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Albanese Government’s consent and relationships education program still not fully rolled out across Australia

GEORGINA NOACK, REMY VARGA
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The Government’s policy on consent and respectful relationships education has yet to be fully rolled out with educators instead teaching programs that have little to no impact.
The Government’s policy on consent and respectful relationships education has yet to be fully rolled out with educators instead teaching programs that have little to no impact. Credit: The Nightly

The Albanese Government’s flagship policy on consent and respectful relationships education has yet to be fully rolled out with educators instead teaching kids programs that contain contradictory messaging that have little to no impact on student attitudes.

Experts warned that education on healthy relationships was crucial to preventing intimate partner abuse amid mounting public anger after at least 28 women were allegedly killed by men this year.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declared domestic violence a national crisis and announced $925 million in additional funding over five years, including a $5000 payment for women fleeing abusive relationships.

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While still the leader of the opposition, Mr Albanese announced the Consent and Respectful Relationships Education ahead of the 2022 election as a key plank of Labor’s national plan to end violence against women and children.

Nearly two years later Victoria is the only state to have fully mandated the policy, an Albanese government election promise for which $80 million in taxpayer funding has been allocated.

Our Watch chief executive officer Patty Kinnersley said consistent implementation was key to a program’s success but said all states, bar Victoria, were at “different places”.

“The emerging evidence is that Respectful Relationships Education is working, we know students have more understanding of healthy relationships, but we need to move to consistent funding and consistent implementation,” Ms Kinnersley said.

“We know that for this to be effective, you can’t just pick one part of the issue — the one that is easiest or that the kids like to talk about — and expect it to work.”

Ms Kinnersley said the responsibility of implementation ultimately fell on the states and territories.

NSW has been allocated $25.4 million to implement the CRRE while Victoria has been granted $18.3 million.

Meanwhile, Western Australia portioned almost $9 million of the federal funds, South Australia almost $6 million, Tasmania $2 million, and the ACT and Northern Territory $1 million and $1.5 million, respectively.

Monash University Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre deputy director Naomi Pfitzner — who is leading the development of the national CRRE framework — said the quality and depth of education programs varied.

“Some are really well-evidenced and promising programs, but some have no impact on student attitude,” Dr Pfitzner said.

Dr Pfitzner said some teachers were even teaching “contradictory messaging” because they had not been adequately trained to teach the at-times-confronting issues to students.

“While we see a focus on a national curriculum we also need to see a commitment to strengthen professional learning to ensure teachers can deliver these classes confidently,” she said.

“If they don’t receive enough training, they can inadvertently reinforce rape myths or gender stereotypes and undo what they are trying to achieve.”

Let her Speak
Grace Tame and Nina Funnell. Credit: News Corp Australia

Sexual assault survivor and advocate Nina Funnell, who founded the #LetHerSpeak campaign headlined by former Australian of The Year Grace Tame, said it was alarming that other states and territories had yet to fully implement the CRRE.

“Evidence shows education is critically important in preventing sexual assault and intimate partner abuse, and we know they (students and teachers) want the education,” she said.

“But if we’re just looking to avoid harm we’re looking to set a very low bar. We need to do more than teach kids how not to rape each other and not to kill each other.”

Ms Funnell said a comprehensive education program would equip young people with the skills and knowledge to have positive relationships.

On Wednesday Mr Albanese said a range of work into helping women and children fleeing domestic violence was underway but added that the crisis wouldn’t be resolved overnight.

“This is something that requires concerted action day after day, week after week, month after month, by governments at all levels and that is something that my government is determined to do,” he told ABC.

An Education Department spokeswoman said the commonwealth was providing $77.6 million to the states and territories for services that could include the delivery of evidence-based programs to commence during 2024.

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