17 May 2023 Motions David Southwick (LIB)
David SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) (14:54): I rise to make some comments on the motion before the house today:
That this house affirms its support for the Safe Schools program and acknowledges that it critically:
(1) supports the well-being of all young people; and
(2) provides valuable resources and support for teachers to foster an inclusive learning environment where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
I think we would all agree that every single child should feel safe. It is the right of every child to feel safe and there is an obligation on all of us to provide a safe environment for these kids.
Today is IDAHOBIT, which is a day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and it is appropriate for us to be talking about this as part of the very important element of what many of our young children, particularly those from an LGBTQI+ background, experience at school and what we need to do to ensure that they have a safe environment. Can I say to every LGBTIQ+ Victorian: you are worthy, you are accepted, you are loved, and you and your kids deserve nothing less than to be embraced by all, including the schools, teachers, friends and communities. We must embrace, support and provide every single opportunity for every child no matter who they are, no matter where they come from and no matter what background they are also from. That extends more broadly to both their ethnic background and their faith, and it is something that I have raised on many occasions, as you know, Speaker, particularly in my community where we have unfortunately an increase in antisemitism and we have seen kids targeted at schools because of their faith background as well.
On this motion I wanted at the outset to just raise a few people in terms of their being staunch advocates in this space, particularly Michael Barnett from Aleph. Michael has been a staunch supporter and has been able to work with and support many of the schools. Very early on he worked with Bialik College and King David, just to name a few, and Mount Scopus has been involved in that, in terms of Jewish schools, but we also have a number of other schools that have been involved in terms of being able to provide a safe environment. There is no question that non-heterosexual Australians experience anxiety at 2½ times the rate of heterosexual people. For depression, the figure is four times the rate of heterosexual people. One in six LGBTIQ+ people have attempted suicide and one-third have harmed themselves. They are alarming figures and say that we must do more to support those who do not feel that they belong and those who feel that it is tough just to be able to get on with their daily lives. We have seen that in many instances. We have seen with organisations like Beyond Blue that 61 per cent of young non-heterosexual people have reported experiencing verbal abuse and 80 per cent have reported physical abuse. We have seen another study that showed 33 per cent of trans people reported discrimination in employment as a result of being trans and the unemployment rate of 19 per cent was more than three times that of the national rate.
We have a great state. Victoria is a state that should be embracing everybody no matter who you are, no matter where you come from. We should not be using politics as a way to fight against things like this. We should be coming together and working in ways to actually help people. I have got to say that certainly during question time today I did not feel that that was doing anything to help anybody, particularly those from the LGBTIQ+ community. I know many from our party, the Liberal Party, the Pride branch which is the fastest growing branch in our Liberal Party, of which I am proud to be a member, would feel pretty alarmed about the way that Labor members attacked the Liberal Party today because that does nothing. That does nothing to try and help people belong. The LGBTIQ+ community should not be used as a political football. We should not be using people and targeting them in that way. We should be talking across the chamber about how we do more. We should absolutely do that.
I am very proud that the Leader of the Opposition the member for Hawthorn, the Manager of Opposition Business the member for Brighton, the leader in the upper house Georgie Crozier and a number of others went to the Pride March not only on this occasion but on a number of occasions and stood side by side with the LGBTIQ+ community. We will continue to do so, whether it is popular or whether it is not popular. We will do it because we care, and we will do it because we do not want this to be seen as a political football. So I say, and I implore those opposite: let us look at how we can work together. Let us look at how we can come together on these things.
Belinda Wilson interjected.
David SOUTHWICK: Well, again I say – and I am trying to do this as calmly and as fairly as I possibly can – that ultimately this is not something that we should be trying to score cheap political points out of. It is something that we should be working together on. And that is where I very proudly stand alongside many of those within my party, as I said, including the Liberal Pride branch, who have been absolutely actively providing a very inclusive part of our party so people can feel welcome and so people can feel supported. And if those opposite did not hear me the first time, it is the fastest growing branch we have within our party. So it is certainly something that we celebrate.
Can I also just move on to some of the schools, particularly, that I want to make mention of today, which do some great work. Unfortunately, only a week or so ago we had a report that our great school, Glen Eira College, had what was labelled a toxic and bullying situation where there were almost 10 social media bullying pages on TikTok and Instagram with students posting –
A member interjected.
David SOUTHWICK: Excuse me – posting cruel memes mocking other students and teachers before flashing identifiable photographs of their targets. Can I say the school takes these things very seriously, and I rang the principal as soon as I was made aware of this and was comforted to know that they were acting immediately on this to ensure that kids feel safe – immediately – and so they should. Looking at Glen Eira College’s Child Safety and Wellbeing Policy, one of the things that I think is very important is, within this policy, it talks about all kids feeling safe, whether they be from different backgrounds, whether they be students with disabilities or whether they be from the LGBTIQ+ background. It says this, and I note:
Every person involved in our school has an important role in promoting child safety and wellbeing and promptly raising any issues or concerns about a child’s safety.
That is where we need to be. It is something that we all need to work together on. Whether you are at the school, whether you are a parent at the school or whether you are part of the broader school community, everyone needs to work together to ensure that they feel safe. If you see something wrong, you need to tell somebody. We certainly saw that in a number of inquiries that we had here in this Parliament. We led the way in terms of that in the child safety area, particularly in the child abuse work that was done here in this Parliament, and I think that is something that we must continue to do to ensure that we have kids that feel safe.
At the moment we have issues that are still before the courts. I will not make comment on specific details regarding Brighton Secondary College, but it was absolutely appalling that we had a number of kids that were targeted – a number of kids that saw over that time, because they have Jewish backgrounds, antisemitic attacks. The government has spent literally millions of dollars of taxpayers money trying to defend the school, and these poor kids have again had to endure a horrific time at the school. It has been appalling the way those kids have been treated, and I hope that the government ensures that there are systems in place and that kids of all backgrounds are safe, because that is what kids need and expect.