Playboy bunnies and male strippers might be how you’d imagine the Australian Sex Party (ASP) would mark its third birthday last month.
Instead, the minor party’s anniversary as a registered political party quietly rolled on by.
ASP convenor and candidate Fiona Patten had been preoccupied with more serious matters of late.
The party head had finished her tilt at the Melbourne state by-election on July 21, stepping into the race after their original candidate pulled out.
She launched five candidates in the Northern Territory elections last month and has recently been campaigning with her five candidates for the City of Sydney elections this weekend.
“To be able to get candidates and run in elections around Australia is something we’re pretty pleased to have achieved,” Patten told the Star Observer.
“Certainly two years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
In 2009, the ASP had stood in two federal by-elections before it made its real debut in the 2010 federal election.
Patten ran for the Senate in Victoria but missed out on the last seat to the Democratic Labor Party on preferences.
Since then, the ASP has consistently stood candidates in all levels of government and has carved out a competitive niche for itself among the other smaller parties.
Patten herself has dubbed the ASP as Australia’s “major minor political party”.
ASP describes itself as a civil liberties party above everything else; sex work decriminalisation, anti-internet censorship, drug decriminalisation, anti-discrimination and free speech are just some policies.
But it recently copped some serious criticism during the lead up to the Melbourne By-election for being too liberal with its sex worker policy.
Commentators Meagan Tyler (The Conversation) and Guy Rundle (Crikey), criticised the party’s stance on decriminalising prostitution, saying the ASP policy was at loggerheads with an increasingly popular strategy to stymie prostitution.
It’s been called the Nordic Model since it began in Sweden, and it decriminalises the selling of sex but criminalises the purchase of it.
Nordic Model proponents have said it has been effective because it removed the anonymity for men who were outed when caught, which has made it less appealing.
“Scratch the surface,” wrote Tyler, “and it is clear that the Sex Party is really just window dressing for a sex industry lobby group.”
Rundle wrote that ASP enforced “a simple and false opposition – that legal is safe”.
Patten dismissed the criticism and said sex workers should be treated the same as any other worker.
“We support decriminalisation because we believe sex workers work and sex workers should be treated just the same as any other worker,” she said.
“What we’re saying is there shouldn’t be special discriminatory laws.”
The party also has a raft of pro-LGBTI policies including adoption, marriage, gender recognition and age of consent laws.
Sex Party placards are often floating around marriage equality rallies, spruiking “LGBTIQ Rights” and “No Religion in Politics”.
In terms of policy substance, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anna Brown said the Sex Party’s LGBTI policies were credible.
“They’ve covered nearly every area or issue for our community, particularly in Victoria,” she said.
“They do talk about the value of consulting with our community and they’ve picked up almost every outstanding issue on the books.”
Brown said the only serious draw back would be its lack of an ageing policy, but added the topic was still a new one in Australia.
Patten said it was the party’s membership which drove the LGBTI rights push.
“Not only our members but a lot of our candidates have come from the [LGBTI] community,” Patten said.
“One of the main foundations for the party was about equality.
“It wasn’t just about gay marriage, it’s just about saying no one should be discriminated against on the grounds of their sexuality or what they do for a living or their disability.”
Following Sydney’s local government elections, Patten said the party would be setting its sights on next year’s federal election.
If the Sex Party is to win a federal senate seat anywhere, it will be Victoria.
Victoria is Patten’s home turf and where she came the closest to winning a seat in the last election.
But Monash University politics lecturer and observer Nick Economou said he could not see the Sex Party getting over the line.
“I know there’s some anticipation that the Sex Party might pinch a Senate seat in Victoria,” he said.
“I think it is highly unlikely the Sex Party would win.
“Still, stranger things have happened.”