Ms Patten (Northern Metropolitan) — President, I congratulate you on your re-election. It is a role I know you will continue to discharge with the fairness and professionalism you have shown in the past.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we stand on today, the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.
From Brunswick to Broadmeadows and Carlton to Craigieburn, I cannot believe how lucky I am to be representing the Northern Metropolitan Region of Victoria. It is as diverse a region as you will find anywhere in Australia and a melting pot for everything that is great about Victoria and its people. Since living and campaigning in this region I have met people from the most diverse ethnic backgrounds — Indian, Tongan, Turkish, Greek, Vietnamese, Sudanese, Chinese, Afghan, Lebanese and so many more. Getting to know this large and exciting mix of cultures has only served to strengthen my conviction that multiculturalism is one of the key drivers of social and economic growth in Victorian society.
I thank the voters of Northern Metropolitan Region for putting me in this place. I know there are many issues that we are struggling with. We are a rapidly growing population that is screaming out for better services and infrastructure. As an Independent I see my role as to champion the region and push government for these improvements. I am not sure how many of these problems I can solve, but I promise that my door will always be open to discuss these issues.
I wish to record my heartfelt thanks to the many and varied volunteers, candidates and organising committee members who have taken the Australian Sex Party from a misunderstood name to a serious political entity. I pay special thanks to my campaign manager, Nevena Spirovska; my running mate and colleague, Joel Murray; our Victorian party secretary, Douglas Leitch; and my ardent supporter and friend, Ken Hill. Whilst I am unable to name them all, they know who they are. They have endured long nights, public heckling, party trolls and way too many phone requests for the date of the next sex party. One person deserves a special mention, however, and that is the late Rob Bishop. He will always be remembered as the spiritual heart of the Australian Sex Party. I thank him for everything.
I also wish to thank those other minor parties whose preferences helped elect me. The Sex Party worked with, rather than against, other like-minded parties, including the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, the Basics Rock and Roll Party and the Australian Cyclists Party. We campaigned and advertised alongside each other, and I have already met with some of them to see how I can now help them achieve the goals they were hoping to kick at the election.
I would like to remember my parents, Ann and Rick Patten . My mother was British — some would say very British — and my father was a very Australian naval officer. My father gave me the quality of not suffering fools lightly, while my mother gave me the grace to be nice to them. I suspect these traits will help me here. I have only one regret about being elected, and that is that neither Mum nor Dad is here to share the experience with me. My father died not long before the election. He had been working hard on mastering the art of being a grumpy old man, and whenever discussion turned to politics and politicians he transcended grumpy and became an absolute curmudgeon. This saw him feature regularly in the letters column of the Canberra Times complaining about local and federal politicians. I am told by my family that he would have been very proud to see me here amongst the red velvet today, but I have no doubt he would also have had grave concerns about the company I am keeping.
I come to this place by a road less travelled. I started my career as a young independent fashion designer with my own company, which I called Body Politics. It was during the recession we had to have, and I soon noticed that many of my best clients turned out to be sex workers. This led me to become an advocate for them, and also led to the successful decriminalisation of the industry. For a short time I even jumped the counter, as they say in the industry. Indeed I may be the first former sex worker to be elected to a parliament anywhere in this country, although no doubt the clients of sex workers have been elected in much greater numbers before me.
It was at this time that I really became interested in politics. I ran one of the first needle exchange programs in Canberra, saw the devastating effect of HIV and AIDS on my friends and realised the terrible discrimination that one’s sexuality can heap upon you. So it was 22 years ago that the failure of drug prohibition, the need for open discussion about sexual health and the fact that government intervention does not always make things better became obvious to me.
During this time I sat on the board of a number of sexual health organisations, including the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, before accepting an invitation to become the CEO of a new industry group, the Eros Association, a position in which I continued for over two decades. Through my work I affirmed my belief that small business is the backbone of Australia’s economy. I owe a lot to the people of this industry. They showed me how groups of decent and average people can become marginalised and then demonised just because they dare to be different and stand outside the square. The adult industry is subject to the most appalling forms of discrimination from all sorts of people, including politicians, business and union leaders, church clergy, certain feminists and social conservatives — pretty much half of its client base, really.
It was this official hypocrisy that both fascinated and outraged me at the same time. When Labor Senator Stephen Conroy announced that we would have an internet filter in Australia I decided that enough was enough. With help from the Eros Association and a few thousand voters who also thought this latest act of government censorship was a bridge too far we decided to form a new party that would protect people’s civil liberties, and so the Sex Party was born.
In preparing this speech, I looked back at the letters I have written to members of both houses in Victoria over the past 20 years. I received not quite as many letters in reply, but many of them were thoughtful and considered with regard to the issues I had raised. Many of them thanked me for the hundreds of X-rated films I had delivered to them in this place.
Our agenda is said to be progressive, as if it is something new, but in fact our issues are as old as the European invasion of this continent. In Robert Hughes’s sprawling epic about the way Australia was colonised, The Fatal Shore, he records the fact that on the very first day that the men and women of the First Fleet spent together on Australian soil they indulged in a spectacular mass drunken orgy. On the second day Governor Phillip read the first political statement on Australian soil by reading out an official proclamation which contained, among other things, a threat to punish anyone who dared to behave as they had the night before. Thus the prohibition around sex and drugs was written into the very fabric of Australian society, and it has been hanging around our necks like a dead albatross ever since.
My interest in sex, politics and feminism has strong roots through the family of my mother, Ann Street. Mum’s great aunt was the celebrated Australian suffragette and feminist of the 1930s, Jessie Street. As a young woman in 1914, Jessie worked in a London reception centre assisting other young women who had been arrested as prostitutes, and in 1916 she started the Social Hygiene Association in Sydney to promote sex education. In 1930 she was elected president of one of the most influential feminist groups in Australia, the United Associations of Women.
The United Associations of Women ran influential campaigns in support of divorce law reform, the appointment of women to public office and to jury service, and the election of women to Parliament. In 1933 she was involved in setting up the first contraceptive clinic in Sydney. She ran for public office three times but never quite got there. I think Jessie would have been very proud of the fact that a third of the members in this chamber are women. She would have been a lot happier if it were 50 per cent. Jessie’s life and her work have been an inspiration to me, and I would like to think that my election to public office goes some way to acknowledging her efforts in early feminism and maybe completing a chapter in that Street family story.
On the topic of political influences and mentors, I would like to acknowledge the late Don Chipp, founder of the Australian Democrats, for his friendship and advice, especially in the naming of the Sex Party. ‘Call it something they’ll never forget’, he told me not long before he passed away. And so I did. I would also like to acknowledge Malcolm Fraser’s old press secretary, David Barnett, as the first person to encourage me to set up a political party. It was in an attempt to stop his friend and colleague, John Howard, from banning adult films. I do love people who break that mould.
My sister, Kirsty, and my brother, Ian, have been somewhat willing partners on this journey. It is not always easy having a sister who links your surname to a sex party, but they have been loyal siblings, and fortunately they agree with me most of the time.
Kirsty and her partner, Linda, have a beautiful daughter, Bonnie, and they have given me wonderful insights into the subtle nature of discrimination. I am very happy to report that it is actually a pretty rare thing for them to encounter, but there are still laws that do not treat their relationship equally with others. This I would like to change in Victoria in whatever way I can. I find it repugnant that gay couples cannot adopt children and that they cannot marry or even have overseas marriages recognised when they come home. I am heartened that the Andrews government has committed to making changes in this area.
My brother, lan, and his daughter, Saskia, are here today. Some of the loudest family arguments at our dinner table were between Ian and myself. Neither of us has the ability to back down. I was of course right, but it was hard to convince him. These battles have stood me well in preparing for this place. I am pleased to note that this is an attribute that my niece Saskia has inherited.
I would not be standing in this place today without my partner, Robbie Swan. We met 23 years ago and have campaigned together for the whole of that time. We always joked that instead of having children we had industry associations and political parties. Even though we have lived in separate states at times over the last 20 years, we have been inseparable. His love, loyalty and cooking have greatly helped me to get here. The safety of this relationship has often allowed me to go out on a limb both personally and professionally — and that has often been necessary. I am looking forward to sharing this next chapter with him and his wonderful daughters, Angie and Georgie Swan, who have also influenced me enormously over the past two decades. I learnt early that Swans do stay together, and this flock of Swans is no different. I really lucked in when the Swan clan allowed me to join. I am thrilled that the matriarch, June Swan, is here in the chamber today.
The Sex Party exists because, despite those thousands of letters written to MPs in Victoria and other states and territories, legislation on important social issues does not align with public opinion. Polls consistently show that a large majority of the population want to see voluntary euthanasia legalised, and yet neither of the major parties will move on it. I suspect the reason they will not do so is to placate the religious lobby, and I hope to change that in my first term. I made a promise to a man many of you will know, Peter Short, a tireless campaigner on this issue, who died only a few weeks ago. I will uphold that promise and continue to press the need for laws that allow an individual to die with dignity.
I am also here to officially declare that the war on drugs has been lost in Victoria, and I intend to write a peace plan over the next year and submit it to Parliament. Hundreds of thousands of Victorian adults occasionally use marijuana as a social tonic in the same way that some of us in this chamber use beer and wine. Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, so why are we, as a Parliament, still sending people to jail for using it? It is hypocritical, and it is out of touch. Banning drugs has not reduced their use. It has not reduced the harm caused by drug abuse. It has made a lot of criminals very, very rich. We must take a new approach.
We urgently need to regulate the use of and make available medical cannabis. Whether it turns out to be the new penicillin or not, there is so much evidence of its therapeutic application that waiting around for committees and testing regimes will be counterproductive. Thousands of Victorians are already sourcing it, driven by parents who have seen how effectively it works on children with seizures and adults who experience how it helps with chronic pain and alleviates the side effects of chemotherapy. The marketplace will not wait for politicians to drag their feet on this.
I commend the government and Premier Andrews on their early commitment to improving this situation. I believe that Victoria can and should supply this product under strict controls and regulations. In fact there is a world shortage of medical cannabis, and Victoria is perfectly situated to meet this need in much the same way as we do with poppies. We should create an industry that grows, manufactures and supplies this much-needed product to assist in worldwide demand. But let us do it before the grey market establishes its own protocols and we lose the ability to put in place world’s best practice.
I was raised as a nice young Anglican girl who attended church regularly, and for a while I dreamt of being a nun. That clearly did not work. I am now an avowed atheist who works towards separation of church and state. In my view, the church punches well above its weight in most Australian parliaments.
In 2000 I published a book called Hypocrites, which listed all the church clergy in Australia who had been charged with a child sexual offence. The fallout included death threats and recriminations from MPs around the country. In 2009 the Sex Party became the first party in Australia to officially call for a royal commission into child sex abuse in religious institutions, a policy I am still immensely proud of, and I applaud the Napthine government for its work on the inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations.
I would also like to congratulate the Andrews government for establishing a royal commission into family violence. I look forward to its recommendations being implemented — and quickly. I intend to work in this Parliament to ensure that no organisation, regardless of religious belief, should be exempt from the laws of discrimination the rest of us are bound by. I also believe that religious organisations should pay the same taxes the rest of us do and that the exhortation to promote religion no longer confers on religious orders a government-sanctioned right to avoid paying tax.
I am committed to working with the fashion and textile industry in Victoria, especially in Northern Metropolitan Region, to ensure that this industry and the economic opportunities it brings are adequately fostered. Melbourne is Australia’s fashion capital, and I believe it should be recognised as a global one in the same way our sister city of Milan is. More people visit Victoria to shop than for any other reason, even sport. The industry currently employs tens of thousands of Victorians, and the vast majority of them are in small to medium size businesses. Having made this call, I just hope I am not judged too harshly for any fashion choices I may make in this place.
I stand before you today not after a month-long election campaign but after decades of fighting for what I believe in. I am the first Australian Sex Party representative elected to any parliament in this country. Our party has come of age after years of developing a progressive policy platform that is as diverse as our membership. It is not my intention to sit on the crossbenches looking for ways to destabilise the government. I believe in stable government. The price payable by chronic instability becomes more obvious all the time. I am here to pursue my party’s agenda.
I will fight for every woman’s right to choose what they do with their own body. I will fight tooth and nail to protect the current abortion laws in Victoria. I will work with government on providing safe buffer zones around centres that provide terminations. I will ensure that freedom of speech is protected. I firmly believe that our arts sector should be better nurtured. I will stand for a sensible approach to the environment, one that balances the needs of business with the needs of humans. I will work hard to further improve our public transport system.
I will stand together with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning community to rid our system of inequality. I will fight for better outcomes in the areas of mental and sexual health, and I believe we owe it to our children to take a different approach to sex education and relationship education in our schools. I will continue at every step I can to ensure that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, gender, race, colour or religion, is able to live the life they choose to live without interference and in freedom.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in this place to bring about a better, fairer, prosperous and ultimately more progressive Victoria.