(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

Problematic learning resources for school-aged children comparing sex to tacos and milkshakes — paid for by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment — took the bulk of funding to support respectful relationship education.

The Good Society website, which launched last week, has more than 350 videos on sexual education for foundation-level to Year 12 students. The videos have been panned for using confusing and bizarre metaphors to explain sex, validating the experience of perpetrators and ignoring the drivers of gendered violence.

In one, a young woman smears a milkshake over her boyfriend’s face — an analogy for a lack of consent — while the male narrator questions whether the boyfriend should try to repair the relationship. In another, a young woman explains how watching porn led her to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse — before learning that “real love is something worth fighting for”. Another compares rape to eating tacos. Two videos, including the milkshake video, have since been removed following backlash.

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The videos were approved by openly religious former and current education ministers, Alan Tudge and Dan Tehan. The Morrison government has been criticised in the past for allowing religion instead of experts to guide responses to domestic violence by providing funding for faith-based couples counselling.

How much did it cost?

In June 2017, digital agency Liquid Interactive was awarded a $2.1 million contract — later increased to $3.7 million — by the department to develop “online learning resources to educate against domestic violence” between June 2017 and 2019. The department refused to provide confirmation this contract correlates to The Good Society website development, though a screenshot of it is visible on Liquid Interactive’s website.

Respect Matters was launched in 2015 with an initial $5 million under the women’s safety package. An additional $2.8 million between 2019 and 2020 and 2021-22 was announced (though budget papers revealed this figure had been halved to $1.3 million after a massive underspend). The content was scheduled to be released between 2020 and 2021.

So of the $6.3 million to fund Respect Matters between 2015 and 2021, more than half has gone to the agency to develop the problematic learning resources.

Who designed it?

Liquid Interactive’s website states the company specialises in “complex learning experiences created from the ground up”. The company “go[es] deep” to “understand what the problem actually is” by “reading documentation, embedding with clients, spending time with the audience” and “depth of analysis”.

The department previously said the program had been developed in conjunction with sexual violence advocacy group Our Watch and the Foundation for Young Australians, but both deny any involvement other than providing initial advice (which evidently was ignored).

Our Watch confirmed it was consulted during Liquid Interactive’s 2017-19 contract but wasn’t asked to use or endorse the materials and is open to working with the department to align the resources to the current evidence base.

Liquid Interactive didn’t respond to Crikey’s questions about who was consulted when developing the content.

The department told Crikey the website was created by experts and reviewed by a resource review group of subject matter experts, although it refused to provide details.

“Community members, teachers and school leaders were consulted to ensure the content was engaging for students and consistent with community standards,” it said, adding the department would continue to work with experts and stakeholders to update and refine the content. The material isn’t compulsory for schools.

Visible Coalition ideology

Religious values and repairing relationships have previously played a role in domestic violence initiatives developed by the Morrison government. Against the advice of experts, $10 million was set aside for couples counselling for victims of domestic violence. Of the counselling groups invited to participate, a large proportion were faith-based and there was no requirement any had training in domestic violence.

Worryingly, some of the videos also support men’s rights activist arguments. In the milkshake consent video, the perpetrator is female and tells the victim she doesn’t “want to be this way” before being offered support (while the victim is not). Men’s rights activists advocate victims should take responsibility for preventing sexual violence and argue sexual violence isn’t gendered (97% of sexual violence is perpetrated by men).

Tehan and Tudge both supported the government’s scrapped religious discrimination bill. Tehan has described himself as an “imperfect Catholic”, arguing his traditional views were being oppressed.

Tudge has previously said he attends church and believes in God, and religious protections are very important to him. He voted against the same-sex marriage bill and voted that civil celebrants should have the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples, saying marriage has “traditionally has been primarily about creating a bond for the creation, love and care of children”. He was slammed for hypocrisy after it was revealed he had an extramarital affair with his press secretary.

Would you want your child to see these videos? Write to letters@crikey.com.au and let us know. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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