Let's get our facts right

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The desperation of the 24 hour news cycle, the immaturity of the Australian media as a whole and our desire to turn everything from sport to politics into a soap opera is behind the whole Tony Abbott ‘wink’ story that dominated the headlines last week.

It’s quite extraordinary to see the level of hate – and unfortunately I have to use that word – that seems to surround the Prime Minister currently.

If nothing else, it’s proven the extraordinary level of hypocrisy that can sometimes exist in the world of politics. The same people who demanded justice and respect for Julia Gillard are the same who support or take part in marches that feature people proudly wearing “F**k Abbott” t-shirts.

But today I don’t want to focus on the whole wink non-story, or the criticism of Tony Abbott’s family that dominated last weekend.

Instead I want to talk about a little-discussed issue that is bubbling away on social media and is just so misguided that it deserves clarification.

Having worked in the theatre world as a producer, publicist and reviewer for many years before my time here at the Weekender, I have many gay friends (the industry has an extraordinarily high representation from the gay community) – and a lot of them seem awfully angry at the moment.

They’re angry about a story doing the rounds suggesting that Tony Abbott is spending $245 million on “anti-gay chaplains” in schools, and they’re demanding we all stop this as soon as we can and sign relevant petitions.

A quick look on Twitter will see this is in fact quite the talking point at the moment – if many Twitterers are to be believed, Mr Abbott launched a scathing attack on the gay community in the Budget and he’s a homophobic man on a rampage.

Problem is, it’s not true.

It is true that the Budget features $245.3 million for the continuation of the National School Chaplaincy Program.

The program is voluntary not only for schools but for the students themselves.

The program is nothing new – it has been amended by the new Government but the general concept is the same as that of the previous Labor Government. In fact, Julia Gillard described the school chaplaincy program as a “great program” and former Education Minister Peter Garrett said; “I usually hear from students, parents and teachers what a great job that [the] chaplain is doing, and what a positive influence they’ve had in the school community”.

After a High Court challenge in relation to the program back in 2012, Mr Garrett said: “We’re committed to maintaining funding for the school chaplains. Our expectation is that chaplains will remain in schools around the country”.

A group called “All Out” is behind a petition that aims to send a message to Tony Abbott about the funding for the program.

I know very little about the group, but it works under the banner of “equality everywhere”. I wonder if that slogan extends to informing the public that this program was well supported by Labor Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard over the last six years, or does that not suit the political agenda behind it?

I should say that recent changes mean that funding is only available for chaplains, not secular student welfare workers as it was under Labor. That may or may not be a poor move, but it’s not a complete overhaul of the program.

There’s plenty that the Prime Minister deserves to be bashed up about and debated on, particularly healthcare changes. But when we focus on issues like a wink, a scholarship and a misinformed petition based on inaccuracies, we lose both perspective and respect.

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