AN Adelaide primary school's "wear a dress day" has been labelled as "absurd gender-morphing" by South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi - but his comments have pushed the fundraiser to national prominence and far above its goal.
Senator Bernardi hit out at a Craigburn Primary School fundraiser that has encouraged staff and students to wear a dress to school on the last day of term.
The school fundraiser's original goal was $900, but at 11.30pm Wednesday SA time, it was more than $16,000, and by 8.30am on Thursday morning it was more than $20,000. At 1.30pm on Thursday, the sum was a staggering $50,000. By 3.40pm, it was $60,000.
By noon on Friday, it was more than $190,000.
The leader of the Australian Conservatives and vocal supporter of traditional marriage has questioned the timing of the fundraiser, with the national postal vote on same-sex marriage under way.
But South Australia's Education Minister Susan Close said the student-led fundraiser had nothing to do with the debate about marriage equality.
"As much as I was appalled by the Senator's tweet, I am thrilled so much money has been raised for this very important cause," she said on Thursday morning.
Senator Bernardi said it was "entirely inappropriate" and "bordering on the absurd".
He told The Advertiser he did not understand why the tradition of casual dress day had suddenly become "wear a dress to school day".
"In the midst of a debate about the safe school gender ideology program, the redefinition of marriage and attempts to de-genderise society it seems this school is playing into a political cause rather than an educational one," Senator Bernardi said.
"Why are we suddenly encouraging boys and male teachers to wear a dress?"
Senator Bernardi's comments have driven people to pledge money to the fundraiser, with gay ABC comedian Josh Thomas tweeting his support and a link to the fundraising page.
Thomas confirmed to The Advertiser he'd donated $2000.
The State Government's top education bureaucrat, Rick Persse, supported the school's fundraiser by tweeting a photo of himself in a dress raising money for charity as CEO of the Attorney-General's department - and said he'd be "happy to do it again".
Parents of children at the school have taken to social media to back the fundraiser.
Writing on the Craigburn Connections blog, Rob Walker said: "Great way to have a bit of fun while raising awareness & funds for African kids! (from a former School Councillor & dad of 3 Craigburn kids!)"
And Mark Sansome agreed: "What an amazing lesson for the kids! The power of social media wins and a great fundraising effort. Well done Craigburn, so proud of my kids school."
Nicola Cornish wrote: "What a fantastic charity and a great opportunity for our children to learn about those less fortunate than themselves. Must admit I am looking forward to seeing the dresses!!"
Ms Close said Senator Bernardi's comments were ridiculous and incorrect.
"Craigburn Primary School is raising money to help girls in Africa have access to education," Ms Close said.
"The funds will go towards books and other resources.
"This is a student-led initiative and is completely unrelated to the current marriage equality debate.
"Senator Bernardi should check his facts before incorrectly naming and shaming a school undertaking charity work."
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said Mr Bernardi's comment was a "complete failure to actually look" at what the fundraiser intended.
"The idea of coming out and condemning a program that is trying to raise money for girls in Africa that don't go to school is, of course, appalling," he said on Thursday.
"It's about creating a scare campaign when there is only one simple question Australians are answering, and that is should same-sex couples be allowed to marry."
A school blog post promoting the fundraiser was deleted shortly after The Advertiser contacted the Education Department late Wednesday afternoon, but was put back up online later in the evening.
The blog post said for a gold coin donation all the staff and students will be wearing a dress to school. "Of course, it you don't feel comfortable wearing a dress you can just come in casual clothes," the post said.
"The main thing to focus on is raising as much money as possible."
Craigburn Primary caters for 500 students, mainly from Flagstaff Hill, Aberfoyle Park and Coromandel Valley, in Reception to Year 7.
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