IN time for SEXtember, Meld is talking sex and politics! Leon Saw discusses the Australian Sex Party, legal drugs for Australians and safe sex for international students – with the leader of the Australian Sex Party and Australian Senate candidate for Victoria, Fiona Patten.
Whatever your first impressions, there’s more to meets the eye with the Australian Sex Party. Formed in 2009, this small yet well organised political party is not one to shy away from the contentious issues of the day.
That’s because the Sex Party is basically a civil libertarian party, once you look past its unusual name.
“We’re a civil liberties party and our policies go broader than just sex,” says the leader of the Australian Sex Party and Australian Senate candidate for Victoria, Fiona Patten.
Governments seem to think that the best way to address something is to create more laws around it, and whether that’s business or individuals, and I think business and individuals are backing away from that. They’re saying actually that’s not the answer. – Fiona Patten, leader of the Australian Sex Party
Then why the mildly awkward and confronting name?
“It certainly is a way of getting attention and I don’t shy away from that,” she declares.
“When we first started, there was quite a range of issues related to sex and sexuality such as same sex marriage, sex education, censorship of adult sexual material, sex discrimination (and) child sex abuse in the church, that we felt strongly about.
“We didn’t feel that other parties were addressing (those issues) and so it made sense to call ourselves the Sex Party.”
Fiona views the inclusion of the controversial word ‘sex’ in her party’s name as an attempt to “disarm that word and try and make people see sex in a more common sense way, and not be quite so frightened of the word and therefore some of the issues around sex”.
Not surprisingly, the Australian Sex party has its roots in the Australian adult industry.
“We were actually born out of a small business background,” she says.
“It was out of an industry association rather than an activist organisation.”
While this association prompted one of the party’s critics to warn that “the Sex Party is really just window dressing for a sex industry lobby group”, Fiona dismisses that notion.
“We’re not a front for the adult industry,” she states.
“The adult industry is there and we’re not hiding that, and nor have we ever hidden it, unlike many other parties (that) probably hide who their benefactors are.”
“I don’t shy away from the fact that many of our supporters are small businesses in the adult industry, but I don’t see supporting a small independent adult shop is any different from supporting any other small business, be it a pet shop or a hairdresser,” she says.
“I think it’s important to support small business, and I think people have the right to access sexual material, so I have no problem with us being supportive.
“It would be surprising if the Australian Sex Party wasn’t supported by the sex industry frankly, but having said that, our policy platform is a lot broader than just advocating for the sex industry,” she says.
The Party clearly has no trouble attracting supporters outside the sex industry, too. At the 2010 Australian Federal election, the Australian Sex Party’s first, it polled reasonably well and came within a few thousand votes of a seat at the Australian Senate.
So who are those supporters?
“If we could work that out, our advertising and marketing would be so much easier to target,” Fiona laments.
“I actually think that unfortunately for us, from an advertising position our demographic is across the board – it is 18 to 80 (year olds).”
Most of the party’s membership “comes from probably inner city areas around the country”, but its vote is “generally slightly higher in regional areas and the outer suburbs”.
“It’s people that are pissed off with governments telling them what to do, it’s people who are really feeling disengaged from the major parties, so there’s a protest vote there,” she says.
“Governments seem to think that the best way to address something is to create more laws around it, and whether that’s business or individuals, and I think business and individuals are backing away from that. They’re saying actually that’s not the answer.”
But because the Sex Party have only contested in a single federal election, Fiona concedes that “it’s been very difficult with such a small amount of data to really extrapolate who the sex party voter is”.
Arguably the most contentious aspect of the Australian Sex Party is its policies relating to illegal drugs.
To international students from Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore where possession of just a few grams of illegal substances is punishable by death, the idea of regulating and taxing the distribution of marijuana and decriminalising personal, recreational drug use may sound controversial.
Fiona however, is adamant about these policies.
“This war on drugs and this notion that prohibition can stop people from taking drugs has been a resounding failure,” she asserts.
“The organised crime behind the manufacture and distribution of drugs has continued to escalate, and we need to look at a new solution.”
Regarding decriminalising personal drug consumption, the Sex Party’s fundamental position is to “treat drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue”.
“When someone’s addicted to heroin, I don’t think we should be sending them to jail for that, I think we should be helping them,” says Fiona.
“Increasing penalties on drugs and on drug offences does not stop people from taking drugs, it just sends more people to jail, and I think a large percentage of the community are starting to realise that this type of law and order approach doesn’t work.”
These drug policies were motivated by the relative success of similar policies in Portugal.
And while the Australian Sex Party doesn’t have any policies regarding international students, Fiona offers them some safe sex advice.
“Safe sex is not just condom use but also doing something that you’re comfortable to do,” she advises.
“Sex can be extremely good fun, and there’s no doubt about that, but… you do need to feel comfortable to say no, as well as…to say yes, so it’s about doing what you are happy to do, and that might be exploring in a whole range of areas and testing your limits.”
At the end of the day, Fiona believes sex is nothing to be ashamed about.
“It’s a pretty basic part of human nature, and it’s actually a fundamental part of human evolution, we certainly wouldn’t be here without it,” she says.