Politicians have ridiculed the federal government’s new sex education and consent campaign, claiming the “tortured metaphors” of milkshakes, tacos and sharks are too confusing to lead to any real change on assault.
Federal Greens senator Larissa Waters called it the “worst piece of consent education I’ve ever seen”, while Labor’s Tanya Plibersek said it was a “waste”.
The education material, commissioned by the Morrison government as part of the Respect Matters program, includes a collection of quirky Wes Anderson-style videos that have been slammed on social media.
In one video about consent, a man with a spear gun tries to convince a woman scared of sharks that she should swim at a beach.
In another, a woman smears milkshake on a man’s face in a lesson about respectful relationships.
“What a waste of an opportunity. How is it this government continues to get it wrong every time?” an incredulous Ms Plibersek, Labor’s shadow minister for education and women, said.
Rape prevention advocates have slammed the government’s new school resources platform, titled ‘The Good Society’, as basic, confusing and even inaccurate.
This is the government's new video to educate teenagers on consent… and honestly, I think I actually know less about the issue after watching this. What's going on?
Originally reported by @samanthamaiden
— Matilda Boseley (@MatildaBoseley) April 19, 2021
"Dad where do babies come from?"
"Well son, when two people love each other very much they both drink milkshakes…"
— Mitch Feltscheer (@mitchfel) April 19, 2021
It comes after weeks of sustained pressure on the Morrison government over its handling of a rape allegation made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, as well as wider conversations about sexual assault, harassment and misogyny in politics and wider society.
“This really should not be complicated. We don’t need quirky scenarios and tortured metaphors, we just need to let the actual experts produce the content,” Senator Waters said of the videos.
Karen Willis, an experienced prevention educator, said the content failed to meet national standards for preventing sexual assault through education.
“More than a decade of research suggests that this content will not work at changing behaviour and preventing violence,” she said.
“Young people are more sophisticated than this content gives them credit for. And sex and consent is far more complicated than videos about milkshakes and sharks at the beach.”
Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia want an expert to urgently revise the government’s consent material and replace the site’s modules.
Sharna Bremner, the founder of End Rape on Campus Australia, said it was obvious that a violence prevention expert did not help produce the government’s material.
She said the content also failed to consider there might be a rape survivor in the classroom, and included inaccurate information around what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted.
I spent three days digging through the government's website. I watched every video. I read all of the accompanying materials.
I cannot work out what the milkshakes, tacos or sharks are supposed to represent. And I run an org called "End Rape on Campus Australia". https://t.co/sshajJPAkk
— Sharna Bremner (@sharnatweets) April 19, 2021
A consent campaign is a good idea. But this is 💯 not how you do it. https://t.co/VWeh7fJdWY
— Dee Madigan (@deemadigan) April 19, 2021
For example, the site’s ‘consent law and rights’ and ‘further information’ section incorrectly tells students they can report ‘any sexual violation’ to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
It provides no information about telling school, a trusted adult, or the police.
The advocates criticised a page that directs young people to contact the police if they’re being stalked, but doesn’t provide that direction for crimes such as sexual assault.
Campaigners have raised concerns about ‘The Good Society’ content such as:
- A resource on abuse of power links to a support resource that isn’t available
- A section on sexual consent includes concerning messages like ‘sexual desire … can really distort our thinking’
- A bizarre ‘Yes No I Don’t Know’ video about going into water with sharks
- Instead of directly addressing the behaviours a student is likely to be trying to navigate, the site provides confusing videos, including about milkshakes and tacos.
Senator Waters, the Greens’ spokesperson for women, claimed the federal government was “utterly out of touch on this issue”.
“We have a crisis of misogyny and sexual violence in this country and the research tells us that effective consent training at a young age can promote gender equality and prevent gender-based violence,” she said.
Ms Plibersek echoed similar sentiments, saying Australians were “crying out” for consent and sex education methods to be overhauled and updated. She called for the government to go back to the drawing board.
“Why don’t we listen to the people who have been doing it right, for so long, with so few resources, instead of throwing money at a campaign that experts say simply won’t work because the messages are too confusing?” Ms Plibersek said.
“Once again we’ve got a government with an advertising-led response, and they haven’t even got the advertising right.”
The New Daily contacted federal Education Minister Alan Tudge for comment. In a statement, the Department of Education defended the program.
“Content on The Good Society website was created by experts and reviewed by a Resource Review Group of subject matter experts,” a spokesperson told TND.
“Community members, teachers, and school leaders were also consulted to ensure the content was engaging for students and consistent with community standards. The Department of Education, Skills and Employment will continue to work with experts and stakeholders to update and refine content as required.”
The department also noted that “content on The Good Society isn’t compulsory” and that “teachers and schools will ultimately decide which resources are appropriate for use in their individual classrooms”.