Socialist Alliance candidate Petrina Harley: ‘We need Safe Schools’

February 24, 2017
Petrina Harley, Socialist Alliance's candidate for the South Metropolitan Legislative Council, speaking at a vigil for Tyrone Unsworth, a 13 year old boy who committed suicide after being bullied. .

Activist, teacher and mother of two, Petrina Harley, grew up in the suburbs of Perth. She is a fierce advocate for human rights, her main passions being rights for the LGBTI community, illegally detained asylum seekers and stopping the Roe 8 freeway.

She is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the WA state election alongside Sam Wainwright in the South Metropolitan Legislative Council. Harley was interviewed by Green Left Weekly by Chris Jenkins, who is standing in the seat of Fremantle.

What made you enter activist politics and why did you join Socialist Alliance?

I joined Socialist Alliance out of increasing concern at the state of Australia’s democracy, the growing divide between rich and poor and the increase in the government’s attacks on the most vulnerable.

We do not live in a truly democratic society. The amount of influence exerted over the major parties by corporations means that profit margins dictate policy, rather than improving the quality of people’s lives and protecting our planet.

Socialist Alliance has given me the opportunity to become actively involved in helping improve the lives of people who don’t fall under the government’s business plan.

Socialist Alliance fights hard to draw attention to the needs of those in our society whose voices are often lost in a parliament concerned only with making a profit.

It believes that by building grassroots movements, uniting people to stand together and demanding the government does better, we can build a better society where everyone has a decent standard of living and lives in freedom and safety.

I am running to help give a voice to those who are ignored by the Colin Barnett government who in the pocket of the fossil fuel companies.

Can you give some examples of these grassroots movements and what they have achieved?

Members of Socialist Alliance, myself included, are part of a long-running community campaign to halt the disastrous Roe 8 highway.

Premier Barnett is forcing through the destruction of the Beeliar Wetlands, an ancient sacred site of the Nyoongar people and a vital and rare ecosystem — a natural combatant to pollution and climate change.

The protests to protect the Beeliar Wetlands have united people in big numbers. Despite the arrests, the pepper spray, the demonisation campaigns by the corporate media, the community has managed to stay the work and force a Senate inquiry into the many environmental breaches adding to the political pressure on the federal and state environmental ministers.

What other issues are you personally concerned about?

The rise of the right-wing Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and outspoken homophobic MPs Cory Bernardi and George Christenson means that the LGBTIQ community, especially the youth, are feeling the pressure.

As a mother and a teacher I have seen first-hand how homophobia affects young people. Children are self-harming and even committing suicide because too many in our society are ignorant about the pressures young people face navigating gender identity and sexuality.

Safe Schools is a vital resource that addresses this ignorance and gives communities ways to support their children and school communities. 

The program is at risk of losing its funding in June. I would like the funding to be renewed and the program instigated in all schools and not just on the voluntary basis like now.

Through a democratic and grassroots movement, involving affected communities, we hope to change bad government policy such as this. A collective of students, parents and teachers has been countering the misinformation being spread by right-wing groups about Safe Schools.

How does the Safe Schools program help?

It is a bank of resources, largely directed toward staff, teachers and principals, to help them build an inclusive school environment.

Schools which sign up then have complete autonomy over how much, or how little, of the resources they want depending on their specific needs.

One of the bits of misinformation being spread around is that the program consists of explicit teaching lessons that all children will be exposed to. This is simply not true.

Much of the support offered by Safe Schools is directed at staff and takes place outside the classroom such as personal development programs including on simple things such as language.

Teaching teachers to use the correct terminology around gender identity so that they can communicate sensitively with non-binary students is important.

Safe Schools also provides project officers to help guide parents and teachers about how best to allow a student to transition.

It is a vital resource and has been shown to have positive effects as well as to, literally, save lives. Victoria has kept the program: it has been reviewed and found to comply with all the guidelines set out in the National Curriculum.

Regardless of the election result, Socialist Alliance commits to continue to campaign for the rights of LGBTQI children and ensure that society is educated and inclusive.

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