Labor’s failure to field candidates in last weekend’s Higgins and Bradfield by-elections had unexpectedly pleasurable consequences for psephological observers: they witnessed the bold entry of the Australian Sex Party into the political sphere.

In Higgins, ASP leader and Eros Association CEO Fiona Patten came third with 1986 votes, or 3.3% of the vote. In Bradfield, pole dancer-cum-human rights lawyer Zahra Stardust also achieved 3.3% (2165 votes), although she came fourth behind the Liberals, Greens and the DLP.

This is just short of the 4% of primary votes needed to secure federal funding. But considering that 10 candidates were contesting Higgins, and 22 candidates Bradfield, it’s a strong debut showing for the fledgling party.

The other thing to remember about the ASP is that the Bradfield and Higgins by-elections were unavoidably influenced by ETS wrangling and Liberal party leadership issues. Were the by-elections contested at a time when the ASP’s policy platforms were once again hot-button issues, its showing might well have been higher.

Oddly enough, the ASP isn’t just about sex. Its policy interests are more broadly related to censorship and civil liberties. Claiming to have “nearly 2000 members”, the ASP posits itself as a commonsensical, secular alternative to government over-regulation of citizens’ private behaviour.

Its policies include the establishment of a truly national classification scheme for non-violent erotica across all media — including the internet and computer games — and to overturn mandatory ISP filtering of the internet.

It advocates a national sex education curriculum, a national internet education scheme for parents, and national abortion laws along the same legal, no-fault lines as divorce law. It aims for sexual freedom for all Australian citizens — notably indigenous, disabled and elderly Australians.

The party also aims to prosecute child pornography rings globally, and to abolish sex slavery by introducing immigration policies that allow foreign nationals legal and transparent employment as sex workers in Australia.

The ASP is also strongly against the intrusion of religion into politics. It wants a Royal Commission into the abuse of children by religious institutions, and to end the tax-exempt status for religions.

Many of these policies already have political support and grass-roots advocacy. And, while people may not like to admit this in public, the ASP may enjoy a future swelling of support simply because so many Australians are privately tolerant of sexual freedoms and diversity.

Indeed, a scientific study into porn recently ran into difficulties because it was unable to set up a control group.

“We started our research seeking men in their twenties who had never consumed pornography. We couldn’t find any,” said Simon Louis Lajeunesse of the Université de Montréal.

Intriguingly, the party’s ties to the lucrative adult entertainment industry have given it financial and propaganda muscle. It’s hard to imagine Labor or Liberal advertising being circulated on every DVD in a certain classification category, but that’s just what the ASP has done. After placing an ad on 50,000 DVDs that were given out at Melbourne’s Sexpo convention last year, the party went on to include a longer version of the ad on all X-rated DVDs sold in Australia.

In the ad,  Patten points to the increased censorship of adult entertainment in Australia over the past 20 years, and urges: “If you’ve had enough of wowserism and political interference in your bedroom, help us make a change and join the Australian Sex Party.”

However, as a serious political force, the ASP has a lot more PR work ahead. Perhaps a good place to begin seeking greater credibility might be its own website, where the phrase “Grunt … snuffle” is currently attributed to Patten, and the party introduces potential voters to its “secret political and spiritual adviser”, Curly Merkin.

Peter Fray

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