Will the government’s new consent policy framework change how we understand and talk about consent in Australia? Ruby Assembly’s Senior Digital Strategist, Alex Russell, explores the new framework and its potential impact.

I recently read Chanel Contos’ book Consent Laid Bare, both a deep dive and a blueprint into where society has failed in guiding young people about their bodies and relationships.

The book itself can be challenging and requires care when reading. But it is an essential resource exposing the harsh realities of misogyny, rape culture, and sexual violence and why changing the way we talk about consent in Australia, especially with younger generations, is so vital.

Essentially, no more milkshakes.

Contradictory messaging about consent

In an increasingly digitised world where information is available right at our fingertips, many important ideas and social issues have become lost due to stigma, power imbalances, and a lack of quality communication. Consent education is one of them.

Chair of the National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence (NASASV) Nicole Lambert recently noted how critical communication can be to ensuring that young people are empowered to make good decisions and recognise unsafe behaviours, telling Women’s Agenda:

“Young people can sometimes end up with contradictory messages about consent, which leads to further myths and misunderstandings about sexual violence”.

Sadly, creating effective messaging around social issues or concepts that empower people to seek support has rarely been prioritised or executed correctly.

Instead, we have had damaging opinions from leaders, a lack of proper investigation into the factors driving toxic dynamics, and a failure to focus on effective communication strategies around consent. (May I remind you about the milkshakes?)

The good news is that there is a change in the air, with essential work being done to change how we understand and talk about consent in Australia.

Consent Policy Framework

In January 2024, the Government launched the Commonwealth Consent Policy Framework: Promoting Healthy Sexual Relationships and Consent Among Young People, with a priority to end domestic, family and sexual violence against women and children.

This framework strongly emphasises the importance of educating young people about giving and receiving consent and having respectful sexual and romantic relationships. It defines consent under five key concepts:

  1. Consent is free and voluntary
  2. Consent is specific and informed
  3. Consent is affirmative and communicated
  4. Consent is ongoing and mutual
  5. Consent is reflective of the capacity of the individuals involved

The policy is an example of why providing thoughtful communication to one’s audience matters. It is accessible, easy to understand, and presented from a trusted source that teachers, business owners, employees and younger Australians can rely on and refer back to if ever challenged by it.

Consent messaging must be “clear and cohesive” to resonate with younger Australians

For Contos – who, along with other advocates, advised the Government’s framework – messaging that is “clear and cohesive” is the key to helping young people understand the nuances of consent.

Amidst the statistics in Consent Laid Bare lies a clear hope that we as a society can change the way we approach consent and sexual violence.

Contos tells us we can start creating a safer world with consistent, practical education, empathy teaching, and quality communication that actually resonates with young Australians.

Teach Us Consent

Thanks to her advocacy and work on the ‘Teach Us Consent‘ campaign, Contos and her team have ensured that consent education is now mandatory in all Australian schools from Kindergarten until year 10.

A new generation will have an age-appropriate understanding during their schooling of what consent is and why it is so vital for building respectful, safe relationships, reducing stigma around sex and sexuality and improving overall well-being.

As the Government takes this new streamlined approach to understanding what our society truly needs to address violence against young people, women and children, we should start to see the impact of what will hopefully be a well-communicated framework. One that we won’t find ourselves scrolling past on our phones and quickly forgetting about.

With time, consistency and commitment to quality communication, we can prevent and one day bring an end to rape culture in Australia.

For immediate support, contact 1800RESPECT, the national domestic, family, and sexual violence counselling service, at 1800 737 732 or text 0458 737 732. In case of immediate danger, call 000.