I don’t have time to read all of this!
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ReasonVIC/
Themes: Evidence-based policy, sensible compromise, harm minimisation, individual liberty. Socially progressive, economically centrist.
With friends like these…
The Group Voting Ticket
Patten has put the Voluntary Euthanasia Party first in her preferences wherever they are running. The Animal Justice Party is second everywhere except South Eastern Metropolitan, where she has put them third after Chawla’s grouped independents, and Eastern Metropolitan where she has put them third after Sustainable Australia. Sustainable Australia is always in the top five, and the Liberal Democratic Party and Hinch’s Justice Party are also there most of the time. Vote 1 Local Jobs also makes it in, and the Socialists appear a few times.
She favours Labor over the Greens in some electorates and the Greens over Labor in others, and they are usually in the upper middle part of the ticket. The Liberals are always the last of the major parties, and occasionally they are in the bottom five.
Reliably last on her ticket are the Australian Liberty Alliance, with the Democratic Labor Party ranked just above them. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers are usually third last and the Australian Country Party are also usually in the bottom five. Ungrouped independents of all stripes are usually just above the ALA, and the Aussie Battlers also make regular appearances near the bottom of Patten’s ticket.
This is an interesting ticket, because the bottom half of it is a pretty close match to my own leftie preferences, but the top half has a few oddballs in it. I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to see the Liberal Democrats up so high – my biggest issue with Patten’s previous party, the Australian Sex Party, was that it was too libertarian for my taste – but there are definitely some social justice tendencies in here, and I’m glad to see Chawla and Lee getting some more love!
The Body Politic
Policies, Snark, Terrible Theme Songs and Other Observations
Disclaimer: I don’t think this is one of my better commentaries on a political party. I don’t entirely know why I feel so inclined to interpret their policies in such a suspicious fashion, but apparently I do. Please take this commentary with a grain of salt, and if in doubt, visit the policy page and make your own judgments!
It looks like Fiona Patten decided it was time to stop amusing Australia with the endless array of silly jokes afforded to them by the existence of a party called the Sex Party. Which is fair enough – the Sex Party got her the attention and votes she needed to get into Parliament and show what she could do, but it’s not the sort of name that inspires people to take you seriously.
So earlier this year, she changed her party’s name to Fiona Patten’s Reason Party, which comes with the slogans ‘It’s time for real change’ ‘It’s time for reason’ and ‘People Before Politics’.
There is some fun to be have with these slogans. First, as any good historian of Australian politics will have already noticed, the Reason Party has cheerfully co-opted Gough Whitlam’s historic ‘It’s time‘ as part of their slogans. This was one of the most famous political campaigns in Australian political history, and I think immediately sends a signal to anyone on the left of politics that this party is for them.
The keywords in these slogans are, I think, ‘change’ ‘reason’ and ‘people’. The Reason Party is selling itself as the party of making changes based on reason, not emotion (or, more likely, religion), changes that will benefit people, not just politicians. This is a pretty good sales pitch to those of us on the left. For that matter, they may well capture some of the right, as well, since there are few people of any political stripe who do not believe that their political views are based on reason…
(And, I suspect, few people of any political stripe whose views actually are. I’m pretty sure mine aren’t, and it’s not for want of thinking about the subject.)
But before we get too starry-eyed about this party, it’s probably also worth noting that the very name ‘The Reason Party’ implies that anyone who is against them is clearly… unreasonable. Now, this applies to a lot of political party names that are based on abstract qualities. Those who oppose the ALA are anti-liberty, those who oppose Hinch must be anti-justice, and so forth. But the accusation of being unreasonable is a powerful one in our society.
The Reason Party stands for forward-thinking, evidence-based and inclusive change for Victoria. We represent reasonable people who want real change for the better.
The current major parties are in constant political gridlock, but Reason is here to break down those barriers and implement solutions to important community issues, that matter to you.
On their ‘About’ page, we learn that
Reason stands for reasonable people who want real change for the better. For equality, for sustainability, for freedom. From young people who can’t afford a place to live, to older people who want to be able to die with dignity, and everyone in between who want to bring sanity back into our politics.
We get a bit of Patten’s history in parliament, emphasising her work on drug law reform, ridesharing, voluntary euthanasia and, above all, Safe Access Zones around abortion clinics. I like this approach – telling people what you have worked on in the past is a good, straightforward way to give them an idea of your priorities. And it’s not one that a lot of small parties can do, because they don’t necessarily have that history in parliament.
(Also, clearly no attempt is being made to woo the conservative vote, but they were never going to vote for a party that used to be called the Sex Party anyway, so that’s no real loss.)
There is a lot of emphasis on this page on inclusiveness and young Australians, and we are assured that ‘Reason will be future-focused and evidence-based.’ The issues that get flagged on this page are inequality, climate change, housing affordability, asylum seeker treatment, job security and accessibility, and quality of education, health and infrastructure. It’s notable that many of these things are of particular interest to young voters, and I think that this is the demographic that the Reason Party is really setting out to woo to their side.
On their Policy Page, they have a fourfold promise:
- proven broker of good sense
- effective, positive social change
- protect children and leave adults alone
- money where it’s needed
The first of these is the most interesting, because it really focuses on the importance of the crossbench. The Reason Party knows that it isn’t going to be forming government any time soon, and so it talks about what it will do with the power it does have.
Reason is unashamedly non-partisan, working with both sides of politics to be a genuine broker of good sense and Reason in politics.
Our position on the crossbench is one of immense responsibility and we refuse to play political games, instead focussing on how we can make real positive change in our community.
Again, I’m approving of this approach, which I think is coming from the top. I’ve heard from one Labor MP that Ms Patten is very easy to work with – very straightforward and personable, with excellent people skills. I’d note that the website seems to reflect this – it’s very matter-of-fact, doesn’t talk around issues, and treats the reader with respect. I was not a huge fan of the Sex Party, which was always more libertarian than I was comfortable with, but I’m feeling somewhat won over by the Reason Party so far.
The Reason Party has 26 policies, which are difficult to summarise, because they are all in bullet points, so I apologise in advance if I seem to be skimming a bit.
Health and Ageing
We have a nice suite of policies here including better healthcare in poorly serviced areas, integrated health hubs, and a focus on evidence-based prevention and early intervention. They want to strengthen dental services, and avoid over-servicing and unscientific treatments.
The Reason Party wants a lot more investment in mental health care, including better training for health professionals, and early intervention for young people at risk. They view drug use as primarily a mental health issue, rather than a criminal issue, and want to integrate mental health and drug treatment services.
And they want a ‘ministerial portfolio for loneliness to address the health implications associated with isolation’.
I kind of love that last one. A long time ago, I volunteered for a crisis line which dealt with everything from helping people find material aid to keeping people safe when they were suicidal. And every week, we would get one call from the same elderly lady. She never took up more than ten minutes of our time, and she just wanted a chat. You see, she lived alone, and on Monday she would go to the library and borrow books and talk to the librarian, and on Tuesday she would go to the shopping centre and people-watch, and on Wednesday she had her carer come around, and so forth and so forth (I’m making up these examples, because a) I can’t remember the exact details of her strategy and b) if I did, it would be inappropriate to share them here). And on Saturday, she would ring us. We were her human contact for the day. Which was not strictly what the service was for, but it was also pretty clearly preventive care for her, and made a nice relaxing phone call for whoever was lucky enough to get her on their shift, so we were always very happy to talk to her.
So yes. I’m all in favour of trying to do something about loneliness.
And speaking of sweet elderly ladies, they want better aged care services, that cater for minorities and people with disabilities, and an Ombudsman for Aged Care and Retirement Housing. They also want age- and dementia-friendly community planning, which is an interesting idea. I’d really like to know more about what this means.
Planning and Infrastructure
The Reason Party really likes public transport and wants more of it, especially in outer suburbs, and regional areas. They would also like timetables to connect to each other, which is a novel and pleasing idea, and free WiFi on public transport. They also want a state based cycling strategy, more bike routes, and bike racks on buses and trams.
I love all of this except for the last bit, which I feel will be impractical – where would you put them?
(Speaking of bicycles, the Reason Party also wants to make bicycle helmets optional for people over 18. I’m not so sure about that one, frankly. I know that bike helmets can be a barrier for people using shared bike services, but they are also a barrier against catastrophic head injuries, and I’m against catastrophic head injuries. I was lucky to survive a childhood bicycle accident, so I feel fairly strongly about this.)
The Reason Party wants better planning for new suburbs, including traffic management, access to medical and allied health services, and local employment. All of this sounds like a good idea.
The Reason Party would like to increase density in inner and middle suburbs, and build a lot more community and public housing. They want to reduce Stamp Duty on investment in social housing, which sounds like an excellent idea, and increase security for long-term renters.
Law Reform, Drugs, Homelessness, and At-Risk Youth
This sounds like a very perjorative framing, and I’m so sorry! But these three topics do overlap a bit in the Reason Party’s policy areas.
The Reason Party is very focused on the causes of crime, and on reducing reoffending. They want more training for police in de-escalation, mental health, and cultural competency.
They want to make it easier for sex offenses to be reported and prosecuted, and find ways to support victims of crime in the criminal justice system. They want a lot more support for interventions to prevent family violence, including family violence education programs in workplaces, and more funding for safe houses and for legal and psychological services.
They want early interventions to identify and support people at risk of homelessness, and a coordinated multi-agency approach to addressing the needs of homeless people.
They are particularly concerned about at-risk youth, and want to make sure children in foster care are protected from abuse. They also want to raise the age at which kids leave foster care to 21 (as this is less likely to interrupt schooling). They want to look at the youth criminal justice system, and work out the underpinning causes of offending, as well as early intervention.
The reason party supports a harm-minimisation model for drug use, with cannabis to be legalised and taxed, and more medically-supervised injecting centres. They also want to reform laws to allow front-of-house pill testing at music festivals and similar events, which sounds like a smart move. They also want to legalise electronic vaporisers and liquid nicotine as treatments for smoking. I’ve never heard of either of these things and have no idea what the risks or benefits are, so perhaps someone with more knowledge would like to comment?
They are concerned about the over-representation of aboriginal people in the justice system and want to directly address this… but they do not say how.
Politics and politicians
The Reason Party wants all politicians to be legally bound to act in the public interest. This is a great idea, but who decides what the public interest is? (She asks, thinking dark thoughts about ARC funding and certain cabinet ministers…)
They also want to cap electoral spending and enforce expenses rules, and they want political donations to be reported in real time.
The Reason Party also wants ‘Mature political dialogue’, demonstrating that this is indeed a party of idealists… More seriously, they want proposed policies to include evidence, research and expert knowledge, and they want public servants to be empowered to be frank, transparent, rational and fearless.
They want to encourage more public participation in democracy, and bipartisan long term planning of infrastructure.
Basically, they want all of government to be a lot more open and accountable, and I am 100% for this.
Religion, Sex, and Equality
I have to admit, I was a bit worried about what the Reason Party was going to put here, because in the past, they have been anti-religion to an extent that I find uncomfortable.
I’m going to quote their policy in full, because there are a couple of things I want to discuss, but also because it gives you a good feel for what their policies look like.
- Remove tax exemptions from for-profit businesses owned by religious institutions, while protecting their charitable activities
- Reform equal opportunity laws to prevent religious organisations from discriminating
- Remove religious oaths from parliamentary proceedings
- Extend mandatory reporting laws to religious institutions
- End exemptions for admissions disclosed in religious confessions
Honestly? This is surprisingly, well, Reasonable. I admit, I’m a little troubled by the last one – but honestly, if the Catholic Church is not going to step up and change how they deal with admissions disclosed in Confession (and there are, in fact, ways they could be handling this that would be in keeping both with their faith and with the need to protect people from harm), I think the State does need to step in and say, enough. I don’t like it, but I don’t see a better alternative.
Note also the bare bones nature of this policy. That’s pretty much what the policies look like, which makes them fast to read, but there are definitely times when I’d like to see them go into more depth.
The Reason Party would like to decriminalise sex work, and regulate it, and they want to make it unlawful to discriminate against someone based on their profession. They want age-appropriate relationship and sex education in the school curriculum.
(Incidentally, while the underlying beliefs remain the same, this is definitely a pivot away from the Sex Party’s early branding and policies. When the party was founded, there was a lot of talk about it being a front for the sex industry, and honestly, the amount of focus on the sex industry in their policies supported this idea, at least to an extent. Now… four bullet points is all we get, and one of them is about sex ed in schools).
On censorship, they want to ‘facilitate responsible adult freedoms while protecting children’, which I interpret to mean ‘porn for all, but no underage porn’. I have mixed feelings about this, to be honest. A lot of porn is quite exploitative, and children aren’t the only ones who can be abused. I fear that I am a tad too conservative for the Reason Party, because while I have no issues with pornographic or erotic artwork or writing (says the shameless reader of romances), I become uneasy once there are actual real people being filmed or photographed.
(… I might, rather ironically, be saying here that I’d actually like to see their policy on sex workers particularly in the porn industry, if they are going to be making porn more legal and accessible. Oh dear…)
On equality, they want to extend racial and religious vilification laws to vilifaction based on sexuality and gender; pursue gender parity in pay, and strengthen the Equal Opportunity Commission. And also reform surrogacy and adoption laws, to help those over 30 wishing to adopt, which feels like a strange thing to lump under equality, but there you have it.
Business and Innovation
The Reason Party wants to decrease burdens on small business and cutting red tape. This is actually a little bit surprising, as those are usually markers of a right wing economic plan, but Reason is actually skewing fairly left of centre on other economic issues.
They have a couple of interesting ones here – they want to look at the impact of AI and automation on the economy and workplace, which sounds remarkably reminiscent of the DLP’s concern about technology stealing jobs (thus proving that even the DLP and the Reason Party can find some ground in common).
They also want to increase investment in medical technology and pharma, foster advanced manufacturing in Victoria, and prioritise local businesses in government procurement. These all look like sensible strategies to me.
Energy and Environment
Both these sections are described as ‘a pragmatic plan to [achieve targets] [protect our environment] while sustaining [affordability/economy]’. And, accordingly, they are both good starts which I don’t feel go quite far enough in the circumstances.
The Reason Party does want to audit potential impacts of the rising sea levels and extreme weather events, which is important, and I like their plans to support recycling and foster industries focused on repurposing waste. Also, I can never resist a green roof policy.
They also want to extend our Renewable Energy Action Plan beyond 2040, and plan our transition away from coal-fired plants. They like hydroelectricity, and they want to encourage small businesses and residents to take up clean energy by increasing incentives and reducing regulations.
Children and Education
The Reason Party is concerned about child health, and wants to co-locate childcare with health and allied services, provide better support for parents, promote universal health checks up to 1000 days, and fund pre-school places for 3-4 year olds.
I note that they say nothing whatsoever about vaccination, which is an odd omission, given the other things they do include. I know one can’t have a policy on everything, but it concerns me, particularly since I’ve noted their libertarian leanings in their previous incarnation as the Sex Party. I don’t really think the Reason Party is anti-vaxx, but they may not be entirely willing to say that vaccinations should be enforced, either.
They want to emphasise social education in schools, as well as vocational, technical, special needs and gifted education. And they want to replace school chaplains with qualified youth and social workers.
They also want to teach life skills in secondary school, which sounds like a good plan, and they want to focus on STEM subjects, but also expand them to include arts and music. I am all in favour, but also beginning to wonder where you fit all of this into the curriculum.
Also, as a historian, what about history? Understanding our past is important! (Also, if I hadn’t spent so much of my undergraduate degree reading historical documents and using them as a window into the minds and cultures of their authors, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog now. It’s the exact same skill set, and I think it’s a useful one.)
The Reason Party also wants to pay ‘special attention to speech pathology and obesity in primary schools’, and this is another policy where I would like to know just what they mean, because there are a lot of ways where this could veer into shaming and bullying and blaming.
The Reason Party also wants to ensure that every Aboriginal child has the opportunity to reach their full potential, and advocates for communities to be strong in their culture.
The Reason Party is the first I’ve seen so far to have a policy on Arts! A lot of it seems to be about giving Arts the same sort of treatment we give sport (music education in all primary schools, learning and travel scholarships for emerging artists), with a couple of nice specific things about public liability insurance for performance artists, and a bit more money for smaller arts institutions. And they want a Minister for Fashion ‘to promote fashion’s role in arts and the Victorian economy’, so that’s fun.
Are to be tackled! The Reason Party wants to reduce cashless gaming and maximum bet per spin, and the also want to reduce trading hours of pokie machine venues. They also want to make pokies lobbying more transparent and decouple the government from poker machine revenue.
This feels like a bit of a ‘j’accuse’ to the government, to me. It’s certainly an invitation to us to look at the government with a slightly suspicious eye.
Overall, I’m quite liking Fiona Patten’s Reason Party, and if it were a brand new party, I’d be very excited about it. I do have one or two lingering doubts, however. The brevity of their policies is a bit concerning in places, and given their former tendency to be libertarian, and their clear marketing towards left-leaning young people it concerns me that they have no policy on vaccination or on firearms. I honestly don’t know which way they would jump on these, and they are savvy enough at marketing to know that these are potentially divisive issues. And it bugs me that they keep preferencing the LDP, which is *not* reliable in these areas.
I understand that they don’t want to drive anyone away if they don’t have to… but they may risk driving people away regardless, if they don’t make their position known.