Published by Shepparton News on November 20, 2013.

This article also appeared in print (click here for Shepparton News print articles)

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Newly-graduated Year 12 students from Shepparton will join thousands of others across Australia this weekend as they embark on the holiday that has become a rite of passage — schoolies.

Celebrations will take place from Lorne on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road to Cairns in Queensland’s far north.

An increasing number of partygoers are also flocking to Bali, Indonesia.

For Wanganui Park Secondary College students, the place to be is Surfer’s Paradise in Queensland.

A CSIRO study estimates as many as 28000 ‘‘schoolies’’ will arrive there this week.

They predict 20 per cent of the expected 2700 patients presenting to local emergency departments will be schoolies.

Karen Bond has been busy helping daughter Katie Dyer prepare for the trip, ensuring she takes not only clean socks, but also tips and advice to keep her safe.

‘‘I’m hoping Katie’s sensible enough to stay away from drugs because we’ve talked about it; never knowing what you’re going to get if you take something,’’ Mrs Bond said.

‘‘We’ve talked about making sure if you do leave your drink somewhere, don’t feel like you can’t afford to buy another one, just in case it’s been spiked.”

Katie said her friends had discussed potential dangers and had safety plans in place for their trip.

‘‘We’ve got lists of rules, like to lock balcony doors so no stupid things can happen,’’ she said.

‘‘Nobody goes anywhere alone, always watch your drinks. And it’s just common sense to look out for each other.’’

A police school visit had also left them with some good tips, Katie said.

‘‘There’s numbers you can call if there are any problems. There’s a lot of support,’’ she said.

Mrs Bond was confident her daughter would make responsible choices during her time away and hoped there would be no need to call on emergency services.

Posted
AuthorToni Brient

Published by mojo on 3 September, 2013.

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They’re not registered for this year’s federal election and they have no candidates, but they still want voters’ attention. The party is on the campaign trail, and the issue is funding. 

By TONI BRIENT

Campaign funding. It’s a discussion that usually comes to the forefront at election time, focusing jointly on the notion of the taxpayer dollar, and the access to funding for minor party and independent candidates.

The payment rate for electoral candidates is in proportion to their share of the vote (in 2010 it was a little more than 231 cents for each primary vote), pegged against the Consumer Price Index.

In addition, the Australian Electoral Commission requires candidates to pay a deposit with their registration: $1000 for those contesting a seat in the House of Representatives candidates, and $2000 for Senate candidates.

According to Flinders University’s Dr Rob Manwarring, who lectures in politics, the system creates a cycle that all but guarantees success for larger parties. He says allocating funding according to votes means the major parties “mop up most of that taxpayer money”.

“That in itself means that niche parties have less money so their impact tends to be at low levels, and very specific around particular issues.”

For the Lamington Party, which is not even registered with the Australian Electoral Commission, campaign and election costs prevented them from running candidates in the 2013 federal election.

“The committee had a long discussion about this,” says party founder Jason McKenzie. “We basically said, ‘Are we better off being the 57th party to run candidatess on the Senate paper, or are we better off putting all funds and effort into a social media campaign, to start a public debate on the issues?’ ”

McKenzie says the party, which stands broadly for the modernisation of Australia, will be focusing its efforts on building support for the 2016 federal election. He intends to run candidates in any state elections and federal by-elections that occur before then.

The Lamington Party’s policy platform includes increasing transparency in government and promoting creativity, innovation, and sustainability. Its approach to policy reflects the history of the lamington itself.

“They’re made with ingredients that were available, they take a problem-solving approach and create something quite likeable. It represents ingenuity. It reflects a bit of the quirkiness that we’re trying to get in here.”

 

Posted
AuthorToni Brient

Published by mojo on 2 September, 2013.

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With a week to go to the federal election, 54 political parties are officially vying for your vote, with at least a third so new they’ve only been registered since July. Some have been profiled already in mojo, and here is a brief look at what the rest of the minor parties stand for*. 

By TONI BRIENT

Animal Justice Party

“Animal cruelty is an unfortunate and all-too-common feature of Australian society that must come to an end.” The Animal Justice Party seeks to raise awareness of animal protection through political campaigning. It is concerned with issues such as wildlife destruction, factory farming, animal transportation and the use of animals for sport and entertainment.

Australia First Party (NSW) Incorporated

“There is a growing resistance to the politics of New World Order liberal-globalist-capitalism throughout Australia and the rest of the world.” In what it calls a “new political generation”, the Australia First Party seeks to unite Australians and “reaffirm” the country’s identity, independence and freedom.

Australian Christians

“We believe that a party appealing to Australian Christians has the potential to be the third voice on the Australian political landscape.” They seek to draw on biblical teachings as a guide for political leadership. The Australian Christians advocate a stronger Judeo-Christian presence in Canberra, with values like honesty, integrity and hope.

Australian Democrats

“Keep the bastards honest!” reads the quote from Australian Democrats founder Don Chipp on the party’s homepage. The party promotes the broad values of freedom, equality, and environmental and economic sustainability. Its comprehensive range of policies support racial and sexual equality, gives immigration priority to refugees, and backs climate action.

Australian First Nations Political Party

“Remember the old ‘dogtag’ pass days? The chains around the necks of our forebears?” This party calls itself the first Aboriginal political party. It was launched as a response to  intervention into Aboriginal communities in the the Northern Territory.

Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party

“Everywhere, lifestyle rights are at risk – Aussies are no longer allowed to enjoy unrestricted access to the ‘great Aussie outdoor lifestyle’.” This party supports minimal government, Australian sovereignty, and closed borders. However, it believes national transport systems are rendering internal state boundaries irrelevant. The party supports minimal environmental protection and increased marine farming, including on the Great Barrier Reef, which it says is not under any immediate danger.

Australian Independents

“All political representatives and parliamentarians should at all times demonstrate the capacity to shelve their own beliefs, views and policy priorities.” The Australian Independents seek to “properly” represent their constituents in Parliament. The party says it refuses financial donations from unions and corporations and avoids engaging in political slander and dramatics.

Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party

“We are not rebels tearing up the bitumen in a petrol-fueled frenzy. We are responsible individuals with a great deal of time and money invested in our passion.” As a spokesperson for the motoring community, this party was convened to ensure the freedom of Australian motorists’ lifestyles. It says it is primarily concerned with road safety, including the safety of its vehicles from damage by public roads.

Australian Protectionist Party

 “(We will) build our protectionist ideology and develop the Australian Protectionist Party into a broader social-political movement.” This party aims to protect what it says are the Australian way of life. Its policies include the promotion of free speech, high tariffs to protect Australian jobs and industries, a zero-net immigration policy, and the destruction of multiculturalism.

Australian Sex Party

“How we treat the worst off in our country is how we should be judged. Representing marginalised groups is an important part of representing a country.” Read mojo’s profile of the Australian Sex Party here.

Australian Sovereignty Party

“The Government has limited powers to act as our agent and servant. When people subjugate their personal rights for the greater good, tyranny ensues.” Its platform contains protectionist and libertarian elements. It is primarily concerned with eradicating national debt, proposing a debit tax of 1 per cent (on all payments) to replace all other taxes – including income tax and the GST – which it claims would result in a $235 billion budget surplus (timeframe not given). Customs and excise duties would remain.

Australian Sports Party

“Are you more interested in sports than politics?” its website asks. The Australian Sports Party promotes healthy living through sport and recreation, which it believes will promote strong communities. It advocates government spending on community recreation facilties.

Australian Stable Population Party

“Australia’s population is currently growing by over 1000 people per day. It’s no wonder Australia’s quality of life is being degraded.” This party says Liberal and Labor governments would grow the country from 23 million people today to 40 million by 2050. The Australian Stable Population Party plans to “stabilise” the population at 26 million by the same date to enable a fairer sharing of resources.

Australian Voice Party

“It’s time for reform and the only way that can happen is with a grassroots movement.” The party seeks to “solve” the problems it says  current politicians are incapable of solving: the “broken” health system, “spiraling” living costs, “out of control” crime, the “struggling” small business industry, “illegal” immigrants and food security.

Bank Reform Party

“A new non-aligned political party with one initial aim, reform the banks and the legal system to protect Australians from greedy and unfair banks.” According to the Bank Reform Party, the banks are incapable of self-regulation and the government should intervene. The party was convened by the lobby group Unhappy Banking, an assembly of former and disgruntled BankWest customers.

Building Australia Party

“Governments of all persuasions are not adhering to the principles of good business acumen when applying policies in all areas under government control.” United members of the building industry created the Building Australia Party to promote housing affordability and a stronger building sector. The party supports sustainable development, red tape reduction, and reduced land costs.

Bullet Train for Australia

“A new HSR (high-speed rail) system would cost less than a third of the billions of dollars spent maintaining degrading roads over the last 20 years.” The somewhat infamous party advocating a national rail network delivering 200+ kmphr speeds has no official position on any non-train issues. Elected politicians would be bound to abstain from voting on any other issue.

 Carers Alliance

“It was just the most isolating and crushing experience and I would hate to think that families are going through that experience.” Read mojo’s profile of the Carers Alliance here.

Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)

“Although CDP candidates are in total agreement with CDP aims and principles, they are free to vote on legislation according to their conscience under God’s guidance.” The party aims to “advance the glory of God” through political activism by promoting a public adherence to Christian values. It is led by the Rev Fred Nile, a member of the NSW Legislative Council.

Citizens Electoral Council of Australia

“The most pressing issue of our times, for both Australia and the world, is the accelerating onset of the new Great Depression.” In a tradition stretching back to the 1980s, the Citizens Electoral Council advocates broad economic reform to avoid a “New Dark Age” brought on by a “global financial oligarchy” of national governments, media corporations and international banks.

Coke in the Bubblers Party

“We’re a group of young Australians with a sugar-headache. We’re concerned for the future, frustrated by the unreasonableness in Canberra and we’ll move overseas if Clive Palmer gets control of the senate.” Ironically, the party was formed to protest against what it says are empty election promises, such as free cola drinking fountains. The party advocates transparency and accountability in government.

Country Alliance

“We have been let down by ill-informed policy advice from city-based bureaucrats whose only exposure to country life is watching McLeod’s Daughters.” The Country Alliance promotes equality between regional and metropolitan cities. It says there is a disparity in access to things like transport and amenities, and increased costs of living.

Democratic Labour Party (DLP)

 

“Unlike the ALP, it is not dictated to by unions and unlike the Liberal Party, it does not seek to serve the interests of big business.” The DLP considers itself in the centre of the political spectrum. It advocates onshore processing of asylum seekers, opposes same-sex marriage, and proposes to increase exploration for and development of new and traditional forms of power generation.

 

Drug Law Reform Party

“Why is it that some drugs are regulated, controlled, taxed and freely available to those over 18 years if age, and some aren’t?” This party seeks to raise awareness about what it says is ongoing harm from “outdated” drug laws. The party wants an overhaul of drug laws in Australia. Elected politicians would take conscience votes on other matters.

Family First Party

“We are interested in policies which strengthen families, strengthen values and strengthen Australia.” It describes itself as a conservative party with a Christian heritage, and is also a registered company with the Australian Security and Investment Commission (ASIC).  Family First advocates “safe” jobs, neighbourhoods, finances and retirement.

Future Party

“Quality of life is improved primarily through technological developments, sources through a scientific approach to knowledge in the context of democracy and peace.” The Future Party aims to discover long-term solutions for Australian society by making use of modern technology. Its sees innovation, education and economic reform as the key to national success.

Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party

“People are hungry for information on how to resist the everyday oppression of the ‘drug laws’ in our country.The party aims to decriminalise the personal use, possession and cultivation of cannabis, and establish industries to create food, fuel and other environmentally friendly resources from cannabis products. The party would also release individuals imprisoned for cannabis alone and erase the criminal records of cannabis convictions.

Katter’s Australian Party

“The problem is made worse by the fact the Liberal and Labor parties are largely funded by offshore-owned corporations and organisations whose agendas differ from that of most Australian-owned businesses.” Run by the Right-wing, Akubra-wearing Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, this party seeks a return to what it calls traditional Australian values. It advocates deregulation, public ownership of assets, more support for the rural sector and economic protectionism.

Nick Xenophon Group

“I would rather go down fighting than still be standing because I stayed silent.” Independent SA senator Nick Xenophon, a key figure on pokies reform, is this one-man party. The party was established so Mr Xenophon could be listed above the line on the ballot paper.

No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics

“I’m not sceptical the climate is changing. There’s always been change. What I am sceptical about is that there is a cause for climate change: it’s not human-induced.” Read mojo’s profile of the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics here.

Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting)

“Fifty-50 joint custody is to be the first option when considering where children of separated families are to reside.” The Non-Custodial Parents Party supports shared custody arrangements in separated families with a focus on “equal” parenting. It advocates custodial arrangements that would primarily benefit the child by granting access to both parents.

One Nation

“Pauline Hanson dared to challenge the entrenched bureaucracy and the vested interests of the political ruling elite by stating the truth as she saw it.” The controversial far Right party was formed in the 1990s by Pauline Hanson, who was jailed for electoral corruption. It advocates closed borders, voluntary euthanasia, increased welfare payments for tertiary students and the abolition of taxes or policies relating to climate change in favour of a royal commission into climate science.

Outdoor Recreation Party (Stop The Greens)

“Public land should be accessible for recreational purposes and actively managed, not locked up and neglected.” Explicitly hostile toward current green policies, the party advocates a reverse of restrictions on what is currently classified as environmentally sensitive land. It says these areas should be open to the public because people are “integral and not alien to the land”.

Palmer United Party

“Not only are they boring, but neither Abbott or Rudd will debate the critical issues.” Mining magnate and billionaire Clive Palmer is running Palmer United Party candidates in electorates throughout the country. Mr Palmer started this party to push economic reform, including the abolition of the Carbon Tax and Fringe Benefits Tax, and abolition of Disability Care’s age limit.

Pirate Party Australia

“The digital age has provided stunning progress. Old-style media and government centralism have been recast or overthrown, creating space for citizen engagement and new voices.” The Pirate Party Australia is a civil libertarian party advocating what it calls the inalienable rights of free speech, privacy and liberty. The party promotes institutional transparency, and calls for a review of copyright and freedom of information laws.

Republican Party of Australia

“If we desire an end to the outmoded arrangements which obtain then we must act for the Australian Republic before the monarch dies.” With no links to the American Republican Party, the Republican Party of Australia calls itself a “futuristic, secular-humanist, free enterprise libertarian party.” It advocates the immediate break from the British monarchy, so Australia can become a sovereign republic.

Rise Up Australia Party

With a party tagline to “Keep Australia Australian”, the Rise Up Australia party advocates closed borders, cultural assimilation, and lower unemployment.

Secular Party of Australia

“We want women, minorities and the LGBTI community to be free of discrimination and the dictates of archaic superstition.” As its name suggests, the Secular Party supports a removal of religious influence from political life. The party advocates freedom from discrimination, the abolition of tax exemptions for religious institutions, voluntary euthanasia, and the use of scientific methods such as stem cell research.

Senator Online (Internet Voting Bills/Issues)

“Part of the ideal in this model is to allow people to be involved in government more than they have been.” Read mojo’s profile of Senator Online here.

Shooters and Fishers Party

“The voice of hunters, shooters, fishers, rural and regional Australia advocating for the politically incorrect, a voice of reason, science and conservation.” This party aims to promote the sustainable use of natural resources and freedom for the “lifestyle” choices of shooting and fishing groups. The party views its family values as conservative and calls for stronger border security and a review of foreign aid contributions.

 Smokers Rights Party

“Even the Greens used to be seen as the party against victimisation of smokers, but perhaps they were focused on people smoking things other than tobacco.” Read mojo’s profile of the Smokers Rights Partyhere.

 Socialist Alliance

“People before profits! Put the mines, banks and energy companies in the hands of the people!” The Socialist Alliance supports climate action, indigenous and refugee rights, marriage equality, and increased welfare funding for students, families, and people with disabilities.

 Socialist Equality Party

The Socialist Equality Party, although registered with the Australian Electoral Commission, is not contesting the 2013 election.

 Stop CSG Party

“The practice of fracturing the ground for coal seam gas can damage underground water reserves with toxic chemicals that are dangerous to humans, animals and plants.” The Stop CSG Party was formed in response to what it calls the “devastating affects (sic)” of “unconventional” gas mining such as coal seam gas (CSG) mining. The party seeks to pressure government to ban CSG mining.

 The 23 Million

“Twenty-three million is the current population of Australia. Each of those 23 million has a voice that deserves to be heard by government.” ‘The 23’ views itself as a group of ordinary citizens who are not career politicians. The party says its sole purpose is to overhaul Australian politics. Its candidates can only run for a single term, will refuse financial donations, form no political alliances, and make all communications a matter of public record.

 The Wikileaks Party

“Julian Assange is a world-famous dissident who has achieved more for the public record, and in the public interest, that all of the news media combined.” Whistleblower and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange formed the party to promote institutional transparency and accountability. It recently came under fire after Victorian senate candidate Leslie Cannold quit the party, claiming the party was failing to live up to its democratic aims.

 Uniting Australia Party

“Our aim is to bring back some common sense into politics. It is about real people and the real issues facing everyday Australians.” The Uniting Australia Party aims to abolish foreign ownership of Australian land, stop the “lifelong perks” granted to retired politicians, reform the legal and welfare systems, and promote climate action.

 Voluntary Euthanasia Party

“Over four in five Australians are in favour of new legislation and we wish to allow that sentiment to be clearly demonstrated at the ballot box.” The Voluntary Euthanasia Party supports the provision of medical procedures for the painless, assisted death of patients of a terminal or incurable illness who have expressed rational intentions to terminate their lives within appropriate legal safeguards.

 *This list does not include the major parties or their branches and subdivisions. 

 

Posted
AuthorToni Brient

Published by mojo on 1 September, 2013.  

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There is climate change, but human action is not the cause, and governments should know better, says the Climate Sceptics Party. For a start, the party wants all parliamentarians tested for maths and science knowledge.

By TONI BRIENT

“All this whole thing about climate change has highlighted a whole lot of things about the inefficiencies in the current state of our civilization,” says Chris Dawson, the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics party’s Victorian Senate candidate. 

Despite its name, the party, registered with the Australian Electoral Commission since June 2010, does not deny the existence of climate change.

“I’m not sceptical the climate is changing,” says Dawson, who has a Master’s degree in engineering from Swinburne University of Technology and founded the Lord Monckton Foundation, which promotes and supports Lord Monckton’s views.

“There’s always been change. What I am sceptical about is that there is a cause for climate change; it’s not human-induced. Or, to put it more accurately, the extent to which it is human-induced is immeasurable.”

According to Dawson, it is not a single-issue party, but rather one that views climate action as a catalyst for many of the world’s contemporary problems.

It calls for a review of all current scientific and economic policy (particularly environment and climate action policy), the eradication of many government departments (especially climate action departments), and the privatisation of bodies and projects such as the nation broadband network and NBN Co.

Dawson suggests Australia’s head of state should be a “sober, full-blood Aboriginal”.

The party holds other unconventional platforms, including that Australian membership of international bodies should be subject to referendum, and that parliamentarians undergo mandatory science and mathematics testing, since many are “illiterate” in those disciplines, Dawson says.

He has engaged in debate with many elected MPs, including Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt.

According to Dawson, the bigger parties’ climate policies are aimed at political ends, not scientific ones, with the result that “the facts” are silenced.

“There are a number of (politicians) who think the whole thing is a scam. They’ve only gone ahead and gone through with (climate action) because it’s popular: it got the votes.”

Dawson says “the sociopaths all joining together at the United Nations” fabricated human-induced climate change to manipulate the masses and gain power.

“There’s no evidence that there’s CO2 linked to any change in climate, and there’s plenty of evidence that there’s political machinations going on at the UN to try and gain control over the industrial development of the world,” he says.

He points to the notion of a global carbon market as an example of political manipulation.

“It’s designed to stop the Third World taking up cheap energy and encouraging them to take up sustainable energy. It’s all in line to control the world’s population, because the theory is that we can’t have a world population all living a Western lifestyle because we’ll be ‘polluting’.”

He says all climate action policy has a malevolent purpose.

“It’s basically a manifesto to send most of us into some sort of subservient subsistence. If you assume that there’s no such thing as people conspiring against you and against Australians, then you’ve got rocks in your head.”

 

Posted
AuthorToni Brient

Published by mojo on 27 August, 2013.

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People with disabilities are the main - but not the only – item on the agenda  for a party that thinks everyone is entitled to a fair go. 

 

 

By TONI BRIENT

“We just felt that we had to hit them where it hurt, and that’s at the ballot box,” says veteran campaigner Maree Buckwalter.

The lobbyist has spent decades campaigning for rights and services for people living with a disability. After years of lobbying, she became a founding member of Carers Alliance in an attempt to fight legislation from inside Parliament.“We just felt that we had to hit them where it hurt, and that’s at the ballot box,” says veteran campaigner  .

“We have a small chance, but the fact that we’re there has elevated the issue into the political arena,” she says.

Along with party secretary Mary Lou Carter, Buckwalter will be contesting senate seats in NSW. The party is fielding three Lower House candidates in NSW, along with Senate candidates in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

“We’re not a single issue party,” says Carter. “The issue is broad. It’s part of neighbourhoods and communities. Very few of us have just one child, so issues that affect children who don’t have disabilities affect our children too.”

With diverse backgrounds in areas such as small business, health care and legal services, Carter suggests the party is equipped to represent all Australians.

“We want people to know that we are dedicated to the cause of getting a fair go. We have a very broad view of life.”

While the official party platform hinges around health and education services, Buckwalter and Carter toldmojo about their views on national security, asylum seeker policy, infrastructure and industry.

“We need to do something about protecting borders, with the amount of people coming here as economic refugees,” says Buckwalter. “Defence is very important, particuarly given we are so isolated. Funding needs to be adequate for that.”

Carter would like to see attention and protection at a local level.

“There is a massive neglect of infrastucture in our regions, and transport issues. Regional hospitals should be sourcing food locally to give jobs to local areas. A lot of that has been displaced.”

The official party platform – and the area both Buckwalter and Carter talk most passionately about – is disability support. Both Carter and Buckwalter have close family with disabilities.

Carers Alliance supports the rights of children, including those without a disability. Their policies propose regular mental, physical and emotional health assessments, as well as equal access to support services. Their education policy proposes equal access and funding for students of varying intellectual and physical abilities, including a “universal design for learning”, which aims to provide for the diverse learning needs of individual students, in terms of content, methods and motivation.

The party advocates for at-home aged care, aiming to support elderly people so they can remain at home, rather than have to move into a care facility.

Mental health reform is also on Carers Alliance policy platform, with a pledge of 12 per cent of its health budget for that area.

Carter suggests the party’s driving objective is to provide overarching support to those marginalised by disability in various forms, which families like hers know all too well.

“It was just the most isolating and crushing experience and I would hate to think that families are going through that experience.”

Next, mojo speaks to the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics

 

Posted
AuthorToni Brient

Published by Monash's mojo  on August 13, 2013.

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The Australian Sex Party is attracting a rising number of voters disenchanted with the major parties’  views on civil liberties and human rights issues such as drug use, sex education, homosexuality and asylum seekers. This article continues mojo’s series about minor and niche parties running in the 2013 Federal Election. 

 

It’s a polarising name that has both attracted and repelled voters.

“People find it difficult at times,” admits Australian Sex Party convener Fiona Patten. But, with more than 20 years’ experience in the adult industry and as a civil rights lobbyist, she is not one to shy away from controversy.

“How we treat the worst off in our country is how we should be judged,” she says. “Certainly representing marginalised groups is an important part of representing a country.”

Since being registered with the Australian Electoral Commission in 2009, the Australian Sex Party has grown to include more than 6000 members. It will be running more than 30 candidates in the federal election, most of them contesting Lower House seats in Victoria.

The party believes voter support was evident in a recent state by-election in the Victorian seat of Lyndhurst, where the party gained 8.4 per cent of votes.

“It’s a really solid result,” says Patten, who will be running for a Victorian Senate seat. “I think that means that our policies are resonating with the community.”

However, she fears the preferencing system, which has traditionally allowed minor and niche parties to pick up seats, could work against the Sex Party.

“So many of smaller parties are from the Right: the Rise Up Australia Party, the Democratic Labor Party. There are many socially conservative parties and not so many progressive parties. For us to win on preferences, it’s going to be a challenge.”

According to Patten, it’s precisely this lack of diversity in political representation that created a need for parties like hers in parliament.

“I certainly think that the two-party system does this country a disservice. If you look at how you get preselected in the ALP and the Liberal Party, it comes from a very small gene pool.  You get very similar people almost cloned to each other.”

It’s evident from its policies that the Sex Party is not a clone of the major parties. Its civil liberty-driven policies are controversial: discouraging what it sees are the “over-reflection” of Judeo-Christianity in public life and the decriminalisation of recreational drugs.

Patten suggests public education about drugs and alcohol would decrease substance abuse and misuse.

“The data is there to say the decriminalisation of drugs saves lives,” she says, pointing to Portugal’s rehabilitation program as a model. “It changes the way young people see drug use: it’s something sick people do, not something cool or bad people do.”

She says similar awareness programs in sex education could prove just as effective.

“I do not want kids getting their sex education from hustler.com. If we started talking to children about their sexuality from a young age, that would help in things like child sexual abuse, when kids know what’s right, and know that adults touching them certain ways is not.”

The Sex Party aims to create policies that respond to technological changes in recent years.

“In the 21st century, young people have access to a much wider range of info and material than they did in the last century. We need to prepare young children for that,” Patten says.

She thinks smaller parties are gathering popularity because the major parties are yet to acknowledge these changes taking place in society – from medical changes such as abortion drugs to human rights issues such as asylum seekers and homosexuality.

“People are moving away from major political parties because they don’t recognise their voice: it’s not (the public’s) voice anymore. I think the smaller parties are reflecting the new voices.”

 The next instalment in mojo’s The Minors series will feature a party that was only formally registered with the AEC last month: The Smokers’ Rights Party.

Posted
AuthorToni Brient

Published on Monash's mojo on 2 August, 2013. 

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This article is the second in mojo‘s series about minor and niche parties running in the 2013 Federal Election. Senators Online will allow its constituents to have their say on issues debated in Parliament by voting online. The party says it will change the way Australia’s political system works.

by TONI BRIENT

“The government is the most important thing we’ve got,” says Senators Online founder Berge der Sarkissian. “I just thought there must be a way where we can use the internet to make government better.”

Senators Online (SOL), registered on the Australian Electoral Commission since 2007, is proposing to do just that. Its elected MPs and senators would adhere to a new model allowing the public to vote on Bills tabled in Parliament using the internet. The party says its model would increase transparency in government and promote “direct democracy”.

Senators Online's Karel Boele, explains his party’s proposal for grassroots voting on Bills. Photo: SOL.

 


“The party line is that you have to vote in accordance with your constituency,” says SOL NSW Senate candidate Karel Boele.

“People can log in and vote on any Bill. At the third reading (in Parliament), I will look at the vote. If the majority have voted in favour then I vote in favour.”

The party says voters will be able to access detailed information for each Bill they vote on, enabling them to make informed decisions.

“Part of the ideal in this model is to allow people to be involved in government more than they have been,” says Mr der Sarkissian.

Political commentator Malcolm Farnsworth suggests the idea is good in theory, but may not translate easily into practice.

“It’s unworkable to expect Parliament to operate this way.

“It’s a fantasy to think the electorate wants to do this, let alone that it would produce sensible legislation, stable government, or evidence-based public policy.”

But the party says voters would not be required to contribute their time to every Bill.

“Will we every get 100 per cent connectivity? I doubt it.

“You will always people who are apathetic.

“I could set a notification to say please notify me when there are Bills about superannuation because that’s what I’m interested in,” says Mr Boele.

In fact, SOL aims to make use of voters’ interests and expertise to collectively draft Bills online. Mr der Sarkissian suggests the process would be overseen by professionals employed by government and contracted specialists like university researchers. However, Mr Farnsworth suggests the model creates the potential for skewed results.

“These ideas would inevitably result in domination by small groups seeking to impose their will on the populace.

“Imagine giving the anti-abortionists, the anti-fluoridationists, and the shooters access to this kind of thing.”

SOL says its model will account for skewed results with a voting threshold of 20 per cent in each electoral division, or 100,000 nationally.

Flow chart showing how Senators Online’s proposal on Bill voting. Image: SOL.

“But really it’s other parties having to work with us, because we’re the people.

“If our vote in Parliament counts, then they’re going to have to look.

“One or many, we’d be using the Senators Online model.”

But, Mr Boele predicts that some of his potential parliamentary colleagues would be reluctant to adopt the model.

“Tony Abbott would not be where he is, he would lose power immediately,” he laughs.

“I don’t think you’ll get the major parties taking it up.”

Stay tuned for next week’s party profile, when mojo speaks with No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics.

 

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AuthorToni Brient

Published on Monash University's Dangerous Ground on July 28, 2013. 

 

Tootgarook Swamp: home to threatened species is now under threat.

Nestled among residential estates, a waste disposal centre, and golf courses on the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula is a vast expanse of seemingly vacant land. To the untrained eye, most of the land surrounding Elizabeth Street, Rosebud West, is simply browning, overgrown scrub. But Sanctuary Park Bushland Reserve, on the street’s southern side, supports an intricate system of natural hydrology that sustains various species of flora and fauna. It is not the only site of its kind in the area. The reserve, around 60km south east of Melbourne, forms part of an estimated 380 hectares that indigenous populations once called ‘the land of the croaking frog’. 

The Tootgarook Wetlands, or Tootgarook Swamp as it is also known, is claimed by local conservationists to be home to over 160 species of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals. Many of the swamp’s inhabitants are endangered and protected species, like the Ballion’s Crake, Lewin’s Rail, and Australasian Bittern birds, which all feature on the Commonwealth government’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1998. The Dwarf Galaxis fish, White-footed Dunnart and Swamp Skink are also protected. 

“I’ve been able to photograph, in the last year, 16 threatened species within 50 metres of here,” says Save Tootgarook Swamp’s Cameron Brown, who is grappling with legislation to protect what is left of the once-800 hectare wetlands from development environmentalists say will severely harm it.

The Mornington Peninsula Shire is considering the possibility of having the Tootgarook Swamp listed on the international Ramsar treaty as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’. But many locals are calling for alternate protection, arguing that Ramsar cannot adequately shield the site from the impact of harmful development. There are bids for planning amendments, public acquisition, and conservation protection overlays to protect the Tootgarook Swamp, as activists point to the apparent failure of the Ramsar treaty to protect other wetlands.

Just 30 kilometres east of Tootgarook is Westernport Bay, listed on the Ramsar treaty three decades ago. In March 2013, Victoria’s Napthine government committed $110 million over four years to commence planning for a large container port at Hastings on the bay’s western coastline – a project the government has been pushing for decades. The pending development at Westernport has left many questioning the significance of the Ramsar treaty, whose mission is largely disputed throughout the community.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was held in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. Some 18 countries agreed to sign a treaty committing them to “maintaining the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for ‘wide use’, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories”.  The treaty, commonly known as the Ramsar Convention, is the only transnational environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem.  Australia was the first signatory, listing the Northern Territory’s Cobourg Peninsula on 5 May, 1974. Since the Ramsar treaty came into effect in 1975, 2119 sites across the globe have been listed, with a total of 165 contracting parties to date.  These nations are committed to maintaining the “ecological character” of Wetlands of International Importance, “achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. Because the treaty is not legally binding, legislating for the acceptable use of wetlands is a responsibility for national governments.

Senior advisor to the Ramsar Secretariat for the Asian Region Lew Young disputes claims that the system is problematic.

“Nations do generally try their best to fulfill their obligations under the convention using the resources and expertise that they have,” he says. “At present, there is already a good system for the public, NGO and even the governments themselves to report to the secretariat if there are problems with implementation within the country.”

 Australia ratified the Ramsar treaty guidelines through the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity (EPBC) Act 1999. Section 16 of the Act states,

(1) A person must not take an action that:

 (a) has or will have a significant impact on the ecological character of a declared Ramsar wetland; or

 (b) is likely to have a significant impact on the ecological character of a declared Ramsar wetland.

There are differing views about what constitutes “impact on the ecological character”.  Some argue it rules out any development at a Ramsar site.  But according to Mr Brown, development is permitted if it is sensitive to the ecology of the site in question.

“Ramsar is just the wise use of wetlands,” he says. “It’s using the wetlands in a way that enhances it or protects it.”

Flinders federal Liberal MP and Opposition  environment spokesman Greg Hunt agrees. He says even the Commonwealth Act does not simply allow or prohibit development at a site based on its Ramsar status.

“It’s not a definition of whether it’s good or bad,” he says. “It simply triggers the federal Act and is then subject to an assessment on the facts.”

Hunt says the federal environment protection Act requires the Environment Minister firstly to examine the development’s adherence to the legislation.

“The law makes it clear that if there is a detrimental impact it either has to be reduced, ameliorated, or the activity can’t proceed.

“If they are in breach, then that’s a factual question both to what’s actually proposed and what damage might occur. Then, either it’s got to be significantly changed, reviewed, or the activity would be blocked.”

 Hunt suggests the Act prohibits pre-emptive action by the government, which can act only in response to a proposal for development at a Ramsar site.

“The Minister of the day, whether it is myself or someone else, will have legal duties to test whether or not the (EPBC) Act is triggered. And if it’s in a Ramsar Convention…then to test whether or not the activity would breach the standards of care required of the Act.”

While the Environment Minister’s office declined requests to comment, the Ramsar secretariat’s Lew says Australia is leading the way in wetland conservation. 

“Its effectiveness is dependent on how well it is understood and used by the government and the environmentalists,” he says. “Australia is one of the better countries in taking an active approach to implementing the convention. Australia is already far ahead of many other  countries.”

While he has not received information regarding developments at Westernport, he expects the government will exercise proper  judgment and act in the interests of ecological character of the site.

A site for development or conservation?

But for many, the lack of pre-emptive action is problematic. Activists working in the Tootgarook Swamp group say they have been driven to explore alternate methods for conservation. Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association secretary Philip Jensen says even the government acknowledges the shortcomings of a potential Ramsar listing

“The person in (Department of Sustainability and Environment) that’s responsible for managing Ramsar sites told us that the best protection is the planning scheme, that the Ramsar does not just protect land per se,” he says.

 Zoning divisions in the swamp have been debated for more than a decade. An urban growth boundary divides the swamp, made up of green wedge zone, residential, and industrial areas. Local environmental activist Cameron Brown estimates as much as 80% of the swamp is privately owned and used for different purposes.

“One of the large problems is that the green wedge zone runs pretty much half way through the swamp. So down the bottom section you’ve got rural with green wedge. In the northern section you’ve got a mixture of reserve mixed with industrial mixed with freeway reserve.”

 According to Brown, the planning zone boundaries cannot contain the swamp’s diverse ecosystems. “It’s pretty confusing, but the animals – they don’t know it. They don’t care. They don’t understand what a fence is.”

He would like to see the planning scheme amended, but acknowledges that rezoning privately owned land could be problematic. “It’s just very complicated. Because you’ve got people that have owned the land for 10 years, since it was zoned that (way). Is it right to rezone it when those people bought it? But at the same time…it is right that somebody who bought the land so cheaply when the zoning was changed can turn around and make a huge profit, because that’s what we’ve seen happen.”

 In March, the Mornington Peninsula Shire and a developer won a Supreme Court case to overturn a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling that had deemed unlawful  the extension of an expired planning permit. As a result, the site in question, 95 Elizabeth Ave (opposite Sanctuary Park Bushland Reserve) remains a residential zone.  Developers are expected to generate substantial profits from housing projects at the site. Jensen says amendments should be made to the planning scheme, prohibiting any development at the swamp.

“It’s the only avenue we’ve got: areas under immediate threat are the ones zoned as residential. So that is our focus, to get that zoning changed.”

Friends of Chinaman’s Creek member Norman McKinlay says the shire should consider selling the swamp to a statutory body committed to its conservation. He agrees with Jensen on the futility of a Ramsar listing, suggesting public ownership instead.

“We have Westernport which is a Ramsar wetland, but it really doesn’t protect it 100 per cent,” he says. “What we need is to get one body that looks after the whole Tootgarook Swamp, because it’s split into so many different landholders that it’s a very complicated situation.”

According to McKinlay, Melbourne Water is the most appropriate suggestion: “They’ve got all the expertise and possibly money on hand”, a view that Jensen shares.

For Cameron Brown, who acknowledges that development in Tootgarook Swamp is not preferred but seems inevitable, proper management of the land is imperative. He suggests public acquisition may be “beyond the shire’s pocket” now, and advocates for cooperation between landowners (including the shire).

“It’s probably a very complex sort of wish, but it would be achievable I believe. Because obviously if it is developed in the right way, it would be beneficial to the landowner.”

Brown points to Boneo Park, 150 hectares of privately owned land that was recently protected with a conservation covenant. In February, owner Rob McNaught signed a deed with non-profit, statutory body Trust For Nature, which committed Boneo Park to long-term protection. According to the Opposition’s Greg Hunt, arrangements like this should set an example to other landowners of significant ecological sites. Like Brown, he believes a conservation covenant is preferable to state acquisition.

“I’m not sure why you would take it out of loving, caring private hands that have conservation covenanted it,” he says. “I think sometimes land can be in much safer long-term hands where you have a good custodian.”

Although they disagree with residential zoning, both Jensen and McKinlay also welcome McNaught’s efforts. The trust, which declined requests for an interview, has the potential to act as a negotiator for sites like the Tootgarook Wetlands. It allows landowners to retain ownership of their land, while ensuring the ongoing conservation of ecological character.

According to Hunt, even in the event of a Ramsar listing, bodies like the trust would continue to be crucial to the conservation of the Tootgarook Wetlands.

“One is a legal status, the other is a physical action and the complementary activity,” he says. “My own view is that if it stacks up, why wouldn’t you list it, but listing alone doesn’t actually protect the land. What really matters is the on-the-ground practical conservation rehabilitation work.”

Brown echoes the call for proper recognition of the role of Ramsar. He says appropriate use of the Tootgarook Swamp, in line with what the Ramsar treaty deems “wise use” which “maintains the ecological character” of wetlands, could bring wider benefits for the community than housing developments.

“Building some houses on the swamp will only bring a short-term income for a short time period, whereas appropriate development could see a long-term income and benefit to the actual whole economy of Rosebud.”

He suggests the Tootgarook Swamp has huge potential for ecotourism. “Usually the best time to see birds is dusk and dawn,” he says. “Because it’s late and early, that could mean breakfast and dinner, maybe a stay-over. So they’re all things that will actually benefit the town, in terms of tourism, because it’s international – especially if it’s Ramsar.”

Echoing Hunt, the status that comes with a Ramsar listing is the most significant aspect for Brown. “The landowner would be getting international recognition. (For) somewhere like Eagle Ridge Golf Course, partially on the wetland… it doesn’t stop them doing what they’re doing so long as they’re incorporating the wetland in.”

The formative stage in achieving a resolution between opposing viewpoints at Tootgarook Swamp, according to Mr Brown,  is education about the importance of the environment.

“There’s that ignorance is bliss, where you think, ‘If I don’t know I don’t have to worry.’ But as soon as you learn about something and understand what’s there how can you ignore it?”

For him, the recognition that comes with a Ramsar listing is a catalyst to action. 

It remains to be seen whether the Tootgarook Swamp is listed on the Ramsar treaty, and whether any of the land is rezoned. But activists say they will continue to stand their ground.

 

Posted
AuthorToni Brient
Categoriesonline
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Publishedon Monash's mojo on July 24 as a prelude to my weekly 2013 election series.

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With Labor going back to the future with the reinstatement of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, attention will be almost firmly focused on the major political parties. However, it’s on the fringes that some of the more interesting battles – and candidates – will feature. From next week, mojo’s Toni Brient runs the magnifying glass over these parties, but firstly do they actually stand a chance in an election expected to sway heavily in favour of the Coalition?

by Toni Brient

Voters in the 2013 Federal election will potentially have a choice of representatives from over 50 political parties.

Some 37 parties are currently listed on the Australian Electoral Commission register (many of which are divided into state branches) with a further 17 awaiting approval to be registered.

Image: Flickr/Alex Hamilton.

Image: Flickr/Alex Hamilton.

The presence of minor and niche political parties are not a new phenomenon in Australia, but some say the groups are receiving renewed interest in the current political climate.

According to Flinders University School of Social and Policy Studies lecturer, Rob Manwaring, it does not signal a change in overall political participation.

“I don’t buy the argument that we’re more apathetic or more engaged,” says Dr Manwaring, who lectures in Australian politics, public policy, and political participation.

“The big trend is that trust is gone. People are far less trusting than they used to be.

“They’re not more disengaged though. They’re less likely to vote for the major parties.”

Political commentator and founder of AustralianPolitics.com, Malcolm Farnsworth, suggests the greatest impact of minor and niche parties will be shaping the political agenda and influencing preferences at election time.

“Recently, a new trend has emerged where micro parties combine to swap preferences.

“(This) helped DLP Senator John Madigan win in 2010 despite a very low primary vote.  It could assist Pauline Hanson in the 2013 election.”

Dr Manwaring suggests preference deals in recent years have caused a drop in the “overall share of votes” for larger parties, particularly in the Senate.

“They focus their campaigns there because that’s where they’re more likely to pick up their votes.”

Mr Farnsworth suggests a Senate presence is crucial to minor and niche parties gaining power.

“This is the only significant way the Greens, Democrats and the DLP were and are able to exercise power.”

Both Dr Manwaring and Mr Farnsworth expect to see a peripheral impact from minor and niche parties in the 2013 Federal Election.

“On the whole their influence is relatively fringe, almost like NGOs,” says Dr Manwaring.

“The media concentrates on the sparring between the main parties.

“It will be hard for minor parties to get a look in, let alone a niche one.”

Mr Farnsworth expects the Coalition to recover votes that have gone to minor parties like the Greens in recent years.

“Some people argue that Abbott is unpopular and this will encourage people to look for an alternative but I’m not at all convinced of that.

He said Kevin Rudd’s toppling of Julia Gillard could possibly, but not necessarily, blow the whole election wide open.

“In any event, I doubt that minor parties would have much influence.”

Dr Manwaring also expects the Greens’ vote to decline, with both he and Mr Farnsworth speculating that South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young may lose her position.

But, because the Senate runs to a different electoral timetable than the House of Representatives, Dr Manwaring suggests the Greens will retain some power for a short time at least.

Dr Manwaring and Mr Farnsworth agree that the Family First party is likely to pick up seats.

Mr Farnsworth also predicts that the Australian Sex Party and Katter’s Australia Party will be popular in some areas.

Posted
AuthorToni Brient

Published on the Issimo Magazine website.

A young performer’s compelling, original songs are a far cry from the cheesy, boy-meets-girl stories that dominate indiepop, writes TONI BRIENT.

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Charlie Lane. Photo: Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

Charlie Lane’s signature indie-pop sound is influenced by artists like Soko, Lily Allen, Cat Power and Kimya Dawson.

But for the recent JMC music and performance graduate, the upcoming Melbourne Cabaret Festival is an opportunity to branch out from her usual style.

“I love being able to create a story line and deliver it in such a theatrical way to the audience. I love that it is about the visual aspects as well as song,” Lane says.

“Costuming and makeup is just such a thrill.”

Her show offers an honest, insightful trip through the mind of an adolescent girl coming of age in a world that seems to crave everything she’s not.

The Girl Who Never Grew Up presents an enticingly unique exploration of the concept of adulthood.

“I really am a girl that doesn’t want to be pushed into growing up. I feel that just because people get older, you should not lose your sense of ‘kidishness’ or joy of simple things.”

In Mannequin, Lane, 22, she sings about living in a world full of people who seem to be nothing more than plastic.

Robot depicts an argument with her doctor about the need for medication.

Charlie’s lyrics are quirky and honest, yet strikingly eloquent.

Her songs are a far cry from the boy-meets-girl stories that dominate the indiepop genre, and are resonating with a growing fan-base across Melbourne.

She has played venues across Melbourne, including South Melbourne’s Bohemia Cabaret Club, St Kilda’s Veludo Restaurant and Bar, and Esplanade Hotel.

But the idea for the cabaret performance stems from a show at Chapel Street’s Red Bennies bar in her university days, where the audience responded strongly to songs about “mood swings and anti-depressants”.

“I thought ‘Lets not stem too far away from the tree and go with The Girl Who Never Grew Up.

“It tells a similar story from a bit of a different perspective.”

Accompanying Charlie at the Melbourne Cabaret Festival will be bass player Lewis Reidy-Crofts, pianist Kate Lewis, guitarist Tom McGlinn and drummer Michael Jules.

Charlie Lane will be at The Butterfly Club on June 30  and July 7 as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival. For tickets, see www.thebutterflyclub.com

For more information on Charlie Lane, including other upcoming performances, see www.charlielanemusic.com

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AuthorToni Brient
CategoriesIssimo, online