Safe Schools & The Death Throes of Radical Politics

The Abbott/Turnbull Coalition Government has been a terrible blight on Australian history. Vicious attacks on students, Indigenous Australians, retirees, refugees and LGBTI Australians have been the order of the day for the last three years. These attacks have been led by a hard-right vanguard that is struggling to cope with the slow, agonising death of their beliefs. The Cult of Bigotry led by Cory Bernardi, Eric Abetz, George Christensen, and Tony Abbott are using every bit of skill they accumulated as conservative warriors under Howard to push us back by a decade for every progressive step we make as a society.

The Safe Schools program is one of those progressive steps. LGBTI teenagers and children are much more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, they’re more likely to suffer from mental illness and will be more likely targets of harassment in every aspect of their life. I suffered from mental illness during my early teenage years that left scars which last to this day, but fortunately I was surrounded by caring people who understood my needs. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it would be to have gone through this whilst being bullied and ostracised for my sexuality. Bigots and homophobes like Bernardi and Christensen are fighting to uphold this culture of ignorance and it is up to every Australian to not give them a voice.

Last Friday, a group of students from across Adelaide made a massive step towards giving bigotry a platform. Socialist Alternative are a group we all tolerate for the sake of peace on our campuses while they accost us with countless petitions, copies of their propaganda magazine Red Flag or the sickeningly repetitive question “Do you hate Abbott/Turnbull/Shorten/racists/homophobes?”

Storming the office of Senator Cory Bernardi and protesting at his old high school (now attended by his kids), several members of Socialist Alternative vandalised, danced, chanted and shouted in an episode which can only be likened to the tantrum of a spoilt four year old child. People like Bernardi and his lackeys thrive on the media attention which this sort of behaviour delivers them because it gives them a chance to get up and spout their bigotry without interruption.

I am a unionist and a strong believer in the power of collective bargaining and mass social change through campaigning to the people who actually enable victory for the progressive movement. Elections are fought and won on the swinging centre-ground of populations across the world and the same principle must be applied to social change. The hard-right will never change their mind on things like the Safe Schools program and will ferociously campaign to win over the average Australian over by appearing to have the more approachable and concerned voices. For progressives to succeed we must become the more approachable and appealing voice to the Australian centre. Violent direct action does not win votes or change minds, it scares away the people who need to be brought onside in order to drown out the voices who would send us back to the stone-age.

Radical leftism is fighting a losing battle to remain relevant against a resurgent right-wing movement. Rallies to fight $100k Degrees, Reclaim Australia, Medicare cuts and WorkChoices 2.0 are ones that can engage the average Australian. Decades of work has been put in to winning the centre ground over to make fighting for these causes on the large scale a possibility. LGBTI rights is one which, until recently, was shamefully on the outer in Australia. I am a member of the Labor Party and our support for Marriage Equality in the past has been incredibly lacking. However, it was not violent demonstrations or exclusionary rallies which changed the stance of the undecided party members but the dedicated, passionate work of advocates providing a sensible pathway for change.

Being involved in student politics gives me an opportunity to often be on the frontline of the fight for progressive change in Australia. Three years of campaigning, student elections and challenging conservatism has given me thick skin but even I feel uncomfortable attending larger rallies held by Socialist Alternative. There is an atmosphere of violence that only serves to energize those who are looking for a fight. Make no mistake, Socialist Alternative do not care about the issues Australians face. Socialist Alternative members only care about getting their face on the camera, shouting down any dissenting view and pretending to have suffered oppression while rocking Ralph Lauren, brand new iPhones, Nikes or Doc Martens.

As the Welfare Officer of the Flinders University Student Association (FUSA), I voted to register FUSA as an official supporter of Marriage Equality in Australia and would vote tomorrow to support the Safe Schools program. What I do not endorse is breaking Federal law just to get a thirty-second media grab. The actions of a few student politicians have caused frustration and anger amongst many students around Australia and I have found myself having to defend FUSA from claims that we supported the aggressive, childish display that was seen last Friday. Ordinary students who don’t want to trash offices, shout at police and break federal law feel alienated by these events. Watching conservative attack dogs dominate the media after these events inevitably causes students to lose faith in the ability of their representatives to achieve change.

The lack of understanding for so many young Australians struggling with their sexuality is why we need the Safe Schools program. As the Australian electorate settles in the centre-left of politics, the far-right is fighting to survive. They are willing to do anything to retain their hold on Australian politics whilst the far-left fights to keep its foothold in the Australian political scene through childish actions which only cause people to shift back to the right. There is vast opportunity for true progressives to fight for the rights of LGBTI and other oppressed Australians by continuing the push to bring the centre-ground to the left. Programs like Safe Schools will only continue to be gutted while radical, aggressive ‘activists’ alienate the people who are needed to support them.

Opinions of Jason Byrne, and not necessarily representative of FUSA Student Council.