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Election uncertainty as Supreme Court sorts The Australian Party wrangle

6 March 2012 939 views No Comment

THE Supreme Court will rule today on whether The Australian Party can legally stand as an abbreviation of Katter’s Australian Party at Queensland’s March 24 election.

Such an abbreviation is, the latter argues, a form of discrimination.

Founded by the maverick federal Independent MP for the vast federal seat of Kennedy, Bob Katter, the party has announced that if its abbreviation is allowed to stand, it could challenge the result in up to 76 of the 89 seats in Queensland’s one-house parliament.

Katter’s attempts to change the way his party is represented on the ballot paper at the looming Queensland election may never have got to this point had the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) applied commonsense and a fair go to another party attempting to register.

It’s one of those ‘what if’ stories that could have thrown the election result wide open.

The Australian Sex Party applied for registration in Queensland last year by lodging the standard 500 signed membership forms with the ECQ.

Under the state laws for registering political parties, the ECQ then writes back to those 500 people asking them to re affirm that they are bona fide members of the party.

It also checks that they are all on the electoral roll, which they all were.

When they wrote back to the 500 Sex Party members, only 300 replied. This could have been for any number of reasons but being a civil liberties party and suspicious of government desire to have people’s private information, it is surprising the ECQ got as many as they did.

Another reason for not replying may well have been that many Sex Party members had X-rated films and magazines, which are illegal to sell in Queensland, under their beds. They probably didn’t want police knocking on their door questioning where they had got them.

This would be especially true of older Sex Party members who remembered the ‘moonlight state’ and the nefarious tactics of the Queensland special branch under the regime of Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

The fact is that the Sex Party had over three times the number of signed and sworn membership forms in its possession than it needed to be registered in Queensland but were disenfranchised because the ECQ chose to ascertain the level of membership using only the criteria mentioned above.

Yet only last week the Sex Party had no problem getting re-registered at a federal level, where the Australian Electoral Commission used a test which is quite different and much better that used by the state electoral commissions.

The AEC checks that the 500 people nominated are signed up correctly and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace, and that they are all on the federal electoral roll.

The AEC then checks a random sample by telephone to make sure the claimed party members are all bona fide.

The irony of all this is that had the Sex Party been allowed to register in Queensland, party president Fiona Patten says she would have appealed against Katter’s application to abbreviate his ballot paper name to The Australian Party because it was too close to the Australian Sex Party.

The AEC had already ruled this to be the case federally – that the name The Australian Party was too close to the names of other registered parties.

If Ms Patten had been successful in her Queensland challenge, no doubt Katter would have then gone for what he wants now, which is Katter’s Australian Party.

The upshot is that the Australian Sex Party and its workers have been pushed to run a single campaign for an independent in the seat of Toowoomba South.

Charlene Phillips is a publicly recognised bisexual, anti-censorship, drug-law reforming candidate who has drawn number one on the ballot paper but is not allowed to use the name of the Sex Party name on it.

Patten is fuming.

Like Katter, she is looking at legal options to the state election result on the basis that her party has been unfairly ruled out of the election by a discriminatory evaluation of her party’s bona fides.

The state election result may still not be known until Katter and Patten have had their final days in the courts.

The reality is that something is unsexy in the state of Queensland.

Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 35 books, most recently the co-authored satire Fools Paradise, set in ‘Mangoland’ during a state election.

The Australian March 06/07, 2012