And while sober discussion of immigration, workers’ rights and economic policy has thus far trumped talk of pornography and pole dancing, the misfits of the Australian Sex Party (ASP) are campaigning voraciously across the country in the lead-up to the Aug. 21 general elections.
With their mandate of "keeping the government out of our bedrooms," ASP’s policies generally revolve around, you guessed it, sex.
Straddling the line where sex meets national politics, the policies of the party — formed in 2008 — include greater sex education in schools, opposing mandatory internet filters, more vigorous investigation into claims of child sex abuse in religious institutions and listing medication for treating sexual dysfunctions on the public subsidy program.
Fiona Patten, president of ASP, has worked in Australia’s adult entertainment industry for most of her adult life, including her ongoing role as CEO of Eros Association, the country’s leading adult peak industry group.
“Australians are not particularly conservative, but our politicians are, and I think the Sex Party is, filling a gap there. We are socially progressive,” Patten said.
“We’re pretty backward in terms of our laws [regarding sex]. Unfortunately we’re getting quite a lot of input from that neo-con, religious right seen in America.”
With a support network strongly pooled, though not exclusively, from young voters, Patten hopes ASP and its strong slant toward civil liberties will turn the tide on what she sees as Australia’s archaic and conservative political values.
The party, she says, is hoping for at least 5 percent of primary votes in each state it is campaigning in and is aiming to have at least one candidate attain a senate seat. Patten herself is running for the senate in the southern state of Victoria.
“None of us are career politicians. We really are a cross-section of the community, albeit some of the more colorful sections of the community. We’re not exactly the ‘gray suits.’”
Colorful is certainly the word. Among the ASP’s eclectic band of candidates are representatives of the adult entertainment industry as well as a female weightlifting champion and a famous Australian comedian.
Alexander Gutman, under his stage name Austen Tayshus (pronounced "ostentacious") has been a steadfast kingpin on the Australian comedy scene for decades. His 1983 spoken-word song "Australiana" remains the highest selling Australian-produced single ever.
Austen Tayshus is taking on leader of the country’s opposition Liberal party, Tony Abbott, in his home electorate in Sydney’s north. Employing trademark sardonic humor, the comedian and Sex Party politician has been “sticking it up” Abbott since the election’s announcement.
“Both personalities heading up the two major parties are just so boring,” he reasoned. “It’s the bland leading the bland. I think injecting a bit of satire into it is a good thing.”
A favorite of his campaign quips makes reference to an Abbott-proof fence (in reference to the iconic Australian film Rabbit Proof Fence). When asked whether he has had any interaction with his political rival, he jokingly explained: "I’ve been over there for a dope-smoking session and I’ve rooted [had sexual intercourse with] his two daughters,” he said, with a laugh. “No really, nothing to do with him.”
Jokes aside, ASP has turned more than a few heads since arriving on the scene.
In a by-election late last year, an ASP candidate came third out of 22 parties vying for a Sydney seat. The 27-year-old Marianne Leishman, who prefers to go by her stage name Zahra Stardust, discerned herself from fellow politicians by pole dancing on lamp posts and handing out how-to-vote condoms.
Zahra is running again this year for a New South Wales seat in the Senate.
“I think Australian voters are becoming frustrated with the increasing conservatism in our politics and I believe the Sex Party is the answer to that,” she explained.
Stardust, with an unlikely but impressive set of skills, is making an impression on her campaign trail. She is a long-time activist for gender equality and sexual awareness, working with such NGOs as Amnesty International and the United Nations in Africa. When not taking part in activism or working on her Masters in gender studies, she moonlights as one of Australia’s most successful pole dancers.
In fact, the budding politician has just returned from a stint in Europe, where she modeled in the World Body Painting Expo in Vienna, judged Miss Pole Dance Germany and ran a pole dancing workshop in Stockholm.
“I actually resented the idea of being a politician for a long time, but I have to look at it as a kind of political activism from the inside” she laughed.
One of the greatest draw cards for Stardust was ASP’s stance on lobbying for same sex marriage and adoption rights for same sex couples.
“I really think the ASP represents a new era, particularly with equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”
Justine Martin, currently running for a senate seat in Western Australia, is a mother of two and professional weightlifter in her home city of Perth.
Martin first heard about the Sex Party through a couple she met on a swinger’s website, who urged her to pursue a career in politics. Since shacking up with ASP, she has quit her job to focus full time on the campaign.
“I’m using electronic media a lot, getting on chat forums on lots of websites that normal politicians wouldn’t go near or have their faces even seen on," she said.
Support for her campaign has come from outside as well as in. Martin’s partner, who works on the mines, recently stripped naked for a web ad for the Sex Party.
Much support, both financially and vocally, for the party in general has come from within the adult industry. Party president Fiona Patten doesn’t hide her strong ties with small businesses and professionals specializing in the naughty side of society. ASP even launched a funding drive aimed at the United States adult entertainment industry, including a personal request to Larry Flynt for financial support.
Heidi Zeugn, 39, runs a boutique selling adult products in a trendy suburb in Sydney's inner west. The shop displays ASP posters in their entrance and party literature on the counter.
“I think it gives us a good choice. We’ve got a lot of conservative parties, so I think we need some thing on the other end,” she said. “Sex education is really important, and that’s what I’m all about.”
Rob Frew, who works with Zeugn at Maxxx Black adult store, summed up the swelling support for Australia’s newest party.
“The really nice thing about the Sex Party is they’re bringing sex back to politics, and they’re really putting it on the table. It’s just that one topic that hasn’t really ever been discussed before.”