Letter to Minister Pyne re Health & Physical Education Curriculum and Appointment of Mr Kevin Donnelly

UPDATE (Saturday 8 February): This week, I received a reply from Minister Pyne to my letter to him, on 11 January (see below), in which I requested that he sack Mr Kevin Donnelly from the national curriculum review because his homophobia made him unsuitable to be involved in any review of a Health & Physical Education curriculum.

In a somewhat unsurprising, but nevertheless extremely disappointing, response, Minister Pyne did not address any of the comments made by Mr Donnelly, nor deal with the problem that through his comments Mr Donnelly appears to be unable to oversee a HPE curriculum that serves the needs of all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex (LGBTI) students.

So, while the issue of Mr Donnelly’s homophobia has received welcome public scrutiny, especially over the course of the past week, it seems Minister Pyne doesn’t really care about it – certainly not enough to actually respond to concerns which are put directly to him.

Which, sadly, makes me even more fearful of what the final HPE document will look like when it is released later in 2014.

Full text of Minister Pyne’s letter:

Dear Mr Lawrie

Thank you for your email of 11 January 2014 regarding the review of the Australian Curriculum.

As the Minister for Education, I am focussed on improving schools and student outcomes through proven policies and initiatives. Under our Students First approach, the Coalition Government is working with the states and territories on the priority areas of teacher quality, principal autonomy, parental engagement and strengthening our curriculum.

Over the past ten years, education outcomes in Australia have gone backwards, both relatively against other countries, but also in real terms. Some have identified that the reason for this is due to our curriculum not being robust enough.

I appointed Professor Ken Wiltshire AO and Dr Kevin Donnelly to review the curriculum to evaluate its robustness, impartiality and balance. Between them, Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly have a tremendous amount of experience in not only the school education sector, but also in education curricula. I am confident that their considerable expertise will allow them to bring a balanced approach to this review process.

The reviewers are interested in hearing the views of parents and communities, educators and schools, and state and territory governments, to inform their analysis. This is an open public consultation process where the community are able to have their say.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact me to express your views. I encourage you to make a submission to the review. Comments will be accepted until Friday 28 February 2014. Information can be found at http://www.studentsfirst.gov.au/review-australian-curriculum.

Yours sincerely

Christopher Pyne MP

29 January 2014

ORIGINAL POST 11 January: Dear Minister Pyne

LGBTI INCLUSION IN NATIONAL HEALTH & PHYSICAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM AND APPOINTMENT OF MR KEVIN DONNELLY TO CURRICULUM REVIEW

I wrote to you in September 2013, following your appointment as Commonwealth Minister for Education, regarding the development of the National Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

In that letter, I raised serious concerns about the draft HPE curriculum, including both the initial draft released in December 2012, and revised draft, released in mid-2013, specifically:

  • That the draft HPE curriculum failed to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students, and content relevant to their needs;
  • That the sexual health information provided in the draft HPE curriculum was grossly insufficient; and
  • That the draft HPE curriculum was inadequate because it failed to even mention HIV, or other blood borne viruses (like hepatitis B and C), let alone ensuring students received the vital education necessary to reduce future transmissions.

I note that, since that letter, the COAG Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood (SCSEEC) met in Sydney on 29 November 2013. Significantly, that meeting did not endorse the draft HPE curriculum, but instead it was only ‘noted’. From the communiqué:

“The Standing Council today noted that ACARA has developed the Australian Curriculum content and achievement standards for … health and physical education … according to its current curriculum development processes.

Ministers noted that the Australian Government will be undertaking a review of the Australian Curriculum, and will bring forward recommendations from the review to the Standing Council in 2014.”

This means that there should be the opportunity for the Health & Physical Education curriculum to be improved as part of the overall review. In particular, there is now time for the HPE curriculum to be amended to specifically include LGBTI students and content, increased sexual health information and education about HIV and other BBVs.

Unfortunately, following your announcement yesterday, Friday 10 January 2014, of the two people entrusted with reviewing the curriculum, I have serious doubts that any improvements are now possible. Indeed, I am concerned that whatever amendments are made to the HPE curriculum will be entirely negative ones, and further contribute to the exclusion and marginalisation of LGBTI students in Australia.

This is because one of the people you have appointed, Mr Kevin Donnelly, has made sustained negative comments about the education needs of LGBTI students over the past decade.

For example, in 2004 Mr Donnelly is reported as saying that “[v]ery few parents would expect that it is the role of schools to teach children about the positive aspects of gay, lesbian and transgender sex lifestyles” and that “[f]orgotten is that many parents would consider the sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals decidedly unnatural and that such groups have a greater risk in terms of transmitting STDs and AIDS” (source: Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 2004, “Government staffer says new-age warriors waging culture wars in class”).

Mr Donnelly returned to similar themes the following year, criticising the Australian Education Union for arguing that “school curricula should “enhance understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”” He went on to write “[f]orgotten is that many parents would consider the sexual practices of GLBT people unnatural and that most parents would prefer their children to form a relationship with somebody of the opposite sex. This is apart from the fact that many parents expect that it is their duty, not that of teachers and schools, to teach such sensitive matters” (source: News Weekly, 26 March 2005, “Teacher Unions Enforcing the Gender Agenda”).

In the same article, he wrote “it is also wrong to introduce students to sensitive sexual matters about which most parents might be concerned and that the wider community might fine unacceptable” in response to a lesbian teacher simply telling her students of her relationship.

Mr Donnelly’s views are not confined to last decade, either. In an article published on The Drum website on 6 December 2011 (“Marriage Equality: Secrets of a Successful Campaign”), he wrote:

“Such has been the cultural-left’s success in relation to gender issues that the so-called Melbourne Declaration, the blue print for Australian school education, argues that all school sectors, faith based, independent and government, must provide an education free of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

A strict interpretation of the Melbourne Declaration is that religious schools will lose the freedom they currently have to discriminate in relation to who they enrol and who they employ. One also expects that the proposed national curriculum, in areas like health, will enforce a positive view of GLBT issues.”

Implicit in these comments is that private/religious schools should be able to discriminate against LGBTI students and teachers, and that the national curriculum need not include a positive approach to ‘GLBT issues’.

In short, over the past decade, Mr Donnelly has repeatedly argued against positive representations of LGBTI students and issues, has argued that same-sex relationships are ‘sensitive matters’ that should not be referred to in schools, and has on multiple occasions repeated the view, without condemnation, that “many parents would consider the sexual practices of GLBT people (decidedly) unnatural”.

As part of his role in reviewing the broader national curriculum, Mr Donnelly will have responsibility for reviewing the draft national HPE curriculum. Based on his public comments of the past decade, he is eminently unsuitable for this position. In my view, Mr Donnelly has amply demonstrated that he is incapable of reviewing, and redrafting, a national Health and Physical Education curriculum that meets the needs of all Australian students, not simply those who are cis-gender and heterosexual.

Given this evidence, the responsible course of action for you to take, as Commonwealth Minister for Education, would be to terminate his appointment. I urge you to do so.

Irrespective of what decision you take in relation to Mr Donnelly’s specific role, your announcement of the broader curriculum review on 10 January has confirmed that it is now your responsibility to ensure that the final Health and Physical Education curriculum is genuinely inclusive, and meets the needs of all students, including LGBTI students. This is a serious burden, and one that I sincerely hope you give serious attention to during 2014.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of the matters raised in this letter. I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Letter to Christopher Pyne re LGBTI Exclusion from National Health & Physical Education Curriculum

With the election of the Abbott Liberal/National Government on September 7 2013, Christopher Pyne has been appointed the new Commonwealth Minister for Education.

I have written the below letter to Minister Pyne about the exclusion of LGBTI students and issues (as well as sexual health and HIV) from the draft national Health & Physical Education curriculum. It is my third letter on this subject to the third Commonwealth Education Minister over the past 6 months (with previous letters to Minister Peter Garrett and Minister Bill Shorten).

Given there is little evidence these problems have been addressed by ACARA so far, here’s hoping for third time lucky.

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Minister for Education

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Sunday 29 September 2013

Dear Minister

LGBTI INCLUSION IN NATIONAL HEALTH AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM

Congratulations on your recent appointment as the Commonwealth Minister for Education. As you are aware, in this role you are now the Minister responsible for overseeing the development of the national Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum.

A draft national HPE curriculum was released by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) in December 2012. Public consultation on this document closed in April 2013. A redrafted HPE curriculum was released for limited public consultation in July, although submissions on that document have now also closed. This means that final drafting is currently taking place by ACARA, leading to potential agreement between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories in the final three months of 2013.

Unfortunately, the draft HPE curriculum as released by ACARA (and even the redraft released in July) does not guarantee an inclusive and relevant education for all Australian students, because it neglects to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students.

For example, throughout the entire 80-plus page original document the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex did not appear even once. The redraft still did not include the words lesbian, gay or bisexual, and, while it did include the terms transgender and intersex (once each), it erroneously included both under the definition gender diverse (intersex is a biological characteristic and not a gender identity). It is impossible for a HPE curriculum to deal with the health needs of these students without being able to name them.

Unfortunately, an introductory paragraph from the original document which at least acknowledged that ‘same-sex attracted and gender diverse students’ (which in any event does not include intersex) exist in all schools across Australia has been amended such that this statement has been omitted. That same paragraph states that the curriculum is designed to allow schools ‘flexibility’ to meet the needs of same-sex attracted and gender diverse students, rather than mandating that all schools must provide an inclusive education. This falls short of the basic requirement that every student, in every classroom, has the right to a comprehensive health education, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

There are two other significant problems with the draft HPE curriculum as released. While it now at least refers to both reproductive and sexual health, it fails to provide any detail of how this topic is intended to be taught, and omits any mention of safer sex and/or detailed instruction on condom usage and other vital sexual health messages. In short, it does not include sufficient detail for the health needs of the next generation.

The second additional problem is that the entire document (both original and redraft) does not use the term HIV, or AIDS, once. While new treatments have significantly improved the health outcomes of people living with HIV, an HIV diagnosis remains a serious thing. I think it is irresponsible not to specifically mention this virus, together with the ways that it can be prevented, in a HPE curriculum. The 2012 NSW notifications data released in July 2013, which showed a 24% increase in HIV diagnoses, reinforces the need for HIV education to be included in the curriculum. Please find attached a copy of my submission to the original ACARA public consultation process, which outlines my concerns in these, and other, areas in greater detail.

Most importantly, please find attached a copy of a Change.org petition which I initiated on this topic addressed to one of your predecessors as Commonwealth Minister for Education, the Hon Peter Garrett MP, and his state and territory counterparts. Given these issues were not addressed in the redraft, the burden of rectifying these glaring omissions from the HPE curriculum now falls upon you as the new Commonwealth Minister for Education, as well as your state and territory colleagues.

This petition – calling for the HPE curriculum to be LGBTI inclusive, include sexual health and include HIV – was incredibly well-received, and secured more the 6,000 signatures in just over 3 weeks. This shows the depth of the community’s concerns that LGBTI students are included in the school curriculum, and ensuring that the content is relevant to them.

I would strongly encourage you to also read the reasons which people provided explaining why they signed this petition. They include descriptions of harm that people experienced because they had not received an inclusive education themselves when they were at school. Future students should not experience the same silence and stigma that these people suffered.

The reasons which people provided for signing the petition also demonstrate that this is an issue which matters to people from right across the community – young and old, LGBTI and their family and friends, and general members of the community who understand that all students have a right to be included.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, my submission to ACARA and the Change.org petition and comments which are attached. Thank you for considering this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie