Disappointed by the government-commissioned review into anti-bullying program Safe Schools, far-right conservative MP George Christensen fell back on one of the oldest tricks in the homophobic playbook: an attempt to conflate homosexuality with paedophilia.
On Tuesday night, a group of about 30 Coalition backbench MPs were given a briefing from Professor Bill Louden, the man Education Minister Simon Birmingham appointed to review the Safe Schools Coalition (SSC) program.
Despite a month of campaigning from The Australian and more than a year of attacks from fringe religious groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, the review is reported to have suggested very few changes to the program.
Birmingham has yet to release the report publicly, but it is expected to be released with a government response this week. But many Coalition MPs, including Christensen, were unhappy with the positive review of the program.
Some called for Birmingham to suspend funding to the program or resign, and Christensen himself said he was getting a majority of backbenchers to sign a petition calling for a parliamentary review into the program.
Using parliamentary privilege, and then again on Sky News, Christensen accused Gary Dowsett, a professor from La Trobe University, where the Safe Schools program was created, of being a “long-time advocate of intergenerational sex, otherwise known as paedophilia”, based on a 1982 article he wrote in the journal Gay Information. Dowsett has refused to comment on Christensen’s comments.
But Dowsett had nothing to do with the the Safe Schools Coalition, which was was developed by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria. Although he is assistant director of La Trobe’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, out of which SSC operates, he has never been involved in the program. According to the centre’s website, the ARCSHS is involved in more than 50 research programs on a wide range of sexual health issues, including Safe Schools. Some of the research is on hepatitis, rapid STI-testing services and street harassment. One project Dowsett has worked on is research on the mental and sexual health recovery for men who have had prostate cancer.
The Safe Schools program is headed up by Roz Ward, the main subject of attacks from The Australian and Coalition MPs in the last month.
The closest link Dowsett appears to have to the program is signing a petition in support of the program following the attacks on it.
On Radio National yesterday afternoon, Christensen also accused the program of linking children to chat sites with “50-year-old men lurking”, and argued that education on gender and sexuality issues should be left to parents. He claimed the program was “brainwashing” and something from “communist Russia”. Russia currently has strong laws against any education related to homosexuality.
Since the review was launched by the government, 32 more schools have joined the program, and just one has pulled out, leaving the program available at 526 schools around Australia.