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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Tory Shepherd

White Ribbon Australia backs away from Sydney jetski parade branded ‘beyond offensive’

White Ribbon on the lapel of a dark suit
White Ribbon chief executive says the jetski parade is just one of hundreds of events being held across the country to raise funds for the prevention of men’s violence against women. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

White Ribbon Australia has distanced itself from a controversial plan for 50 jetskis to ride on Sydney Harbour.

The fundraising idea for a flotilla of jetskis to form a ribbon shape on Friday’s White Ribbon Day has been labeled “tokenistic” and a “tone-deaf stunt” by some anti-violence groups, while others welcomed it as a valuable awareness-raising activity.

The New South Wales Labor opposition declared it “tone deaf”, while the director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Prof Kate Fitz-Gibbon, said Australia didn’t need “jetskis nor tokenistic displays of commitment”. March4Justice organiser Janine Hendry said it was “beyond offensive”.

While many directed their criticism at White Ribbon, the event was inspired by a similar event in Brisbane and is being coordinated by NSW Maritime, which has organised for a special, one-off exemption to the harbour’s ban on personal watercraft.

Allan Ball, White Ribbon’s national director, confirmed the event was not organised by the official White Ribbon group.

“This is one of hundreds of events being held across the country to raise awareness and funds for our work in primary prevention, to end men’s violence before it begins – advocacy, education, training, workplace accreditation, school programs and supporting the development of community action plans to address men’s violence on a local level,” he said.

“It is not being organised by White Ribbon Australia.”

Ball had previously said on Monday the event would raise awareness about White Ribbon’s mission. “On one of Australia’s most iconic waterways, the jetski display puts the work of violence prevention front and centre, igniting conversations that, in our hope, will inspire people to take action to effect change at the local level,” he said.

Fitz-Gibbon argued “urgent, evidence based action, and fully funded whole of system responses” were needed to tackle gendered violence, not “jetskis or tokenistic displays of commitment”.

“Victim-survivors need access to safe housing, trauma informed service responses, fully funded specialist services, and integrated workplace supports,” she said.

“If workplaces truly want to be part of the solution they should be accelerating their commitment to offer paid domestic violence leave, and they should be ensuring they have a supportive workplace culture that is trauma informed.

“Time would be better spent advancing workplace gender equality than riding jetskis.”

People from NSW Maritime, Surf Life Saving NSW, Marine Rescue NSW and the Port Authority of NSW will trace the shape of a ribbon with the wash from their jetskis.

Joanne Sheehan-Paterson, chair of the National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence, said she supported people who would “take on the issue, stand up, and say violence against women and children is not OK”.

“I think if you’re trying to raise awareness in terms of White Ribbon and taking responsibility, why would that be seen as a negative thing? It raises awareness,” she said.

On Monday, the NSW government put out a press release in support of the jetskis.

The women’s safety minister, Natalie Ward, said the display would “spark important conversations which will help end the silence and stigma surrounding violence and harassment”.

The transport minister, David Elliott, said the flotilla would “look like a white ribbon moving across the harbour”.

In that release Ball welcomed the event bringing so many people together in such a highly visible way.

The NSW Labor opposition called it a “tone-deaf stunt” and a “very convoluted way” of starting the conversation about gendered violence.

The opposition spokesperson for the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, Jodie Harrison, suggested the “government should redirect the money they are spending on water sports to an initiative which will create meaningful change for those affected by domestic violence in NSW”.

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