Category Archives: Equality

Safe Schools Should Be Kept Safe From Ideology

As a frontline mental health professional, I am dismayed to see the Safe Schools Program come under review for what appears to be no good reason. From my perspective the program is effective. It’s been accepted – even embraced – by educators and mental health practitioners across a full spectrum of views as a sensible way to protect children from psychological and physical harm.

Claims that the program is designed to promote homosexuality as an attractive lifestyle are irrational. One can only make a claim like this by deliberately misconstruing the content and purpose of Safe Schools, and by wilfully failing to understand the most basic elements of adolescent psychology. No child in their right mind actually wants to be excluded from their peers. In adolescence, it’s true, many children begin to experiment with ways to more or less defiantly proclaim their individuality. This is a period of testing the waters – finding the boundaries of just how much of their inner worlds will be accepted by the world at large. It’s vitally important for full and rounded personal development that these experiments be conducted in a safe environment.

As a mental health practitioner I’m frequently presented with children or young people going through the process of understanding themselves. It’s confronting to say the least – issues of shame, fear, not belonging and not even knowing how to process feelings of difference put them at odds with themselves. And by far the most common emotion that my clients present with is terror. They are terrified by the dawning realisation that they are somehow fundamentally different from the majority of their peers.

Safe Schools provides resources to help cope with this but, most importantly, it sends the message that society – our society – is fully accepting of the idea that they’re normal and valuable and that they have a right to be accepted. Some of the language being used in this discussion is undermining this. The damage that can be done by giving a young person the impression that society does not want them is incalculable. And it’s made worse when this idea appears to come from some of our nation’s leaders.

The ideological attack dogs of the right have used some very immoderate language on this issue. Some of the rhetoric being used has come very close to condemning homosexuality as somehow perverse or wrong, which I suppose is one way to turn the clock back. Despite the admirable position of MPs like Warren Entsch, who has stood up for Safe Schools and its intended users, Canberra’s antics have potentially done huge damage to the mental health of highly vulnerable youth.

Ultimately, the Safe Schools Program is a declaration of support for each and every child’s right to be. The existence of such a program can literally mean the difference between life and death for some of our most vulnerable youth. Apparently there are some people who wish to return to the dark old days when certain kinds of love dare not speak their name. Underpinning all this heavily rationalised, disingenuous “concern” about Safe Schools is the simple wish to turn back the clock to a time that never really existed. An idealised country of the past, where the socially and psychologically corrosive effects of repression are lost in the soft focus lens of nostalgia.

Safe Schools is about clearly advocating inclusion and tolerance. It’s about protecting vulnerable youth throughout their navigation of the formative and early social years of their lives. To attempt to excise it simply because we aren’t comfortable with the subject matter is social engineering at its very worst.


Marriage Equality

I support marriage equality.

For me, it’s a simple matter of having equal rights before the law. We say that all of us are equal regardless of sexual orientation, but a significant inequality exists in the law. Which means until we fix that, we’re simply lying.

It may surprise many of you to learn that we once came very close to having marriage equality in this country, and it was some time ago. By 2004, various countries (notably the UK) had legalised same-sex marriage through a variety of means. It was pointed out that our marriage law (Marriage Act 1961) did not actually define marriage at all, and that there was a potential for marriage equality to spring fully formed from within the structure of our existing laws.

The government at the time felt this to be unacceptable and an amendment was proposed by the then Attorney General Philip Ruddock. A bit from an exhortation later in the bill was copied and pasted into the top as a definition. It contained the key words “man” and “woman” and was described by the Hon Alastair Nicholson, former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, as “one of the most unfortunate pieces of legislation that has ever been passed by the Australian Parliament”.

I agree with him. There is simply no logical reason to oppose marriage equality. So, that being said, the only reasonable course is to support it.

[Image Ludovic Bertron]


Australia is a diverse and multi-faceted society. This gets said so often that it’s become something of a cliche, but sometimes cliches are repeated not because they’re meaningless, but because they’re true.

Woven into the story of Australia are the lives, hopes and histories of people from all over the globe. Whether it’s the long Dreaming of our first peoples, the sufferings and aspirations of the convicts and their masters or the myriad stories of hope and renewal originating from East and South Asia, pre and post-war Europe or South East Asia, the common thread is that Australia isn’t so much a unitary culture as it is an ongoing project of inclusion and acceptance.

This project hasn’t always gone particularly well. The people of the First Nations, for example, would attest to that. What we see over time, however, is that Australia is at its best not when it ignores, suppresses or resists difference, but when it actively celebrates it.

I think that this is because the thing above all others that makes Australia strong is not an ethnicity, a cultural identity or a political philosophy – it’s an idea. The idea that within our borders lies a place for everyone, regardless of their colour, their faith, their creed – just buy into that central Australian idea of inclusiveness and equality, and there will always be room to carve out a life here.

So it follows that I think that government should reflect the true nature of the nation. It matters, therefore, that same-sex couples are granted equal rights before the law, that working parents have their way eased through more effective workplace initiatives, that our indigenous peoples are recognized and supported – in short, I don’t think it’s possible to be a true representative of the Australian people without believing in equal rights and true freedom of choice for all, regardless of who we are or where we originally come from.