On Monday, Fiona Patten invited the Northern Metro residents to a Q&A. The evening was hugely popular with residents that were unable to attend submitting questions via email and Facebook. The MC for the night was the wonderful Rachel Payne, General Manager of EROS.
Resident’s arrived about 7pm for a meet and greet before heading into the theatre for a Q&A. Rachel started the proceedings with a brief outline of Fiona’s biography before grilling her with four questions before she opened it up to the audience.
Rachel asked ‘What achievement are you most proud of in Parliament?’ Fiona responded that the two achievements she is most proud of are the introduction of Voluntary Assisted Dying and the North Richmond Safe Injecting Centre. Both these were Fiona’s Private Member’s Bills before the government adopted the policies. Fiona said “Voluntary Assisted Dying affects all of us, we are all going to die, and this bill gives people in pain a choice. It was one of the most emotional times in Parliament and the feeling that moment the bill passed will stay with me always.”
Rachel continued “What do you think are the benefits of having independents in parliament?” Fiona responded that she was a lobbyist before she entered Parliament and that that hasn’t changed “the only difference now is the politicians can’t escape, I’ve got their mobiles and I know where their offices are”. She continued that an independent helps to keep the balance in the house, “it comes with a huge amount of freedom, there are friends I have seen in politics voting against their beliefs because they have to two the party line, and that is really sad to see.” Fiona has been able to work well cross-party, to drive difficult conversations and policies forward. “Most of the bills won’t have my name on when they come into law, but if I hadn’t started the conversation about Voluntary Assisted Dying of the Safe Injecting Centre we wouldn’t see that in our Victoria today.” She added that as an independent “it is important to put the perfect aside for the good. If we waited for perfect we would never achieve anything so it is worth getting important policies through even if they don’t achieve everything you would like them too.”
When asked “Why did you decide to stand for Parliament?” she responded humorously “I was drunk”. In reality, it was because she was frustrated with the lack of social change on censorship, drug law reform, euthanasia and marriage equality. “We decided that we needed to start either a religion or a political party, politics was easier!”
Finally Rachel asked “What change would you most like to see in politics today?”. Fiona responded that she would like to see greater integrity in politics. “Trust in politicians is at an all time low, and we need to change this. I’d like to see greater transparency between politicians and the public, like Ministerial diaries being published.”
The questions were then opened up to the floor, with topics including drug injecting centres, child abuse inquiry, better public transport, the need to upgrade sex laws and mandatory reporting. The questions continued for the next hour but a brief summary of some of the questions and responses include:
A resident asked about the lack of transparency around churches and taxation and their exemptions regarding anti-discrimination laws. Fiona highlighted religious accountability was something she had tried to push in Parliament which was unsurprisingly unpopular! “It is disgusting that churches are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. Discrimination should never be tolerated and especially not in modern society.” She added that “Religious Institutions still have a hugely powerful influence….that is why it was nearly the Church of Sex not the Sex Party.”
A resident asked whether Fiona was concerned that the Liberals would close down the North Richmond Safe Injecting Clinic and what she thought of the recent leaflet Gordon Rich-Phillips MP put out. Fiona responded that it is a concern and that she doesn’t know why the Liberals think they are better informed on this than the Australian Medical Association, or the Royal College of General Practitioners or the Head of Addiction Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital, or the Paramedics or the Police Association…but if they choose to ignore the experts then quite frankly I think we should ignore them. It’s playing politics with people’s lives”. She continued that if the Liberals were elected to government then she would continue to work with the “sensible ones, and there are a lot of sensible ones”. Although Fiona doesn’t agree with the Liberal’s language used around mandatory treatment of young people, she said that “the concept is right, we should be helping young people before they get into the criminal justice system, before we start the ever revolving door of drug use, crime and the escalating levels that that becomes.”
A resident made comments about churches and their announcement that they will not take up mandatory reporting of child abuse. Fiona responded that it is disgusting that churches are putting the value of the confessional above safeguarding our children. She had recently raised this as an issue in Parliament “Teachers, doctors, police and nurses are all required to mandatory reporting regulation, and I do not understand why churches don’t also fall under this category. After the disgusting level of abuse that has come to light it is awful that religious institutions are still failing to take this seriously.” “One of the interesting ideas that came out of that report was incorporating them, making them more accountable, one of the bills that I put forward was called Fair Charity Bill about taxing religious owned corporations, that went down well! I think we need to start asking questions, should ‘advancing of religion’ be a charitable head?”
Another resident asked “coming from a minor party what influence can you have on the state government whether its Liberal or Labor to improve the transport infrastructure in Victoria?” “Its really important, and I think anyone living in Melbourne has seen the increased density in our housing, and the increased density on our trains. Northern Metro has 11 seats and 8 of them are safe Labor, so it is one of those black holes because the Liberals don’t care about it because its safe Labor and the Labor don’t care about it because its safe Labor, and so you don’t see a lot of work being done. Now I was able to push the Government on the South Morang train line, they said it would not happen, but I was pleased to see in the budget that they put extra train lines and express services on the South Morang line. I don’t like to horse trade on my vote, but I was able to go to the Government and present them with a solution and then debate it in Parliament, then there was no reason for them to say no. I am not going to have the cheque book, but I am someone who has influence in raising these issues.”
One resident thanked Fiona for her participation in the Marriage Equality campaign and then asked what were the top three policies that Fiona was taking to the election. Fiona responded that accessibility and affordability of medicinal cannabis was a big commitment “its ridiculous how slow we are moving on this,” as well as a sensible ageing policy “we are seeing out baby boomers ageing, they are retiring and we have not quite figured it out, our Governments have 4 year terms and are not looking at the long term solutions” and affordable housing including more flexible planning controls. Fiona also emphasised the need to improve parliamentary integrity.
The final two questions from the evening were about reviewing the laws regarding sex workers and illegal massage parlours that are functioning as brothels. Fiona was passionate about improving the regulation regarding sex work. “Victorian sex work laws are just that; Victorian. We urgently need to review them and bring them into the 21st century. Sex work is work; and two adults partaking in a completely consensual act should not be punished for it. Similarly, we need to protect our masseuses. There was a time when they considered bringing in licenses for massage therapists just so no one without the license could advertise under the pretence of ‘massage therapy’. Once we update our sex work regulation this should impact the massage industry, and enable some clarity between the ways the two industries advertise.”
The evening concluded with a reception outside the theatre, where those that didn’t have a chance to ask a question were able to speak to Fiona directly.
Fiona said “it was a really interesting evening. It is important the MPs are available to their residents so that they can raise questions and concerns. I will be holding many more Q&As between know and the election, but you can always email me or call the office if there are any issues you would like to raise.”