A screenshot from The Good Society video

There is still a lot to be learned about those bizarre consent videos and associated content released last week. The Good Society website, which hosts more than 350 resources to teach school-aged kids about sex, consent and relationships, cost an eye-watering $3.79 million, funded by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE). It took up more than half the funding allocated to Respect Matters launched in 2015.

Many have speculated on the site’s strange Americanisms, potential links to religion, and damaging contradictions — leading campaigners to demand the site is redesigned, this time with consultation with the sector. DESE has refused to say who was consulted, other than saying it was created by experts and reviewed by a resource review group of subject matter experts. Organisations that provided initial advice, including Our Watch, have distanced themselves from the final product. The company contracted to make the site, Liquid International, hasn’t responded to Crikey’s request for comment.

Americanisms

Much of the content on the site is from the US: there are videos by Vox, Beyonce and The School of Life.

Even videos produced by The Good Society are oddly American, as many on Twitter have pointed out: the now-removed video makes references to “the end zone”, an American football term. One example of consent is “can I touch your butt?” instead of the more Australian “bum”. One of the videos has a briefcase full of US dollars instead of colourful Australian notes. The menu lists a peanut butter milkshake (instead of the more kosher Blue Haven). Worksheets use the word “math” instead of “maths”.

Crikey has ascertained at least one of the scriptwriters for the series was Canadian, though the scripts appear to have been originally produced.

Another video that appears on the site features blatant victim-blaming rhetoric, whereby a young woman blames watching porn for being raped at age 13. The video was produced by the US-based public charity Fight the New Drug, an organisation whose founding members are all Mormons and whose facts are based on Mormon principles. The accompanying study guide can be bought in Catholic or Evangelical versions.

Religious US-based think tank Acton Institue also has a series of free, short, sharable films also called The Good Society which explores the “economic, moral, political, social, and theological foundations of a flourishing society” hosted by Reverend Robert Sirico. The organisation wouldn’t respond to Crikey’s questions about possible ties to the Australian site.

The institute’s research fellows have discussed purity and the dangers of “hookup culture“, written on the “man-made disaster otherwise known as the Sexual Revolution“, and have argued transgender rights will undermine women’s participation in society and that students being tested for HIV presented a “moral crisis“.

The organisation’s director Samuel Gregg is Australian, finishing his Master’s degree in Political Philosophy at Melbourne University before working as a research scholar at libertarian think tank The Centre for Independent Studies*. Gregg speaks and writes on topics such as the economic ideas expressed in Pope Francis’s writing, why Australia’s conservatives won, threats to religious liberty, and how being rich promotes virtue.

Minister for Education Alan Tudge, who would have approved the DESE’s The Good Society website after being appointed the portfolio in late 2020, is also a regular guest speaker at The Centre for Independent Studies.

The actors

The actors who appeared in videos produced by The Good Society were recruited by an unnamed production company from different casting agencies. They were asked to appear in an e-learning video series about relationships for school-aged children, which were filmed in Melbourne in 2018. Each has signed a non-disclosure agreement and were unable to speak to Crikey on the record.

Content contradictions

Some of the content on the site isn’t bad, discussing feelings and checking in with emotions. Other parts are horrendous — and have quietly been removed amid backlash.

Notably, two videos — including the milkshake video wherein the female is the abuser and is given help instead of the victim, and another comparing STDs to sharks which showed a boy pointing a speargun at a young girl — have been removed and the changes announced by the DESE.

Other changes have been made more slyly: one page on consent used to state: “It’s okay to persuade someone to change their mind” and “sometimes we go along with what other people want and that’s okay”, which has since been removed. Another page gave an example in which a girl tried to get her boyfriend drunk to get him to have sex, “thinking that might make a difference”.

Liquid Interactive

The company — a subsidiary of Liquid Animation — was founded by three brothers Michel, Geoff and Steve Viner along with Michael Burke. The creative director of Liquid Interactive is Andrew Duval, while the marketing director is Samantha Pearce.

There’s a US-based Liquid International that offers similar services, however, it’s not known if the companies are linked.

DESE secretary Michele Bruniges said the website was designed to be fluid, and that content would be added, removed and modified as the department engaged with experts to evaluate the material (though it seems a little late for that).

*The original article has been updated: the Centre for Independent Studies says Samuel Gregg is not a regular speaker at its events. The CIS says it is not connected with The Good Society.

Peter Fray

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