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Concern About Teen Challenge at Meander

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tags: Drug Policy, Family Violence, Religion

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, that was a really unsavoury response from the member for Lyons, Mr Barnett.  What he describes as a rant, because it doesn't fit with his view of the world and his set of beliefs, is a set of concerns and questions that were raised by Ms Dawkins, quite legitimate ones, about an organisation which is moving into the Meander Valley Primary School, which is a public asset, bringing with it a set of Christian beliefs in order to work with some highly vulnerable young people.  They are young people who have been caught up in the trap of substance abuse or who have come out of violent situations.  We are talking about people who have multiple layers of vulnerability because they are young, because they come from potentially socio-economic disadvantage, and because they have been exposed to substance abuse.  Because of the trauma or experiences in their childhood they are susceptible to substance abuse.  These questions are legitimate. 

Ms Dawkins is just doing her job, Mr Barnett.  Ms Dawkins is representing people in the Meander Valley community and in Bass who are concerned that an overtly faith‑based organisation will be working with vulnerable young people.  This is an organisation that has a track record of trying to cure people of homosexuality.  Tell them to stay away from my daughter.

Mr Barnett - Are you anti-Anglicare?

Ms O'CONNOR - The notion there is an organisation that believes you can cure someone of the sexuality they were born with is abhorrent.  It is intolerant and the Greens will not stand by if that is the sort of thing that is being perpetrated in our community. 

I refer Mr Barnett to some questions I asked in budget Estimates last week.  Without reflecting on the order of the day, I am noting that when I asked Ms Petrusma if she would be concerned that government funding was going to an organisation that was proselytising - that is, seeking to convert, seeking to impose a particular faith, any faith, on young people - whether she would be concerned.  Ms Petrusma, in response to my question when I said: 

We can all put our belief system and faiths aside here for a minute.  Would you, minister, be concerned if public funds were being awarded to organisations that while trying to save vulnerable people were also attempting to convert of prosthletise them?'

Ms Petrusma said: 'Yes, I can honestly say it has never ever been raised as an issue'.

I do not know if there is a level of government funding being allocated to the Teen Challenge organisation.  I do know they have access to the Meander Valley Primary School.  I also acknowledge that the work they are doing from their own point of view comes from a good place.  We do not know what sort of evidence base underlies the manner of their work with young people. 

There are a whole lot of questions that Ms Dawkins asked which are entirely legitimate questions, Mr Barnett, when you are dealing with young people who are vulnerable for a range of reasons.  I put it to you the last thing they need is to have someone shoving religion down their throat.  There is no place for this attempt to influence vulnerable young minds through forcing the Bible down their throat, telling them where they have gone wrong in their life, through the prism of religion and depriving them potentially of contact with people they care about.  There is no place for that in modern contemporary government funding structures. 

I do not know what the funding arrangements are with Teen Challenge but I reject utterly that what Ms Dawkins put to this House in the adjournment was a rant.  They are legitimate questions put forward by a member for Bass who is representing people in her community who are concerned about this.  Truly, Mr Barnett, when we walk into this Chamber to the greatest extent possible we should leave our spiritual and cultural beliefs at the door and do what we do in here in the best interests of the people of Tasmania, not our religious beliefs.

The House adjourned at 8.14 p.m.