Safe Schools Programme

For those of you not in Australia, this is a post about Australian politics, in particular the Safe Schools. This was an anti-bullying programme that was particularly focussed on queer children, including educating everyone about queer issues, which served two purposes:

  • To teach non-queer children empathy and help them understand that their queer peers should be treated with respect, and;
  • To teach queer students that what they’re experiencing is a thing, that they aren’t broken, that they don’t have to feel like freaks.

It also included links to a number of queer support sites and further information, and sexual education (in Australia, we tend to start sex-ed around Grade 5, c. 11 years old), in particular safe sex behaviour. Naturally, this education included not only PiV (penis-in-vagina) sex, but numerous different kinds.

This was a fantastic programme, but you may have noticed that I’m using the past tense. It wasn’t a new programme — it had survived four previous education ministers (two Labor, the former government, and two Coalition, the current) — but it suddenly gained the attention of right-wing backbenchers within the reigning Coalition government. If I were inclined to paint them as spoiled, puerile bullies (and I am), I would point out that the timing of this happened to occur right after they failed a number of different anti-queer (and especially anti-trans) goals.

So a few weeks ago Cory Bernardi began complaining about the Safer Schools ‘indoctrinating’ children, and from the conservative wing of the party a number of other voices joined, decrying the system as ‘Marxist cultural relativism’ (which is, you know, not a thing) and demanding a review into the programme. Eventually, they managed to bully the Prime Minister (PM) into instigating such a review, which would to take place over a fortnight.

That review came back and was, on the whole, relatively positive, and came with a few suggestions for improvement. It is here I will agree with the right-wingers on one thing: it was not thorough enough. Not enough time or funds had been allocated to see more than a handful of schools, and certainly not enough to recognise any positive effect it was having on children. But those screeching voices in the Coalition didn’t stop, and eventually the PM, who had previously positioned himself as ‘progressive’ and pro queer-rights, and education minister decided to take action

Did they decide to look at the recommendations of the review they ordered? Did they decide to launch further investigations after decrying the investigation as insufficiently thorough? No. Instead they decide to gut the programme.

Queer-specific material was removed from the course, especially trans material — remember, this programme was created to help address anti-queer bullying in the first place — and is now to focus on general bullying and only hetero-cis sex-ed. If any queer students want information suitable to them, they have to specifically ask their teacher, one-on-one, for one of the two or three small books available, naturally outing themselves in the process.

These three books are government-sanctioned, as now is the online material: all third-party sources, including queer organisations and other mental health groups, have been removed, and only stuff the government writes will be included. Meanwhile, children in Primary school are now barred from accessing it: knowledge about queer issues (especially revolving around gender identity) has been deemed “inappropriate” for children.

I guess straight sex ed is alright for 11 year olds, but introducing them to the idea of different genders and sexualites, and teaching them how to respect people of varying identities is “inappropriate”.

If you’re someone who likes to look on the bright side, you could take comfort that an anti-bullying programme of some form would be allowed to continue, regardless of whether or not it successfully targets one of the demographics with the highest suicide rates for which it was initially designed. However, you would be being too optimistic: they’re terminating the programme entirely in 2017.

So, if you’re not in Australia, you now have some idea why queer people here are quite upset, to the point that Cory Bernadi’s office was invaded and trashed. If you are from Australia, I hope you didn’t vote for the coalition or, if you did, that you will reconsider this time. If you vote do choose to still vote for the Liberal and National Coalition, look at your hands: they are coated in the blood of bullied children who saw no escape from their fate except by death. The homophobic ideology of this party was known before the election, so don’t even try to wash your hands like Pilate.

Safe Schools Programme

The Weird World of Quantum Plants

During a science communication course —taught by the Australian Science Media Centre and organised by ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS) — that I attended yesterday, we were asked to write 100 jargon-free words that would describe our research in simple terms to a lay-audience. This post was my attempt:

When we think of ‘quantum physics’, we imagine scientists wearing white coats in pristine labs, but it turns out plants rely on quantum physics too! A plant’s leaves contain tiny antennae that collect light, much like a car’s aerial picks up the radio, but instead of staying on the one antenna the light’s energy spreads over many of them to help the plant control it.

The energy then rains down into a funnel, built by the plans to move this energy to where it is needed, and the plant uses this to create air, water and food. My research involves working out how this funnel works, and it wouldn’t work at all if not for quantum physics!

The Weird World of Quantum Plants