By Tanya Plibersek

08 March 2022




SUBJECTS: NSW and QLD floods; Labor’s plan to teach students about respect and relationships; Violence against women.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Federal Opposition is marking International Women's Day with a $77 million pledge to teach school students about respectful relationships and sexual consent. The program would also help students and their families who are experiencing violence get the help that they need. Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Minister for Education and Women and your guest this morning. Tanya Plibersek, lovely to speak to you. 
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Oh, good morning Patricia, and just before we get onto that can I say I was listening to the end of that interview with the Premier and we are, all of us, I think all Australians, are shocked by the extent of these flooding catastrophes in New South Wales and in Queensland. And our hearts absolutely go out to those people who have lost loved ones, lost their homes, lost their businesses. It's a shocking time.
KARVELAS: It really is a shocking time. The Premier said, this wasn't to be expected in Lismore, it's a freak event. I kind of challenged him on that because the what we're seeing is warnings that we're going to see more frequent events like this. What's your read?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think now's not the time to be making pronouncements about - you were asking him whether people would need to move permanently and so on, I don't think now's the time to be talking about that. We need to work through methodically what this means for the future, but we know for certain that the the federal government's got a $4.8 billion disaster relief fund that they haven't touched, that's accrued $800 million in interest. It would be good to see some of that put to use, building levees, digging channels, making sure that the next disaster and the next disaster we have done something to mitigate against.
KARVELAS: Returning to the announcement you've made today, teaching students about respect and consent. It's already part of the national curriculum, Tanya Plibersek. Why do we need to spend another $77 million to help students understand healthy relationships?
PLIBERSEK: Well the national curriculum has just been strengthened in this area to say that all students should learn about respectful relationships while they're at school, but the curriculum is at a very sort of high level, it's saying "we ought to do this". Today's funding is about how we will do it, making sure that we put money into teachers getting the training and support they need to deliver this curriculum in the classroom, making sure principals can invite outside experts in to help their teaching workforce or to deliver important courses themselves. This is making sure that we change the objective in the curriculum into real change in every classroom in Australia. And it's important, Patricia, because we know that our kids are too exposed to violence, to child sexual abuse when they're young, to interpersonal and inside relationship violence as they get older. If we can change that when they are young, we can change these shocking statistics across Australia where we see one in five Australian women experiencing sexual assault in her lifetime, one in three experiencing domestic violence, 40% of women having been sexually harassed in the workplace in the last five years alone. This cannot stand. And I think on International Women's Day, it's important to say that we need to start the change when people are young so they know what healthy and respectful relationships look like.
KARVELAS: Under your plan, would every school in the country have access to respect and relationship programs?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, every school would be able to either train up their own teachers to deliver this in schools, to bring in outside experts to work with their teaching staff, to bring in outside experts to actually deliver content themselves. We also want to make sure that what's being delivered in schools is evidence-based and best practice, will actually change behaviour over time.
KARVELAS: This work needs to be age-appropriate of course, when should children be taught about respect. And when does it graduate to talking about these issues around consent? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, you can start talking to young kids about what healthy friendships look like from a very early age - sharing, taking turns, not making your friend play a game they don't want to play. Making sure that young kids start to learn those skills of resolving conflict without using violence we can start very young. But as kids are forming relationships, romantic and sexual relationships in their teens, I think we need to be talking very explicitly about what healthy romantic and sexual relationships look like. I think it's shocking, Patricia, that the average first age of viewing pornography in Australia today is 10 years old. Like our kids are getting sex education and relationship education from violent and domineering online pornography that has very little restriction on some of the really brutal stuff. I think that's a problem. If that's where they're getting their model of what healthy human relationships look like it's no wonder that interpersonal, inter-relationship violence is one of the only areas of crime that's actually growing. Violence against women is actually one of the only areas of crime that's actually growing.
KARVELAS: And you are absolutely right. Some of the imagery is incredibly degrading to women. So what do we do about that, Tanya Plibersek? If they're getting that access at 10, can relationship education in schools really counter it, how can it even begin to? 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think there's a lot of evidence. We've seen some great programs piloted, the Victorian programs I'd say are the most extensive in their school system. We know what works to change attitudes and to change behavior, and by the way teachers are saying when kids do this education, they're actually better behaved in the classroom as well. Actually their learning can improve because there's not so much conflict and difficulty going on in the classroom. So, yes, we know that we can successfully change attitudes and behavior. We've got the evidence of what works, what we don't have at the moment is the funding to roll it out across Australia. That's what we will offer. I'd also say Patricia,  just on that issue of access to violent and degrading imagery online, if the internet providers can take Australian news off almost overnight, perhaps they could do something about some of the really extreme violent and degrading stuff that any kid can access on their mobile phone sitting in the playground.
KARVELAS: Wow. Everyone should just think about that for a moment. The Government is funding the Human Rights Commission to develop a survey of secondary school age children on issues relating to consent, what might it tell us Tanya Plibersek? And do you fear Chanel Contos may have only scratched the surface here. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think Chanel Contos' survey has absolutely only scratched the surface. Think about this for a second Patricia. It is more common for an Australian woman today to be a victim of sexual assault than to be a smoker. Think about that, in terms of what we know about the prevalence of sexual assault. And we know also that our legal and justice systems are letting us down, only about one in ten women in New South Wales will report that they've been sexually assaulted and we see conviction rates around two or three percent. There's something broken in a system that lets so many rapists get away with what they've done. So we need to, of course, work on changing attitudes because we want to reduce the incidence of these crimes in the first place, but an important part of sending a message that society takes this seriously, that you won't get away with it,  is updating our legal and justice system so that there is more consistency, so that it is easier to get a conviction when someone has done the wrong thing, 
KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek, quickly, this smoking analogy you've given us - there was a big campaign to reduce smoking rates, we've been very successful in our country radically reducing them. Can we do the same with sexual assault and sexual violence? Should we use the same approach, using your analogy?
PLIBERSEK Yeah, I think there are some common elements. I don't want to diminish the importance of sexual assault by comparing it to smoking. But what worked in changing smoking rates was changing the law about where you could smoke, what the tax regime was and so on, but also changing attitudes. And most young people today, if you say to an eight-year-old 'what do you think of smoking?' they think you're an idiot if you smoke, right? That attitude change is profound. When I was growing up, kids thought smoking was cool and adult and a bit risque. We can fundamentally change attitudes, what it takes is consistency. It takes really good, evidence-based work on attitudinal change and it takes sticking with it, not for a year or two, not for a six-month campaign, but for decades. And that doesn't mean you don't update your messages as you're going along, but we need consistency. 
KARVELAS: Thank you, Tanya. 
PLIBERSEK: Thanks Patricia.