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The Australian Sex Party

Fiona Patten

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Mikhaela Delahunty:

Hello and welcome to the La Trobe University Podcast series. My name is Mikhaela Delahunty and today I'm speaking with Fiona Patten. She's the leader of the Australian Sex Party. Fiona, welcome to La Trobe.

Fiona Patten:

Lovely, thank you.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Why does Australia need a Sex Party?

Fiona Patten:

It really is a response to what we saw as a kind of an increasing rouse in reason, in politics in general and that's everything from a local government level to a federal level that while a community is going in one direction around sex — sexuality and a lot of all the civil liberty issues, governments seemed to be heading in the opposite direction.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Are you something of a protest party?

Fiona Patten:

Look, we probably started as one but I think I would describe us as progressive party more than a protest party. So it tells you about changing things not protesting against things. It's actually about the same right. We need better sex education, we need voluntary-euthanasia, we need a new debate on drug law reform, you know, a whole range of things.

And so while we were probably born at a protest and certainly the internet filter was the catalyst to us establishing a political party, now a days I think it's actually about being a voice that can raise a whole lot of new ideas and reasonably progressive ones.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Some people might say there's actually not a lot wrong with some of the things that you mentioned but particularly with sex education, where do you say that the Sex Party would like to address some of those issues?

Fiona Patten:

Sex is such a fundamental part of our lives that we would like to say a compulsory sex education curriculum. And I think particularly now that we're going through this sort of technical and information revolutions that it's really important that we are giving our children honest, frank, good information, I think from a young age, that will be about relationships but it will also be about good and bad relationships and how to deal with issues that come up online.

You know, it's far better that our children are getting that sort of information and that sort of education rather than learning on penthouse.com or the same ways we all get bad information behind the school shade and that hasn't changed but I think the necessity to give people at a younger age really good, strong, safe information is far more acceptable now and more important.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

What do you say are some of the barriers to sort of being able to achieve consistent sex education in high schools?

Fiona Patten:

Religion. I think, certainly, religious bodies have had a lot to do with the fact that they don't want to teach across the board education, still that notion of just say no or if we don't tell them about it they won't do it. I think everything that we all know is not the case and political will to do it. It's far easier not to do it. It's far easier to say no, we want to talk about math, reading, writing and arithmetic. But when we look at the issues that are facing us whether at sexual violence, relationship breakdowns, increase in STIs, abortion, all of those issues are very important to our society and education could be a no-brainer response to it.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Just on that, do you think that majority of Australians are actually unaware how much religious authorities suddenly impose on them?

Fiona Patten:

Absolutely, and I have what just a lobbyist for nearly 20 years talking on sex and health issues, censorship issues, planning issues, whole range, so many times I have spoken to politicians who've said "Fiona, I totally agree with you. You're absolutely right. The community attitudes have moved on. We need to move on but I hold this seat by 8%. There's a church down the road. Now, if I support you they won't support me and I may lose my job. So I'm just going to stay strum on this and I'm not going to speak about it."

So, I hear that a lot. I mean, it's so disappointing. It is probably the reason why we need someone like the Sex Party because, hang on a minute, I don't have to feel like I'm wearing a raincoat when I talk about regulating adult shops or problems.

Unfortunately, a lot of politicians do feel that if they come out in support of sex education or against the internet filter that they are then classed as a dirty old man.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Now, I did hear a rumour that at one point the Australian Sex Party negotiated with Family First during the elections. Any truth to that?

Fiona Patten:

It's the funniest story. Family First rang me and approached me about doing a preference deal. And when I got the call, I was just saying, "You're from where and you want what? Look I — come on, I mean, how could you possibly want preferences from the Australian Sex Party?" And they said, "Look, you know, it's all part of the game of politics and can we meet?" And I was going, "Well, I don't think there's much point because, really, I don't think I can go there." You know, they insisted to the point that they met me at the airport when I landed in Melbourne, had this meeting, and they said, "Look, we'd really like your preferences and we'll give you out — still will say, "Look, I just — we can't do this. We just can't do this."

We sort of left it at that and I made mention of this to a journalist in Adelaide on a very slow news day. So it made the front page of the "Adelaide Advertiser". And of course in Family First is, "Oh, no. We would never do that. That's a lie. We would never." Fortunately, I had the emails from them, you know, which I probably sent on to the journalist.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

During the election campaign there was that now famous debate between you and Wendy Francis of Family First. Did they approach you for a preference deal before or after that debate?

Fiona Patten:

This was before the Sunrise Debate and it's actually what led to the Sunrise Debate because it was discussed on another program on the same station and someone said, "Well, we should get the Sex Party and Family First in to debate each other." And then it happened sort of three days later.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

The Australian Sex Party represents issues that I have to say that is being worthy of a voice. What are the main issues?

Fiona Patten:

It's a growing list. As we mature, we certainly seemed to be expanding that list. But fundamentally, we're Civil Liberties Party. And I think the big umbrella for most of our policies is allowing adults to make choices for themselves without the intervention of government. So whether that's abortion law reform or censorship or the same-sex marriage or euthanasia or drug law reform, that's the basic umbrella.

It's a freedom-of-speech party but it's also a party that, hopefully, will be able to speak about those things that so many politicians can't speak about without giggling or feeling that they may offend the church down the road.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Why do you think politicians want to be in our bedrooms.

Fiona Patten:

It's easy. It's a way of saying we are doing something about something. And frankly, people who like to watch sexually explicit material, they're not marching on parliament. The people who want to stop you from looking at sexually explicit material, they will march on parliament. And the Christian lobbyists and the Christian organizations are really well organized. When you just had to look at that anti-abortion rally last week in Melbourne where the organizers always said they had 5,000 people, I don't think they did but it was probably nearly 3,000 people marched on parliament against the Victorian abortion laws. That frightens politicians and it's much easier for politicians to go, "Right, I'm just going to agree with them."

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Where does the anti-abortion law will get their money from?

Fiona Patten:

They link themselves with business. For example, Jim Wallace, from the Australian Christian Lobby, he has great on-trade into every office from the prime minister down. So he holds a business breakfast and says, "So, you want to get in with Julie Gillard or Stephen Conroy or whoever, so they then enable those relationships, they get business into seeing politicians and I think this happens a lot more than people know and certainly, the people would like to admit and that's where a lot of their funding is coming from.

Plus, religious institutions are actually wealthy because they don't have to pay the same taxes as us and they can put this money into other things like, certainly that much with ABC that would have been a lot of tax-free religious money.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Can you see that changing?

Fiona Patten:

Yes and no. If there's enough of us voicing about this issue and there's even people sort of saying that we need to make a high-court challenge on it and I think we're certainly seeing that with the Chaplaincy program and that may start a movement towards a more secular society and Australians are certainly more secular government. But if a religious institution is spending money on charity then, of course, that should be tax deductible the same as a non-religious institution spending on charity. But if it's about promoting religion, how does that help society and why should that be tax exempt?

Mikhaela Delahunty:

I just want to talk about your drug policy. You've said that you don't encourage drug use and you certainly have said that you want to see less of it, how does the Sex Party Policy fit within this?

Fiona Patten:

Through education yet again. We looked a lot to different models and certainly had a lot of discussion about this but I think looking at the Portuguese model it really highlighted the fact that by decriminalizing drugs and treating them as a health issue and not a criminal one, that that's how you address drug use and that's how actually reduce drug use because you talk about it as a health issue. You don't go and send someone to jail for using drugs and that 180-degree turn or that really different view on it has reduced drug use in the countries that have adapted a much more of a health model. It's reduced drug use. The evidence is there. The research is there. So I would say that if we could spend some of the billions of dollars when we spend in our war on drugs in treating drug use, then we would be in a much safer and better place.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

Who is the Sex Party fighting against, morals or hypocrites?

Fiona Patten:

It's funny quite often the moralizers are the hypocrites so, very often it's the hypocrites. And it's interesting most loud, outspoken, moralizers are hypocrites. We call it the Swaggart Syndrome, after Jimmy Swaggart who got busted with a couple of prostitutes and then a few weeks later got busted again even after he cried and asked for God's forgiveness. But groups like the Australian Christian Lobby will campaign not so much against us but campaign to the major parties to put us last on preference deals.

They are such prostitutes. The major political parties are detecting they can get a vote from us. Let's see it, you know, if that's — that is how they will make their final decisions.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

You've been to this for a couple of years now, what has been your biggest surprise or that you didn't even know has been the biggest shift in community attitudes that you've been pleasantly surprised about?

Fiona Patten:

I didn't expect the level of acceptance to happen so quickly. I really thought that we were going to struggle for quite a bit longer. So to get well over a quarter-of-a-million votes in the last federal election was fantastic. To get invited on to ABC shows like the Q&A program really showed where the Sex Party has got to and I noticed that with journalists now that it's not oh and the Australian Sex Party, it's you know, and the convenor of the Australian Sex Party of Fiona Patten then now I want to say it with a straight face and I am quietly surprised in place.

Mikhaela Delahunty:

If you'd like to leave a comment about this or any other podcast in this series, get in touch with us at podcast@latrobe.edu.au. Fiona Patten, thank you.

Fiona Patten:

Thank you, Mikhaela.

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