After missing out on a Senate seat at the 2010 election by a whisker, the Australian Sex Party has infuriated some by preferencing One Nation ahead of the major parties and the Greens in a bid to send its first representative to Parliament. We spoke to leader Fiona Patten about preferences, LGBTI health, discrimination and the party’s relationship with the Greens.
There’s been a good deal of controversy over the Sex Party’s decision to preference One Nation ahead of the Greens and the major parties. Can you explain the thinking behind the move?
At the end of the day, the major parties are the only ones that can get a party like us – which is one of the larger minor parties – actually elected. We may get four to five per cent of the primary vote, and that is significant, but you need 14 per cent to win a Senate spot, so we need the preferences of other people to get that. We of course swap preferences with like-minded parties like WikiLeaks, the Secular Party, the Democrats, and the Drug Law Reform Party. Strategically, the best way for a minor party to get ahead is to put all of the minor parties before the majors. Philosophically, you can’t do that. You can’t make deals with those small conservative parties, but you’ve got to put them somewhere.
I know that a lot of the criticism has been that we have put One Nation in the middle of our ticket rather than the bottom, but it’s strategic – for a small party you’ve got to keep yourself in the run until the major parties dump their preferences. One Nation can never get elected because none of the major parties have preferenced them. Our vote will never go to One Nation and we know that. In some ways, it doesn’t matter where we put them. Family First, however, can get elected and that’s why we put them last behind the majors.
That’s how it works. It’s strategic, it’s complicated and it needs to be overhauled – you should be able to vote above the line in the Senate rather than having to go through the one-metre ballot and put numbers of 1 to 110. You should be able to put one for the Sex Party, two for the Greens, or two for the Liberals, above the line and do your preferencing up there.
What’s your involvement with the LGBTI community been like?
I’ve been involved in the community for most of my life. It was probably the LGBTI community that got me involved in politics – that was in the late 1980s and early 90s at the outset of HIV/AIDS and the political action that emerged at that time. My first political position was on the board of the ACT AIDS Council in 1990.
My sister is also gay so obviously I am very supportive of my sister, her partner and their child. In the 90s I had a lot of friends die from HIV/AIDS, which was when I first really realised the extent of discrimination and saw it first-hand. It wasn’t just about HIV, it was about people being gay – I had never felt that discrimination and lived a little in my own bubble, I didn’t really feel that discrimination until I got involved with the AIDS Council and saw how that manifested itself.
Why should LGBTI people vote for the Sex Party?
We are one of the few parties that embraces the LGBTI community. Most of our candidates are from the community and we’re very proud of that. That has kind of happened itself, it’s not like we’ve said, “We’d like some lesbians, gays, transgender people and queers to run for a party”. I think we take it further than most parties on ensuring discrimination, in particular, and other inequalities are squashed. I think we’re the only party that doesn’t ask what gender people are on our membership forms. We don’t care what gender people are.
Where does the Sex Party stand on LGBTI health issues?
I think one of our most fundamental policies is around sex and relationship education. That is one of the most important things we should be educating our children about from a young age, but we don’t. We pay lip service to it, but if we had comprehensive sex and relationship education in school we would be able to address things like homophobia, discrimination and sexual violence properly. It’s as important as teaching children about nutrition or health and hygiene or all of the other things we think are important. Sex is a fundamental part of our lives, relationships are a fundamental part of our being, and yet we don’t discuss them and we don’t help young people come to terms with them. That affects things like youth suicide and mental health. I really think that policy is fundamental in addressing those symptoms.
You’ve criticised the recently-passed Sex Discrimination Amendment Act for not going far enough in removing exemptions for religious organisations.
It’s outrageous that any religious institution can still discriminate on the grounds of sexuality. Church groups, or Anglican employment networks, or St Vincent’s Hospital can still discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sexuality and yet they still receive public funding. Private and Christian schools can still discriminate against teachers and students on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity, yet they receive public funding.
I truly think we need to change that. Religious institutions are some of the biggest employers in the country and yet they are exempt from the Act. I’m furious about that. If religious institutions and others want an exemption, they should apply for one. They can apply for it and put down their reasons for why they should be exempted.
The Sex Party and the Greens seem to occupy similar territory, yet they often clash. Do you have an opinion as to why?
In regards to sex-negative issues, I think the Greens have got some fundamental problems with sex work. Not all of them – there are certainly some fantastic members of the Greens – but maybe there is a political correctness in there, and there certainly is a radical feminist element that sees a problem with sex work and the adult industry. That’s partly a product of their success – the party is a much broader church than they were – but it is problematic, and I find it troubling. I wouldn’t want to paint all of the Greens like that at all, but it is another reason why you should want a variety of voices in parliament – in the Senate in particular – so those issues can be counted and people like us can speak from a different perspective.