Victorian Safe Schools program goes national
Over three hundred people from all Australian states and territories gathered in Melbourne for the launch of the national roll out of the Safe Schools Coalition.
The program, which was trialled in Victoria and initially funded by the State Government, recently got the go ahead to go national and will roll out in New South Wales and South Australia next.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Education Minister, Senator Scott Ryan, said every student had the right to feel safe at school.
“While a safe and supportive school environment leads to many positive impacts for students, this is not the only reason we strive for this – it is simply the right thing to do,” he said.
“When we reflect on how far social attitudes have evolved in just a few short decades, I think this should give us all an incredible sense of optimism that expectations around appropriate behaviour will lead to different attitudes over time.”
Labor Senator Penny Wong, who had just landed from China, was Finance Minister at the time when the funding was first approved and said the Safe Schools Coalition was about principle and what kind of nation we want.
“It’s about people; about the boy from regional Victoria who is struggling with his identity and too fearful to express it, the girl from the suburbs of Sydney who’s too frightened to tell anyone, and the many young people who are bullied, teased and harassed because of who they are.
“It’s important as a matter of principle that we do all we can to create safe environments at school.
“Many of you have experienced [harassment and bullying], and you’re here because you understand this” she told the arena full of school kids, teachers, parents and community leaders.”
Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, said that although no law can abolish bigotry, the program was the beginning of ensuring a culture of respect.
“Legislation is not enough,” he said. “There needs to be a culture of inclusion, and that’s where the Safe Schools coalition comes in.”
Jan Owen, the CEO of the Foundation of Young Australians – the organisation driving the program, admitted she is relentlessly optimistic about young people and was happy to have bipartisan support.
A handful of young people also shared their stories, including Caleb Nichols-Mansell from regional Tasmania telling the crowd about his harrowing tales of school bullying for being gay, which led him to drugs and alcohol.
Steve Konstantopoulos, a twenty-two year old transgender boy from Sydney who experiences learning and intellectual disabilities, also shared his inspirational story.
Jason Ball, Australia’s first openly gay Aussie Rules player and Beyond Blue Ambassador, became the Safe Schools Coalition’s first Ambassador.
After the official launch, the day was programmed with a range of workshops for students, teachers and community leaders.