opinion

The milkshake consent video is what happens when you have a government that can’t talk about sex.

Since the publication of this article, the federal government has removed the two consent videos associated with its $3.7m “Respect Matters” campaign after widespread criticism. 

This week the federal government pulled off an impressive feat. 

They released an entire video about sexual consent aimed to educate teenagers, without using the word sex at all. 

There was no mention of the word consent either. Or assault. Or rape. 

In fact, the seven-minute 'Moving the Line' educational video made the topic of sexual consent so confusing and condescending I, as a 30-year-old woman, feel more confused than informed having watched it. 

Watch a snippet here. Post continues after video.


Video via The Good Society.

There were milkshakes, 'action zones' and a very confused analogy. Delve into the rest of the $3.7 million campaign and it doesn't get much better. There's just more cutesy and bizarre metaphors involving tacos and 'going for a swim,' all set in a 1960s style dystopia.

Not only that, the material includes problematic examples like the perpetrator being offered support over the victim. And lines like, "sometimes our sexual desires are so strong, they completely distort our view of the other person."

The 'educational' program has been widely condemned. Image: The Good Society.

But this is a government who has been making headlines for months for alleged sexual harassment and assault. We've heard stories about rape, a man ejaculating onto a female colleague's desk, sex-act meet-ups in the Parliament House prayer room and a systemic cultural problem with women. And while there's been some inquiries launched to look into and hopefully reform the above, we've also watched ministers and employees and our own prime minister deny, push aside, cover up and ignore.

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Brittany Higgins was labelled a "lying cow."

The prime minister admitted he had to imagine she was his daughter, before understanding her allegations. 

Not a single member of the senior Morrison government met with the March for Justice demonstrators. 

Christian Porter was taken on his word. Brittany wasn't. 

The list, goes on and on and on. 

Brittany Higgins at the March 4 Justice. Image: Getty.

The government has been telling us since the start of this PR nightmare for Australian politics that there's 'nothing to see here.' That their own failings with consent and sex are not part of a bigger, more sinister, problem. 

Read: Australian politics has a message for women: There's nothing to see here.

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A video about milkshakes and tacos and sharks is what we should expect from a government incapable of talking about sex. But that doesn't make it any easier to stomach. 

The resources were launched by Education Minister Alan Tudge as part of the government’s response to a call for greater education around sexual consent. But as the #MilkshakeMorrison hashtag can attest to, the reception has been dismal. 

"These resources fall well short of the national standards, and what experts know is needed to actually change behaviours and prevent abuse. Sex and consent is far more complicated than videos about milkshakes and sharks at the beach," said Karen Willis OAM, Sexual assault prevention educator.

"This is a moment in Australian history where people are crying out for better consent education for our young people and across our community," said Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek.

"Once again we have a government with an advertising-led response and they haven't even got the advertising right."

"Consent is not a milkshake. When you make light of an issue as serious as consent, you make light of sexual assault," said NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay on Twitter.

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"I'm no expert in this field, but I think these sort of clumsy metaphors probably do make more confusion for young children than help," Nationals Senator Matt Canavan told ABC TV.

This is a campaign aimed at 15-18-year-olds.

The very same age that recently sparked an online petition begging for sexual consent to be taught earlier in schools. A call out that led to thousands upon thousands of teenage girls, and some boys, reliving harrowing stories of rape, assault and harassment at the hands of their peers.

We didn’t march for a milkshake video. 

We Marched for Justice. For proper education. For action against violence against women. 

On March 15, 2021, hundreds of thousands of Australians marched against sexual assault. Image: Getty.

And instead the Morrison government served us a clumsy metaphor. One in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15, and still our government didn't explore the role gender plays at all. 

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Teenagers are telling stories about toxic masculinity, rape culture and coercive control, and our government decided to draw a deeply insulting equivalence between rape and eating tacos?

Read: The disturbing stories of sexual assault coming out of our country's wealthiest schools.

The Department of Education says the program was developed in "conjunction with Our Watch, the eSafety Commissioner and the Foundation for Young Australians," even though both have since confirmed they weren't asked to review, use or endorse the materials before they went live.

This was all instead of employing mental health and sexuality professionals to educate kids about sexuality and consent. Instead of properly consulting organisations like Our Watch. Instead of using young brave women like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, who have already shared their voices and their stories with us so we can learn. Instead of any of that, our government gave us this...

These videos are not only insulting to the intelligence of teenagers, but trivialise the gravity of this problem. An apparent attempt at an extension of the 'tea consent' video that used a metaphor in a way that was smart, easy to understand and still managed to include the word 'sex' in its opening line. 


But until the Federal Government can sort out their own problems with sex, how can we expect them to educate others?

Their milkshake attempt in particular, makes it blatantly obvious that the government is more concerned about upsetting those who might find these topics uncomfortable to talk about, than they are about potential victims. Or alleged perpetrators. 

As Australian of the Year Grace Tame told the The Drum, "it's indicative of poor leadership and a poor understanding of how serious this issue is."

We didn't march for sloppy analogies about milkshakes. We marched for real change, and a real conversation about sex, rape and consent. 

Feature image: The Good Society.