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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 01 Hansard (Wednesday, 14 December 2016) . . Page.. 187 ..

Canberra is earning a reputation as being a progressive city. Our city’s reputation is changing overall; the progressive politics and the way some important issues are approached here in the ACT are helping to break down some of the stereotypes about Canberra and show the rest of the country and, in many cases, the rest of the world, that Canberra is a very progressive city, one that is willing to embrace new ideas, one that is willing to be a frontrunner on issues, to try things out. That is great for our city in terms of our reputation. It enhances our sense of who we are as a city and encourages more people to come here as visitors and potentially as permanent residents.

Regarding some of the specific points in Mr Steel’s motion, I particularly want to talk about the safe schools program. With the Chief Minister, I was pleased to provide dedicated ACT government funding for the lead partner, Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, just before the election period. Unfortunately, we had to do that because we saw the federal government, or at least some members of the federal government, take quite an ill-considered approach to the program.

Having been education minister last term, it was clear to me, from going around to schools and talking to teachers, the people at the coalface, as well as students, how valuable this program was. To a person, they said to me that it was a great program that had a real impact for people who were vulnerable—people who were perhaps uncertain about their sexuality and were looking for support—but also helped other students broaden their understanding and their empathy, because the program talked about issues that are not always easy to talk about and that some people do not know much about. In having those discussions in the classroom, empathy and understanding were built. With all of the jargon you can use to describe programs, for me that is the simple way of talking about the strength and the importance of the safe schools program.

We could also cite the statistics. Mr Barr made some remarks in his speech about the number of students who report being bullied in school, for a range of reasons. The safe schools program is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to that, but it is certainly part of the suite of responses that we need to improve behaviour, to improve acceptance and understanding in our schools. A child who is being bullied is more likely than not to have poorer education outcomes. They do not feel safe at school. They are not concentrating, potentially, because they are distracted by bullying and the like. These social conditions are a very important part of a child’s learning success.

It was a shame that the ACT government had to step in. As I say, I think that probably some of the key advocates against this program in the federal parliament have not gone into a school and chatted to kids about how some of these things are playing out. I would encourage them to do so if they have not.

When it comes to measures for preventing the harassment of women accessing healthcare services, I was very grateful in the last Assembly to receive support in this place for my private member’s bill on this matter. It is an important matter. This came from the community, from people who had felt harassed when they went to access medical services, legal medical services. They felt that they were being judged.

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