Peta Credlin: Let’s go now to Clifton Springs, the little town just outside of Geelong in Victoria, where parents from a local government-run primary school are rallying against the introduction of gender-neutral toilet blocks at the school, have issues caused so much concern locally that some parents have removed kids from the school. Joining me now, one of those parents, Chelsea Hogan and federal Shadow Education Minister, Sarah Henderson. Well ladies, welcome to you. Chelsea, I want to start with you. I know your neck of the woods, my mum’s not far from you in a little town and I know that it’s a really tight knit community. You’ve been threatened by the education department with criminal action for speaking out on this issue. What concerns you about gender-neutral toilets for little kids?
Chelsea Hogan: I think the biggest thing for me as a parent is that we’ve always taught children to protect themselves, to speak up when they feel uncomfortable, and our children have come to us with very legitimate concerns and just a real feeling of unease since these toilets have been introduced into the school. And as parents, it’s our job to speak up for our children. And we have done so, and I’ve gone through every correct channel possible, and I have been blatantly ignored, dismissed, sometimes even belittled and just nobody seems to care that our kids are uncomfortable with these new toilets. We are so aware of the need for safe spaces for gender diverse students. We’re not against unisex toilets. We just want a safe space for boys, girls and unisex facilities and we want them separate because we believe that every child deserves the right to privacy and dignity. And boys and girls are just so different like that, and their needs are so different, and I just feel like that’s being ignored.
Peta Credlin: Sarah Henderson, help me out here. I mean, why on earth do we even need gender-neutral toilets in a primary school?
Senator Henderson: Well, Peta, good evening and great to join you. And as we saw from the rally at Clifton Springs, many parents are concerned about this issue. And as Chelsea has said, no one is objecting to a unisex toilet. But at Clifton Springs Primary School, boys and girls are being forced to share the same bathroom facilities, with boys and girls, and girls particularly going through puberty and all the challenges that involves – this is very compromising for their dignity, for their privacy. Some children are actually not going to the toilet, and I’m outraged that the Department of Education has threatened both Chelsea and another mum, Jessica, with criminal charges for stalking as a result of distributing a flyer about this rally. It is absolutely outrageous. I’ve called on the Education Minister to withdraw these threats from his department, to apologise and to reinstate separate boys and girls facilities at this school. And so far, we have heard nothing and it’s absolutely not good enough, Peta.
Peta Credlin: What sort of consultation did mums and dads get about this?
Chelsea Hogan: None.
Peta Credlin: None at all?
Chelsea Hogan: None. Apparently it went out in a newsletter about two years ago that there would be new toilets, there would be unisex toilets, and we were assured that they would still be separate boys and girls toilets. There’s even a plan of what the toilets were going to be like, and they’ve turned out nothing like that. So we feel very misled and very lied to. And I don’t know why they’re doing this and I don’t know why there’s been so much secrecy around it.
Peta Credlin: And what do people of Clifton Springs and Drysdale think about it?
Chelsea Hogan: It’s so divided because there are so many people who, like us, passionately loved our primary school. It was such a welcoming, beautiful community. This has caused so much division amongst all of us because you’ve got parents with true, genuine concerns and then you’ve got parents that just don’t realise that there are problems with this. So it’s caused so much division.
Peta Credlin: I mean, it’s a brutal reality nowadays. You get little girls in grade six getting a period, it’s not something that happens when they’re in secondary school anymore; and I mean, it’s challenging enough for a child, but to manage that in grade six, even grade five, sharing a toilet with boys, pretty tough.
Chelsea Hogan: Really tough, and not only that, you’ve got five-year-old little girls and boys who are now sharing a space with grade six boys and girls, and to me, there’s a real risk there. There’s a lot of children that have trauma backgrounds. There’s a lot of children who believe that inappropriate behaviour is normal and I just feel like there’s a huge risk that seems to be mismanaged and hasn’t been looked at properly.
Peta Credlin: Sarah so just quickly before we go, I want to ask you that study out today that autism in Australia is some of the highest in the world. There is an argument from a child psychologist, I think he’s certainly a medico, that this relates to the NDIS, that there’s a financial incentive to get your child on the NDIS if they’ve got some level of learning difficulty. What do you say to the reports?
Senator Henderson: Well, Peta, parents deserve transparency about the NDIS and so far under this government, Bill Shorten has not done this. He promised that the NDIS would be sustainable. He promised that he would manage the growth of the NDIS. But now he’s keeping secret a report into the NDIS, and frankly, parents deserve much better from this government, including assurances that the now minister gave before the last election. The government has been playing politics with the NDIS for far too long and it is about time that the minister came clean, particularly with NDIS participants.