HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.21 pm]: I rise because I want to make some specific comments about the McGowan government’s decision to not renew funding for the Inclusive Education WA program. I am very concerned about this. It is a program that I hope will be urgently reassessed and I encourage the government to revisit that decision and look at reinstating funding. The reason I feel so strongly about this is that it is a program that supports WA schools and school staff to save the lives of young LGBTIQ students. Therefore, I think it is really critical that this program is provided the support that it needs to continue. For members who do not know, Inclusive Education WA is the WA government’s modified version of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia initiative. Safe Schools, as we saw, received quite the belting through the equal marriage debate from far-right religious forces. Unfortunately, it was able to be subject to significant backlash as a result of the misinformation that was circulated around what Safe Schools was actually about. Therefore, I cannot help feeling that this has started to become the inevitable outcome of such terrible propaganda being put out there.
Safe Schools originated in Victoria as an anti-bullying initiative. It was developed specifically in response to a report that was issued by La Trobe University, which found that 61 per cent of same-sex attracted young people had experienced verbal abuse, 18 per cent had been subject to physical abuse—which I will point out is assault— and 80 per cent of that had actually happened at school. The report identified a strong link between homophobic and transphobic bullying and the subsequent risk of self-harm and death by suicide. Therefore, this is a really serious program that is intended to address very serious issues. Safe Schools provided resources for schools and professional development for teachers and other staff on request. It was never a subject that was taught in the classroom and was not part of the curriculum, but, frankly, I think it probably should have been. What we do know is that it saved lives.
Safe Schools, in fact, was found to be so successful in Victoria that it received an $8 million federal funding commitment in 2013 and was then formally launched nationwide in June 2014. It was, I note, an election promise by the Labor government to fund the Inclusive Education WA program after Safe Schools was defunded federally. Inclusive Education WA has since delivered development sessions to 3 000 school staff, provided individual support for 58 trans or gender diverse students—so that is 58 young people who are otherwise at quite serious risk— distributed 15 259 resources and responded to requests for assistance from half of all government high schools in WA since it began. Anecdotally, one of the reasons schools end up asking for support from this program is often in response to incidents—the fact that children have experienced abuse, potentially violent, and schools bring in people to deliver the training to assist because they recognise that they have a problem on their hands.
LGBTIQ people of all ages have, statistically, much poorer mental health outcomes. The National LGBTI Health Alliance found in February this year that LGBTIQ young people aged between 16 and 27 years are five times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. This is particularly aggravated in regional and remote areas with our LGBTIQ children. A very recent national study of LGBTIQ youth who were living in regional and remote areas found that 78 per cent of students and teachers surveyed had witnessed regular, negative comments about LGBTIQ people at their school, 91 per cent of students and teachers surveyed said there was a need subsequently for more LGBTIQ education and awareness and only 37 per cent of students surveyed said they felt it would be safe to come out at school. The majority of children are still saying now in 2020 that it is not safe to come out at school.
Members would be aware that the very important Telethon Kids Institute 2017 report “Trans Pathways” was damning in its findings. It found that 48.1 per cent of transgender and gender diverse young people aged between 14 and 25 had attempted suicide—so almost half—79.7 per cent of trans young people had self-harmed; 72.1 per cent had anxiety; 70.4 per cent had been diagnosed with depression and 25.1 per cent had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those figures are devastating and we need to be paying very close attention to them.
One of the key things that we need to point out, and the research upholds this assertion, is that being LGBTIQ does not in itself lead to poor mental health incomes, but bullying, abuse and discrimination does. School can be a particularly challenging time for LGBTIQ and particularly young people who identify as trans. The “Trans Pathways” report again found that 78.9 per cent of trans young people had experienced issues at school or university or TAFE. Inclusion policies and processes are already inconsistent enough across schools. Some are doing really well at this, but, unfortunately, many are not. Advisory groups set up in Perth and Bunbury to assist the Commissioner for Children and Young People with his work in 2018 named this as their number one concern: to improve experiences of LGBTIQ young people in school and educational settings through inclusive policies, practices and professional development for staff.
Members, if that is not a call to ensure that we are funding this program, I do not know what is. I think that the decision to discontinue funding for Inclusive Education WA is a very bad one and I think it needs to be reviewed and I think it needs to be reversed. We need to be doing more. We should not be doing less; we should be looking at doing more to protect and support LGBTIQ children and young people in schools. I think the community rightly expects that young LGBTIQ people will be protected and nurtured, particularly while they are at school. This is completely the wrong direction to go in. I completely agree with the comments made by former Senator Brian Greig in an Out in Perth article dated 9 October this year. He is also currently involved in the national LGBTIQ advocacy group just.equal. He was quoted in the article as saying —
... the decision to “effectively cut the Inclusive Education program is deeply concerning for two reasons.”
“First, it is a complete contradiction of the government’s approach to LGBTI youth ...
He talked about how the Minister for Youth had —
... called on politicians to ‘listen to young people’, as he endorsed the Youth Pride Network to advise him on relevant issues,” ...
“It seems the first piece of advice they might offer would be not to scrap the only inclusive education program in the state or downgrade it to a digital afterthought.”
He then pointed out —
“Second, this decision relies heavily on school councillors and psychologists doing the heavy lifting. But it fails to take into consideration that the ratio of qualified councillors to students is 1:1500,” ...
Brian Greig has made a very important point—that we already do not have sufficient resources within our schools to be able to assist all students with their mental health concerns. It is inexplicable to me that we are now removing from some of our most vulnerable students a program that was designed to make sure that we keep schools safe and lessen the likelihood of self-harm and suicide. I expect that these are exactly the sorts of programs that we need in our schools in 2020. I was already concerned that the program was usually run only in response to an emergency or incident, but now it is not being funded at all. I am calling on the government to revisit this decision.
HON STEPHEN DAWSON (Mining and Pastoral — Minister for Environment) [6.31 pm]: The Minister for Education and Training is away from the chamber this evening on urgent parliamentary business, but she has indicated that it is her intention to make a statement tomorrow night in response to Hon Alison Xamon.