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SUBJECT/S: Safe Schools Program; Health spending

PETER VAN ONSELEN, HOST: Kate Ellis joins us live from Canberra.




VAN ONSELEN: What’s going on here? Does anyone in the conservative ranks of the Liberal Party have a point in your view, in some of their concerns? Even if we don’t like the rhetoric around things like ‘social engineering’. Is there a concern for example, in Safe Schools happening at too young an age, perhaps that’s something that I looked at and was a little unsure about.


ELLIS: No I don’t think there is. And I think it’s time that we just call this out for what it is. This is not a policy issue, it’s not a policy debate, this is about politics, and more specifically it’s about the Liberal Party’s internal politics. It is about the right-wing extremists trying to see how far they can push Malcolm Turnbull to the right and at the moment they’re doing pretty well in that regard. But I guess my question would be, where are the moderate Liberals on this? I mean this is a program, that the national launch of this program was actually under the Abbott Government, this is a program that is designed to reduce our youth suicide rate and to stop bullying in our schools. Where are the moderate Liberals speaking up and calling those extremists out? And actually calling them out on the sort of disgusting language that we’ve started seeing in the last few days?


VAN ONSELEN: Well in fairness, you and Jones in the same article in The Australian did defend the scheme and the right of principals and the teachers to be trusted in this space. But what about this though, let me go back to part of what you just said there, let’s start on Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott is calling this ‘social engineering’, let me get the order of this correct. It was the Labor Government that approved the scheme, but it only actually started in the school year of 2014 when the Abbott Government was in power and there was no suggestion during the two years that he was Prime Minister, that I’m aware of, correct me if I’m wrong, that they were looking at winding back or changing or perhaps even abolishing the scheme. Is that accurate?


ELLIS: That is accurate. This is a scheme that had been in place for some time, but what we did when we were in Government is announce that we would expand it and roll it out nationally, and provided the funding for that. That actually happened and it was Scott Ryan who conducted the national launch. I’m certainly not saying that to try and distance the former Labor Government from this program, as I said we absolutely support the program, we support its goals. But this is something that has evolved over some time and it has only been when we’ve had the Abbott forces trying to find ways to see if they can push Malcolm Turnbull to see how far he’ll go, that people started speaking out about this program. There’s been a lot of misinformation.


VAN ONSELEN: Well it’s almost ironic that Malcolm Turnbull is being bullied by the right on a school bullying or anti-bullying scheme. But let me ask you this though, is Labor saying that anyone who has concerns about this scheme is a homophobe? Or is it more just that that was the line that Bill Shorten directed Cory Bernardi’s way at that press conference that you would of probably been at or at least been aware of, you’re not calling everyone that has concerns about it a homophobe, you’re just standing by the principles, would that be fair?


ELLIS: Well absolutely, and I think Bill’s comments were pretty narrowly targeted towards Cory Bernardi. I understand that there has been all sorts of myths and misinformation out in the public arena about this program. And I think that’s really unfortunate and that is why I would ask where’s the Prime Minister? It’s yet another example of a lack of leadership. Where he should be coming forward and actually putting the facts on the table about what this program is and what it isn’t. This is a program where over 500 principals across Australia have voluntarily asked to join up to this program and they’ve done so because they see that there is a need for it and because they’ve seen that it is an important program. This is a program which is really largely about how do they support maybe, staff training so staff can be sure that they can provide the support, the counselling, the inclusive environment that is required. It’s a program that looks at how do we assess what sort of school environment is in place and look at how we might be able to make that a healthier place for everybody. So there are a whole range of things which I actually don’t think any person with common sense would have a look at and would really raise any concerns at all about this. And now we see that there’s been a focus on individuals who might have been supporting the program, we’re going to start targeting individuals rather than looking at the fact that this is a program that many people, many organisations, many academic bodies, many curriculum experts have looked at over a number of years now. Why are we targeting the programs that are there to support some of the most vulnerable, not just people in Australia, children in Australia?


VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you on that, because I certainly support the principles of the scheme but I do have a question, not as an expert obviously, but a question about the timing. Some of the material I’ve seen starts in year eight, maybe I’m becoming an old fogey but I wonder why it wouldn’t be starting in years nine or ten, some of it seems for both people of homosexual or traditional structure it seems too sexualised for year eight. Is that just me not being realistic about the times or is that something that you can understand some parents wondering about?


ELLIS: Look I think we need to accept the nature of the issues here mean that some of these materials will be regarded as controversial by some people. And that is why, I mean there’s a long standing principle which we’ve said time and time again, it should not be politicians who are determining what is taught in our classrooms and what isn’t. It should be academic experts and it should be our educators. The resources that you’re talking about and the reason that they are aimed at the age that they are, are relatively new. These are resources which were only launched in December of last year and the reason that they were launched is because teachers who were out there in our school communities who might of signed up to this program, who had seen it in place, and seen the efforts to change the culture of the school actually asked for something more. They said can we have some resources that we can use in the classroom so we can teach some understanding about some of these issues? They worked to try and line it up with the curriculum, when we look at the health curriculum and elsewhere. But what I would say is that this is an issue that individual schools are looking at what resources are appropriate for our school community and for our students. This is not something that is being rolled out in every year eight classroom, but this is something where those schools who have asked for more assistance and some resources have been provided with some things that they can look at and pick and choose what is appropriate and of course all of those resources are now being reviewed.


VAN ONSELEN: One final question if I can, you’ve managed to secure the funding that Labor certainly appeared to be moving in the direction of when it came to education and expanding the Gonski funding beyond those out years previously only limited to. What’s Catherine King doing wrong not to get a similar commitment in Health? Which we’ve seen been written about and spruiked by the Opposition. You’ve got to give her a hand right here on Sky News with her powers of persuasion inside the Shadow Cabinet.


ELLIS: Peter I would say, Catherine King is doing an absolutely extraordinary job. And it is largely because of her efforts and the Opposition that a whole lot of attacks to Medicare have been held up and we will have plenty more Health policy to announce.


VAN ONSELEN: Including spending?


ELLIS: Well I’d love to give you an exclusive on somebody else’s portfolio here today but you won’t be shocked to know I won’t be doing that.


VAN ONSELEN: Alright. Kate Ellis always appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us on Newsday, appreciate it.


ELLIS: Thanks Peter.