In a heated meeting, Bega Valley Shire Council backflipped on its support of anti-bullying program Safe Schools.
In December, council passed a motion of support in a close vote, but after the meeting Councillors Russell Fitzpatrick, Mitchell Nadin and Tony Allen launched a bid to rescind the decision, which was debated over 40 minutes on Wednesday.
Cr Fitzpatrick said the issue was not one that should have come before council.
“This is just taking up time,” he said.
“Does the whole shire want it? I don’t think so.”
At that moment a member of the audience yelled out “Have you asked them?”
Greens councillor Cathy Griff, who proposed the original motion, said young people’s sexuality was always going to be controversial.
“There has been an amazing amount of misinformation about this program,” she said.
“It is not something taught at school, it is a resource. This is current government policy worthy of our support.”
Ex-Bega High School teacher Cr Liz Seckold said Safe Schools aimed to reduce discrimination and promote tolerance by preventing homophobic and transphobic bullying.
“All schools have anti-bullying programs, but Safe Schools targets our most vulnerable students,” she said.
Cr Sharon Tapscott said she would “begrudgingly” vote for the rescission, as she supported Safe Schools but did not believe it would receive continual funding. Instead, she would support an alternative motion.
“If anybody is suffering, especially unrepresented groups, they need to be represented by the people in this room that can make a difference,” she said.
Cr Mitchell Nadin believed Safe Schools was “doomed to fail”, while Cr Jo Dodds wanted to clarify the program did not teach Marxism to students – saying the idea was “entirely ridiculous” – and would run to the end of its current funding round.
The rescission was passed 6-3, supported by Crs Fitzpatrick, Robyn Bain, Nadin, McBain, Tapscott and Allen.
To replace it, Mayor Kristy McBain proposed an alternative, to note the “demise of funding” of Safe Schools and write to the federal government requesting continued funding for a school education program aimed at anti-bullying measures and support programs for young people, especially those identifying as LGBTQI.
She urged councillors to “put politics aside” when considering the motion.
“To say bullying isn’t an issue council should be involved in is clearly wrong.
“One thing we can do is write a letter to another level of government,” she said.
Despite speaking against the alternative motion, Cr Robyn Bain was absent for the vote, so Cr Kristy McBain used her casting vote to pass it 4-4 with support from Crs Nadin, Tapscott and Dodds.