By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A controversial forum against a State Government anti-bullying program has been scrapped and then reinstated at a dramatic Casey Council meeting on 17 April.
The council narrowly voted to dump the 19 April forum against the Building Respectful Relationships schools program after one of its panellists Dr Michael Carr-Gregg dropped out and publicly labelled it as a “brain-washing exercise”.
Minutes after the vote, the forum was revived when dissenting councillors Susan Serey, Sam Aziz, Rosalie Crestani and Milla Gilic lodged a recission motion.
The recission put the forum’s cancellation on hold until the next council meeting in two weeks’ time – too late to stop the forum from going ahead.
During the heated and emotional meeting, forum proponent Cr Rosalie Crestani broke down as he spoke of protecting “our children” and “our future”.
“I don’t cry that much. Forgive me, I get emotional because it’s close to my heart.
“There are stories of children getting mentally ill because of their exposure to this.
“I just want to protect our babies.”
At the meeting, forum supporter Cr Serey said cancelling the promoted event would be an embarrassment.
Cr Aziz said that it would be a defeat of freedom-of-speech and caving into political correctness or cowardice.
Cr Gilic said the forum’s presenters were required to be factual and evidence-based – which would ensure the event’s balance.
Cr Tim Jackson introduced the motion to cancel the event, declaring there was a lack of balance on the forum’s panel.
“People have a right to their views but if we’re presenting this to the Casey community, it has to be a balanced forum.”
Councillor Wayne Smith described the forum as being founded on “ignorance” and “radical Christian ideology”.
He had it confirmed that extra security detail had been rostered at Bunjil Place for the forum, having heard “whispers” that a protest would be held.
A high-school teacher, Cr Smith has observed the Building Respectful Relationships program cut down on homophobic bullying against LGBTI students.
“I work with a lot of kids in the LGBTI community. They have issues with being bullied, not being respected and not being included,” he told Star News.
“So we ran Respectful Relationships for kids to know about this community.
“It’s not about promoting sexuality, just that anyone should be respected regardless of their race, religion, colour and sexual orientation.”
An “angry and disappointed” Dr Carr-Gregg told Star News he’d accepted an invitation to be part of the 19 April public event on the basis of a “balanced debate”.
The panel’s composition however had “no balance at all”, he told Star News on 16 April.
“I think City of Casey owe me an apology. It’s used my name and reputation to promote what sounds like a brain-washing exercise.
“They need to take a hard look at themselves.
“It’s incredible that in this day and age we can have that blinkered way of thinking.”
In June 2017, Casey councillors voted to lobby against the Building Respectful Relationships curriculum due to its “premature sexualisation” of young people and “sexual political agenda”.
The impending forum was born from that motion.
Dr Carr-Gregg said the panel lacked a representative from the Royal Childrens’ Hospital and the LGBTI community.
Though he disagreed with “aspects” of the Safe Schools anti-bullying program, he said the program’s proponents had a right to be heard.
The panel includes three parents against the program – one who claims her child was admitted to hospital with an anxiety attack as a result of the curriculum.
Cr Crestani responded to Dr Carr-Gregg’s comments with an unreserved apology.
“As a renowned child psychologist Dr Carr-Gregg was an obvious choice to address the forum and share his considerable expertise.
“I am saddened and disappointed that he feels misled and apologise unreservedly.”
There had been efforts to inject more balance with unrequited invitations to child psychologist Steve Biddulph, Education Minister James Merlino as well as Dr Carr-Gregg, Cr Crestani said.
She said no invitations were sent to representatives of the LGBTI community. “It may have been an uncomfortable situation for the LGBTI community to be on that panel.”
There would be opportunity for questions and varying opinions from the floor, she said.
“If you look at (ABC TV’s) Q&A you very rarely see a fully balanced panel. Conservatives are left off or one is left in a lonesome situation,” Cr Crestani said.
Dr Carr-Gregg’s place on the panel has been taken by conservative ethicist and writer Bill Muehlenberg who wrote Dangerous Relations: The Threat of Homosexuality.
Mr Muehlenberg was a “detailed researcher” who had written “evidence” and “statistically”-based books on the subject area, she said.
On 16 April, Dr Carr-Gregg was taken aback that he had yet to receive a response, explanation or an apology from the council to his concerns.
“This is not the Casey Council I’ve known and done a lot of work for in the past.
“I conclude that the council members either don’t care or they are just rude.”