Oz sex trade to spank parliamentary prudes

Sex and politics do mix

Australians are having a Sex Party – and before you all start sniggering at the back, this time they could be serious. Because depending on your point of view, this is either a cynical use of politics by an industry worried about its bottom line or the beginning of a fightback against government that has lost touch with ordinary voters.

From afar, Australia can seem to be a very repressed society. Over the last few years, headline-catching stories have included the government’s refusal to countenance an equivalent of the UK R-18 certificate for games, a host of niggling rules about art and porn and, most recently, the proposal for mandatory filtering of all internet content and the blocking of any material considered to be "unsuitable".

The odd thing, according to Fiona Patten, CEO of the Eros Association and Convenor of the Australian Sex Party is that Australians have never been more comfortable with their sexuality – or happier to pursue a policy of live and let live.

Talking to The Register, she said: "It is as though the politicians inhabit a parallel universe. Individual Australians are pretty laid back about sex. Research shows at least a quarter of adult Australians regularly purchase pornographic material. Yet the main interest of government appears to be in interfering with people’s lives.

"The real problem is that in many of our legislatures, both state and national, government is dependent on the vote of one or two independents – and over the last few years, the independents who have been getting elected have been increasingly reactionary and religious."

As an example, she named Steve Fielding, a right-wing Christian senator, elected under the Family First banner. Fiona Patten added: "He holds the balance of power and government is continually trying to keep him happy. They do this by sacrificing sex and gender issues: if it were not for senator Fielding, the government would not care less about building some grandiose internet firewall."

There probably is some self-interest involved. The Eros Association has been lobbying on issues of sexuality over the last couple of decades: it now appears to have taken the view that more can be achieved from within parliament. On Thursday, the Australian Sex Party will be launched officially at the annual Sexpo exhibition in Melbourne, where it expects to gain the 500 members required to register and contest state Upper House and Senate seats.

Is a party based on sex a serious proposition? Mainstream politicians will suggest that it is not. However, as the party’s website suggests, there are a wealth of issues that fall under their banner, and many of these are likely to resonate with the Australian public.

These include not just the obvious questions around censorship and pornography, but also a range of economic and social welfare issues as well. Further details will be available when their manifesto is published on Thursday.

There are parallels here with Ilona Staller, better known outside Italy as porn star "la Cicciolina", who was elected as a Radical Member of the Italian Parliament in 1987. Subsequently she set up and failed to win a seat for il Partito del’Amore, whose programme included legalisation of brothels and better sex education in schools.

The nearest equivalent to the Sex Party in the UK to date has been the Corrective Party, set up by "Miss Whiplash", Lindi St Clair, although that might be better described as a one-woman protest against perceived government hypocrisy. More obvious parallels are to be found in organisations such as Consenting Adult Action Network which is seeking to create a national coalition around issues which mainstream politicians are too embarrassed to tackle.

Or as one MP, who prefers to remain nameless, divulged to us recently: "There really is nothing I would object to in their principles. But when it comes to this sort of issue, those who are worried about keeping their jobs have always to think about what the Daily Mail reaction would be.

"That is why a great deal more serious debate on sex and sexual issues takes place in the Lords."

One advantage that the Sex Party has over any similar UK initiative is that Australian Senate elections take place under a proportional representation system of voting. A candidate for the Sex Party would need just 300,000 votes to be elected, and they already have a ready-made campaigning network in place, in the form of 1,000 sex shops nationwide and four million customers.

A number of Australian newspapers are regarding the future fortunes of the Sex Party as being an effective referendum on the government’s proposals on internet censorship. Whether it will have any usefulness beyond that single issue remains to be seen. ®

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