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Sex and Gender Issues Enter Australian Election Campaigns

  • Jack Cooper

With just five days of campaigning left until Australia's federal elections are to take place on Saturday, August 21, the incumbent Australian Labor Party, led by Julia Gillard, and the opposition Liberal/National Coalition, led by Tony Abbot are neck and neck in the polls. The Australian Labor Party holds a slim three point lead over its conservative opposition, which would result in a four-seat majority win for Gillard.

While the two dominant Australian political parties have emphasized their focus on economic issues and cracking down on illegal immigration, a certain third party has entered the arena to stand up for a different set of issues. The Australian Sex Party is making its first appearance in the federal election, bidding for seats in the parliament's upper and lower houses. The ASP, created just two years ago, is focused on standing up for civil liberties, with particular focus on sex and gender issues. The ASP has a number of charismatic candidates running for the senate in five states and one territory, and will be running for the house of representatives in three of the states.

Marianne Leishman, the Australian Sex Party senate candidate running in New South Wales, may be better known by her stage name, "Zahra Stardust." Leishman is a professional pole dancer who is currently writing her masters thesis in Gender studies on political activism, gender subversion and feminism in erotic performance. "We are standing for, basically human rights and civil liberties party, focusing on sex and gender issues such as our relationship recognition for same sex couples, anti-internet filtering, sex education, decriminalizing abortion and also symbolic things like removing the GST tax from tampons."

In order to win a seat in the Senate, a candidate must win a proportional representation, meaning they must gain about 14 percent of the vote across the state. Marianne Leishman recently ran for the local election as an independent candidate and won 3.5 percent of the votes from the Sydney electorate. Yet, Ms. Leishman still likes her chances. In fact, she was among a few electoral candidates advertising and petitioning for their parties on the streets in Sydney on Wednesday.

While some of the locals on the streets of Sydney were a bit skeptical of the Australian Sex Party, others, like local Sydney resident, Emalia Ostad, were intrigued by the party and its contemporary policy intiatives. "I think it's refreshing to see someone bringing in policy relating to same sex marriages in this day and age. I think that is really important and it is moving Australia forward."

Another local Sydney resident, John Chesworth, is intrigued by the party for different reasons. "It certainly puts a bit of spice into things, we've got two of the most boring party leaders we have ever come across, and that's being kind about them. So yeah, it beats the shooters party and all the other idiots that get in."

However, while some can appreciate the charisma of the ASP, the party has to contend with the seemingly insurmountable presumption that many people hold against all minority parties. One man on the street, another local Sydney resident, is among those who say they cannot bring themselves to vote for minor parties like the Australian Sex Party, as they are hinderances to political progress. "I don't think I would vote for them.I don't believe that the minor parties can really make much of a difference, although they do tend to get in there and stuff up the rest of the major parties when they do bring things out by trying to lobby for little concessions here and there, destroying a lot of the policies that the major parties do have."

With election day in sight, the coming election looks to be one of the tightest elections seen in two decades. In fact, the latest Reuters poll showed that Australia may end up with a hung parliament after the August 21 election, with no single party gaining enough votes to form government.

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