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Steamed voters may turn to sex for relief

7 November 2009 1,138 views No Comment

DON’T be surprised if the Bradfield and Higgins by-elections on December 5 throw up some unexpected outcomes.

There have already been a few shock moves. Labor’s failure to nominate a candidate for either electorate was just too smart for words. It smacked of the same poor judgment that inspired it to hand a preference deal and the last Senate seat in Victoria to Steve Fielding in 2007.

The newly formed Australian Sex Party has nominated a 26-year-old lesbian pole dancer and human rights lawyer, Zahra Stardust, for Bradfield. In Higgins it has nominated high-profile anti-censorship campaigner and Eros Association chief executive Fiona Patten, who a few years ago came close to winning a seat in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

At the same time, Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats are threatening to run a flock of religious campaigners under their box on the ballot paper. And the Greens surprised everyone by nominating former Australia Institute director and internet filtering champion, Clive Hamilton, in Higgins.

Patten has led her by-election campaign with a big swipe at the Liberals and Labor. She says an increasing number of citizens are fed up with big-party candidates entering politics with huge personal political aspirations but when the going gets tough or their ambition becomes thwarted, self-interest takes over and they resign for a better offer. The electorate is then left to fix the situation through a by-election, about half a million bucks each these days.

Brendan Nelson and Peter Costello are in this category. Between them the federal Liberal Party received $200,000 in public funding when they won their seats. Patten and the Australian Sex Party wants this returned to help finance the by-elections.

It’s not a bad idea. We’ve had about 140 federal by-elections since Federation in 1901. Until the 1960s most were caused by the death of the sitting member. However, after Harold Holt’s seat of Higgins was declared vacant in 1968 (because of his presumed drowning), a whole new trend set in. Since that time resignations have been outstripping deaths by almost seven to one and since 1980 more than 90 per cent of federal by-elections have been called because the sitting member had resigned, mostly to satisfy naked political ambition. Neither Costello nor Nelson were drowning, just waving to anyone who would offer a better job.

Many Labor supporters will feel betrayed and let down by their party for not running any candidates and for making them cast an informal vote, a protest vote or a vote for a party whose philosophy is decidedly un-Labor. There also will be many Liberals who feel that Nelson and Costello should not have abandoned their seat just because their leadership ambitions had been dashed.

In these by-elections, the Greens have been touted as the logical beneficiary of the ALP vote. But there are many greenish Labor supporters who sense a black spot within Bob Brown’s flock these days. The Greens have been undergoing some radical changes during the past few years as they try to turn themselves into a mainstream party. These changes have resulted in the nomination of Hamilton as their candidate for Higgins.

Hamilton may have sound climate-change policies in his briefcase, but at heart he is a social conservative. There are many who doubt anyone’s credentials on anything if they are so blind as to support Labor’s deeply unpopular efforts to censor the internet.

Hamilton represents the nanny state and an emerging new middle-class subspecies that specialises in telling other people how they should act on moral issues. Take the recently preselected Greens candidate for Victorian state seat Richmond, Kathleen Maltzahn. She is a founding director of a feminist group called Project Respect, which claims to help women in the sex industry and those who have been trafficked. In fact, this group wants to take the regulated prostitution industry and make it illegal again, as it was in the 1950s. Maltzahn’s social philosophy is similar to US uber-feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. She would consider the Sex Party’s pole-dancing human rights lawyer as someone needing protection from herself.

Hamilton and Maltzahn’s social agendas would have been welcomed by former Tasmanian senator and conservative Catholic activist Brian Harradine. And they sure as hell will be extolled by Nile’s and Family First’s candidates for Higgins and Bradfield.

So why is Brown, an openly gay man who has been fighting social conservatism on that front for decades, allowing sex-negative feminists and pro-censorship campaigners into his fold?

It’s a question that press gallery journalists should be asking.

In recent months, Brown’s leadership seems to have been undermined by conservative social forces masquerading as progressive elements.

On this matter, it’s worth noting that the Liberal candidate for Bradfield, Paul Fletcher, was Richard Alston’s senior adviser in 1999 when Alston as communications and information technology minister was attempting to censor the internet. Whether Fletcher believed in what Alston was doing is another matter but the thing is, yet another candidate from a non-Labor party who is running in these by-elections has form when it comes to internet filtering and social engineering.

That’s not something that can be levelled at the Sex Party candidates or at the phantoms of free speech, the Liberal Democratic Party, also running in both by-elections. Patten contested a seat in the ACT Legislative Assembly in 1992 in a loose arrangement of candidates calling themselves the Hare Clark Independents. If, as a response to Labor’s smugness in refusing to stand any candidates, the voters of Bradfield and Higgins decide to cast a protest vote against the Liberals’ self-interest and the Greens’ social conservatism, the Sex Party may well be a surprise beneficiary.

The Weekend Australian, November 7-8, 2009