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Attack on Safe Schools is an attack on all diversity

By Tony Clark - posted Tuesday, 22 March 2016

As the Labor Candidate for Deakin, in the last few months, I've been campaigning on things impacting on people's day to day life in the community I have called home for over twenty years. From housing affordability, job security, a decent education for our kids and protecting the Medicare system we all rely on. As candidates and MP's our voice is powerful because we represent a large section of the community, me as Labor's representative in Deakin and Mr Sukkar my opponent as the sitting MP.

An elected representative is possibly one of the most privileged opportunities any individuals can be bestowed. With this privilege come the weighty responsibilities of advocating for your community day in and day out – making everyone's lives a little better, standing up for inequality and giving voice to those who have none.

Advocating for tolerance and inclusion is one of the fundamental requirements of an elected member. It was therefore distressing to see Mr Sukkar taking pen to paper and publishing an attack on the voluntary Safe School Coalition, a program which is designed to address bullying. As a parent and every parent would be aware, bullying is a multi-faceted issue and children being children will hone in on anything different.


In his opinion piece written in the Herald Sun Mr Sukkar described the program as one that 'seeks to indoctrinate children' as well as 'confronting and manipulating' and a 'radical gender theory curriculum and sexual identity politics'. On the whole the opinion piece was both laughable and disappointing, laughable because it ignores the fact that Bullying is a culture and you cannot address some kinds and ignore others and disappointing because he should use his voice to stand up for schools in Deakin rather than the massive cuts to education the LNP government have made.

Let's call out this opinion piece for what it is, a direct attack on anyone who does not conform to the extreme conservative view of 'Normality' and sexuality should never be used as a means to ostracise and marginalise individuals. This is the thin end of the wedge where disability, religion and multi-culturalism will be wielded as bludgeons next.

As a father who has witnessed bullying of my children, an active leader in Scouting for 29 years working with youth coupled with being on School Councils since 2004, seeing the current attack on a program designed to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of difference is appalling and offensive. Make no mistake, the review by Malcolm Turnbull was never about the program itself, but an avenue for the haters on his backbench to spew homophobic vile in the guise of 'traditional values'.

How will we ever achieve an inclusive community if we do not acknowledge and embrace difference of which LGBTI is a part? We know from research that students who are gender dysphoric or don't identify as straight are six times as likely to self-harm, and knowing that 80% of bullying these young people are subjected to occur in schools makes it an issue that schools have an important role to play.

With a reality this shocking, why has Mr Sukkar sided with the chorus of conservative individuals like Tony Abbott, Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz trashing a program that helps vulnerable young people at risk in schools for no other reason than being who they are?

Any true leader of our community should actually lead in the promotion of tolerance and acceptance of difference and actually listen to teachers and students in his own electorate who used and benefitted from the program. Mr Sukkar's piece appears to be directed as a piece to placate his political faction with Tony Abbott in Canberra rather than the home he should be defending.


There is another underlying problem with the comments that Mr Sukkar made, it is an insidious undercurrent of intolerance. The problem of intolerance is subtle, it is not visible because in this day and age it plays out as discrimination by omission. In the school yard it can be a child being left out for being different. If this kind of discrimination isn't dealt with in school it will translate to the workplace, the community and in homes. All bullying is unacceptable.

Mr Sukkar also dubiously claimed the mantle of being a standard bearer for 'mainstream values'. In Australia we celebrate diversity as a mainstream value, look no further than how multiculturalism genuinely strengthens our economy and our community, as someone from a multi-cultural background he should know this better than most.

Yet celebrating diversity is not limited to ethnicity and culture; it is about celebrating difference and acknowledging its value. Sadly, difference is treated with fear and it is fear that strips away our ability to embrace its benefits. As someone who lost my sight at the age of twenty I know the value that different experience brings.

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About the Author

Tony Clark is the Labor Candidate for Deakin and would be the first MP elected to the Federal Parliament to be legally blind.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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