A complaint by an anti-same sex marriage senator inadvertently helped raise more than $159,000 for charity

Cory Bernardi. Photo: Mark Graham / AFP / Getty Images.

Liberal defector senator Cory Bernardi, who abandoned his party within months of being re-elected to found the Australian Conservatives, has sparked a backlash over his latest comments that’s inadvertently helped raise more than $159,000 for charity.

An Adelaide primary school is holding a fundraiser where students were encouraged to wear a dress or casual clothes to school for a gold coin donation. The money from the “Do It In A Dress” campaign will go to girls in Africa who did not have access to education.

In a tweet criticising the fundraiser, Bernardi said: “This gender morphing is really getting absurd”.

The senator has since been criticised on social media for his false assumptions, and lack of awareness.

The fundraiser “Do it in a dress” was co-founded five years ago by two young Australians, Chantelle Baxter and David Dixon, as a spin off of their charity One Girl, which has helped educate and assist thousands of women and girls in Sierra Leone and Uganda. More than 1000 people took part in the first Do it in a dress day globally in October 2012.

One of the charity’s goals is educating girls to prevent them from becoming child brides.

In response to Bernardi’s tweet, the school’s fundraising page has been flooded with donations, including $2,000 from Australian comedian Josh Thomas. The Do it in a dress website crashed temporarily on Thursday afternoon.

Craigburn Primary School principal Paul Luke told the ABC that despite Bernardi efforts, the attention to the charity has been welcome. The school’s original fundraising ambition was $900. By 4pm Thursday, the figure stood at $60,000. At 8.20am on Friday it was $159,513 — enough to educate 531 girls.

Bernardi has stood by his comments, despite the backlash, calling it “totally weird”. He accused the South Australian Department for Education of politicising and indoctrinating the school children.

South Australian education minister Susan Close said it was a “disgraceful” attack on “something that’s innocent” and he should apologise and donate to the cause.

The school intends to go ahead with the “Casual Day Fundraiser”, which will be held on the last day of term three.

Dozens of schools, universities and businesses are taking part and this year’s campaign has now raised $337,000 – enough to educate nearly 1,126 girls.

*This article has been updated to reflect the increased fundraising figure.

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