It's the party with the most provocative name in politics, but the leader of the Australian Sex Party says it is underpinned by a few key policies -- none of which include sex.
The party, founded in 2009 on a foundation of civil libertarianism, was born out of the Eros Foundation, a group representing brothels, adult stores and other parts of the sex trade. Fiona Patten founded Eros in 1992, and later founded the Sex Party. In a 2014 interview with the Australian Financial Review, Patten talks about her past as a HIV and safe sex education liaison for brothels, and a later brief stint as a sex worker herself. Despite her personal work history, Patten told The Huffington Post Australia that the name of her political party -- of which she is the founder, leader and its only current sitting parliamentarian, having won a seat in the Victorian Legislative Council -- was not necessarily inspired by her past.
"When in 2009 [former Minister for Broadband and Communications] Stephen Conroy was talking about an internet filter, we thought that was the last straw. One of the hardest things as a minor party is to get oxygen against the majors, so we thought about the name. We could have called ourselves Secular Party, the Civil Liberties party, but we knew that wouldn't cut through," Patten said.
"Our issues were same-sex marriage, gender equality, sex discrimination, sex education -- it made a lot of sense to call ourselves the Sex Party. We know it was going to be controversial, and it can be a double-edged sword, but many people have heard of us because of the name."
Of course, they take advantage of their name, often posting provocative or cheeky updates to their fans.
Patten said the party operates under the banner of civil libertarianism -- "the simplest way of describing it is, 'show me the money.' You want to buy every student a laptop? Show us how you can afford to do it" -- what she calls socially progressive but economically prudent.
We asked her about where on the left-right progressive-conservative political spectrum the Sex Party sat, but she rejected the idea of the spectrum altogether.
"I think left and right are becoming less and less relevant. It's not really a spectrum, it's more of a compass, more 3D than that. We would be considered economically prudent, we don't believe in big government and big taxes... but we’re possibly more socially progressive than even the Greens on some issues," she said.
Three key policies of the Sex Party are dying with dignity, decriminalisation and regulation of illicit drugs, and a strong separation of church and state.
"Not only palliative care, but voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted dying. It is time for Australia to legalise physician-assisted dying, in limited circumstances. We also need a real about-face in our drug policy, to treat drugs as a health issue. We'd see the decriminalisation of usage and possession of drugs, and we'd also consider legalising, regulating and taxing cannabis for recreational purposes," Patten said.
"The billions of dollars from selling cannabis in Australia goes into the black market. We could put it into health, education, infrastructure, and would be a significant revenue raiser. The only people who lose out of this are organised crime."
Patten said the membership for the Sex Party numbered around 6000 Australia-wide, with strongholds in Victoria -- where she holds her seat -- and the ACT. While that number obviously pales in comparison to the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties, she believes the Sex Party could play an important role in federal politics in coming years, as the party plans an assault on the upcoming federal election. Patten said her mentor and the founder of the Australian Democrats, Don Chipp, had inspired the party.
"Our membership puts us fairly high up in the small party structure, but we are a party run by volunteers... To be frank, we’re not trying to change the curtains in The Lodge anytime soon, but we believe we can make a difference in the parliament with diversity, an independent voice," she said.
"Not to steal Don's slogan, but you have to keep the bastards honest."
Before the controversial senate voting changes were outlined, the Sex Party had plans to field senate candidates in every state at the next election, as well as candidates in selected lower-house seats across the country. Mooted changes introduced by the Coalition government, with the support of the Greens, will make it harder for small parties to be elected to the upper house by introducing optional above the line preferential voting, and abolishing group tickets; the changes sparked a major backlash from minor parties. Patten said their election planning had been affected by the senate changes, and said they would reassess their candidate planning once the changes were finalised.
"This whole decision to knock out minor parties from being elected in the senate is so disingenuous and self-interested, amongst the Greens and the Coalition. We would certainly look at not supporting the Greens in lower-house, inner city seats where we have a strong vote," she said.
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