I am standing for the Senate in the upcoming Federal election; not for one of the major parties, but for the Australian Sex Party. Does the name offend you, or make you snigger? Perhaps it does, but I’m writing to ask you to ponder both your reaction to the explicit and deliberate use of the word sex in this context, and who should really be in the Senate.
Now that I’ve got your attention, as the old quip has it about use of the word ‘sex’, let me say that, in the course of campaigning, I’ve had many people tell me that they had not even bothered to look past the name to read our policies. Yet they like them when they do.
At times, I’ve met voters who say the name ‘offends’ them. But let’s stop and think a bit about what is truly ‘offensive’.
What is more offensive: treating gay Australians as second class citizens by denying them the dignifying institution of marriage, or the word ‘sex’? Sacrificing the lives of asylum seekers by incarcerating them on remote islands, or the word ‘sex’? Denying the clear wish of the majority of Australians for voluntary assisted dying for those in pain and suffering, or the word ‘sex’?
Looking the other way while religious conservatives proselytise in our supposedly secular government schools, telling our children they are mired in sin and, like “dirty towels”, in need of “cleansing”, or the word ‘sex’?
What is really more offensive: the confronting use of the word ‘sex’ as a battle cry for greater honesty and emancipation, or the tiresome and dishonest three word slogans of the major parties? Many of us are weary of the spin and evasion of the majors.
This Federal election differs from most, because the method for Senate voting has changed, so it’s hard to predict how it will turn out. The double dissolution may not deliver the more compliant Senate the Coalition hoped for. It might turn out to demonstrate the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for!”
But what should we wish for?
The Australian Senate has significant powers. It cannot initiate money bills, but it can block legislation put forward by the House. Those who designed our constitution chose the US Senate, not the anachronistic House of Lords, as their model. They wanted a chamber of states’ rights and legislative oversight as a check and balance to domination by the more populous states.
At its best, then, our Senate can be the conscience of the parliament, meticulously analysing proposals from the legislature. It can draw attention to bias in favour of vested interests, errors in drafting or flaws in design. At its worst, it can function simply as a rubber stamp by the factional warlords of the major political parties, installed to live out their political lives in the luxury of the red benches.
Most of us, surely, would prefer the Senate to work as a conscientious reviewer of significant proposals from the House, rather than just a rubber stamp. If it’s to do that, what characteristics are needed in senators? How realistic is it for us to expect the Senate, as we might elect it, to ‘keep the bastards honest’?
Surely party hacks, careerists and flunkies are the last people we should want serving in the upper house? Yet all too often that is what we get, because of the way Senate tickets are selected and the voting system functions. But, more generally, ask yourself, as a thought experiment: What calibre of person do you want to see in the Senate?
Should it not be someone well placed to critically examine any piece of legislation with significant economic impact? Wouldn’t an ability to ‘read a balance sheet’ and experience in running a business be of particular value? Wouldn’t a practical grasp of both policy development and policy implementation also be useful?
A commitment to the welfare of the vulnerable and to opportunities for all to make the most of their lives would also be important. Perhaps most crucial, given the endless power plays by the self-interested, a familiarity with the realms of vested interests without being beholden to any, be they ideological, corporate or trade union based, would be particularly vital.
I can lay claim to all these characteristics. I have spent most of my career in the corporate world as a senior executive with Ford, Rio Tinto and ANZ bank, and the last 15 years as a director on commercial, government and not-for-profit boards (among others Bakers Delight Holdings, Port of Melbourne Corporation and the University of Melbourne Council).
I’ve also been an activist in the community: a motorcycling lobbyist in the 1980s, a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in the 1990s, and a lobbyist for science and evidence as opposed to superstition and bigotry as President of the Rationalist Society of Australia in the 2000s.
I submit that, if I was running for either the Liberal Party or the Australian Labour Party, or even for the Greens, these qualifications would see me billed as something of a dream candidate for the Senate. Add to this the consideration that I am a woman of mature years at a time when we badly need more women in politics, particularly women with broad and valuable experience, and you’d think I’d be in with a chance.
But I’m not on the ticket of any of the majors. I’m too independent minded for that. I am fed up with the hypocrisy and spin they all engage in. And it seems to me there is no area of our social and national life in which hypocrisy, evasion and dishonesty – and also anxiety and suffering – are more rife than that of sex. So I’m standing for the candour of a reform-minded party that sprang from a small business background, a party that’s already proven it will work collaboratively across party lines to get things done, the Australian Sex Party.
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