken and the Government's pledging to pull $30 billion from our classrooms. So I don't think that we can say that this has been motivated by genuine  concern about education or what's happening in our schools, this has been motivated by those with extreme views who would like to see this shut down entirely, and I think it is incredibly dangerous particularly when we go towards this unnecessary plebiscite which the Prime Minister is determined to put the country through next year, which we already know will cause more division within our community and risk more young people feeling really threatened and unsure about their place in our community. 

KARVELAS: On another topic, Holden has told workers that its factory in Elizabeth, not far from your seat of Adelaide, that hundreds of them will be out of work when production of the Cruise car finishes in October. How can the South Australian economy possibly absorb that impact? and how can work be found for these people?

ELLIS: Well obviously this is devastating news and my first thoughts go to all of their workers and their families who are currently hopefully listening to your program as they head home to share this news and have a very sombre weekend, you would think. We have seen that South Australian jobs have been hit again and again with Holden, with the ASC, with the ABC, and that's why particularly as South Australian members, we continue to call on the Government to actually stop ensuring that South Australia has been hit harder than anyone by the Federal Government's cuts. We need to see for example, we need to see some certainty in the renewable energy industry where we know that South Australia can lead the nation. We need a commitment from the Government, that their pre-election pledge, that the submarines will be built in Adelaide will be reached. We actually need to see the Government deliver upon a whole range of promises that they've walked away from, which sadly the South Australian Liberal members have been able to just turn away from and not deliver to our communities. Because our state, our economy, the jobs of the future are relying on this Government upping their game. 

KARVELAS: And just finally, Mal Brough has announced he won't be contesting the election, are you worried about the precedent that might be set in this case? The police investigation is still running and he hasn't been charged with anything yet he's moving on, obviously feeling intense political heat he's had to move aside from the Ministry. Is this a good outcome? 

ELLIS: Look, I think that obviously this is a decision for Mal Brough, I think he's probably made the right decision for him, for the Government and for Australian politics more generally. I mean, this has been a long running saga. Yet sadly the saga does not end today with Mal Brough's announcement. We know that Christopher Pyne and Wyatt Roy have their fingerprints all over this and they're yet to give a full explanation. We know that their stories just don't add up. So hopefully with Mal Brough's announcement today it's now time for the other players in this saga to come forward, to come clean, to offer their explanation so that we can finally put it all to rest. 

KARVELAS: Kate Ellis, thank you for giving up some of your time on a Friday night, appreciate it. 

ELLIS: Great to be with you, thanks Patricia.