The Safe Schools review has arrived in a rush, with Education Minister Simon Birmingham revealing some fairly major changes without actually getting rid of the program. No doubt it’s a calculated move.
The changes have turned out to be just enough to keep the Liberal Party’s conservatives at bay. George Christensen is relatively happy. No doubt Kevin Andrews, Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz probably share that happiness, with the belief that the program will eventually lose funding in a round of budget cuts and fade from memory in a few years.
Some may think that the Safe Schools saga is just going to be a one-off political debate. It’s not. This was really just a test run of the conservative strategy for LGBTIQ issues - appealing to family values - before the big battle, same-sex marriage.
Families and children are actually a great political tool. The vast majority of voters, progressive and conservative, respond to family values. The vast majority of voters also respond to the idea of preserving the innocence of children. Anti-same-sex marriage marriage campaigners must be watching closely.
The Safe Schools program was almost too easy a target. Vague and uninformed statements about ‘preventing the sexual liberation of children’ and ‘preserving innocence’ make for great soundbites. Nevermind that the whole point of the program was to prevent kids from being bullied and promote acceptance - as long as there is enough pointless noise about children being ‘innocent’ and ‘protected’, plus the inevitable right-wing accusations of a link to Marxism, attacks on the program will be politically a great idea.
Conservatives are hoping same-sex marriage will be a similarly easy target. Voters in Australia won’t respond to crazy religious predictions of the impending apocalypse or God-driven natural disasters because we let the gays marry. There’s a good chance that anti-discrimination laws will prevent homophobic groups from making up bullshit about homosexuals being unnatural or sinners or something, which is what anti-discrimination laws are meant to do and should continue to do. So, realistically, the only anti-same-sex marriage strategy that will both be effective and allowed will be to appeal to family values.
Hopefully the strategy doesn’t actually work.
Safe Schools, with a bit of work, is actually probably exactly what schools need to be including in the curriculum in the 21st century. Having been in the school system just a few years ago, even then it was plain to see that sex-ed and anti-bullying programs were hopelessly stuck in an irrelevant time and place. I don’t think the words ‘gay’ and ‘transgender’ would have even appeared in the classroom, despite the fact that they’re pretty important concepts to understand in this day and age.
Also, hopefully, people aren’t silly enough to fall for the appeal to family values. Same sex marriage won’t result in forced adoptions or ruined childhoods or anything like that. It’ll just mean there will be a few years of boom time in the wedding industry followed by a rise in average marriage rates, with divorces rates following a few years later. Business as usual. The world will keep spinning.