Fiona Patten and independent MP Ali Cupper have just announced their “coalition of independent women”. What will this mean for the prospects of sex work decriminalisation in Victoria?
Long time sex industry lobbyist Fiona Patten has been clear about her support of the decriminalisation of sex work. Ali Cupper holds the regional seat of Mildura, not a part of Victoria associated with a strong sex workers’ rights movement. Geographically speaking, Mildura is about as far away from Melbourne as you can get: 542km by road from the CBD.
The Victorian Government, currently held by Labor, has a clear majority in the Lower House and can easily pass legislation there, despite resistance from the Opposition. However, in the Upper House, Labor only has 17 of the 40 seats and needs additional votes to pass legislation. Decriminalisation in Victoria requires new law, a bill, and requires a majority vote in both houses of parliament. If Fiona Patten can convince Ali Cupper to vote for sex work decriminalisation, it means one additional guaranteed ‘yes’ vote in the Upper House.
Reflecting the conservative nature of her electorate, Ms Cupper said “[Fiona Patten’s] Reason [Party] takes the best conservative ideas and the best progressive ideas and melds them together.”
The ABC’s political reporter Richard Willingham covered this story on 4 December, 2020.
The crossbenchers in the Upper House have flexed their muscles, forcing the Premier to the negotiating table. This demonstrates the collective power the crossbench wields over the Victorian Government.
Earlier this week Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews indicated his desire to extend Victoria’s State of Emergency by 12 months, so that coronavirus restrictions can continue well into 2021. Victorian legislation must achieve a majority vote in both houses of parliament. The Victorian Government lacks a majority in the Upper House, and so must receive the support from the opposition, crossbench, or both in order to pass legislation.
So, what is, who is the crossbench? It is a collection of members of parliament in the Upper House who are not part of the government or opposition. Victoria’s current crossbench is unusually large and unusually diverse. We have:
- an animal rights party (yes, Andy Meddick is vegan)
- a party favourable to sex workers’ rights (Fiona Patten’s Reason Party)
- a party for taxi drivers
- the Greens
- a party about population control and limits on immigration
- a party about law and order and the rights of victims of crime
- a libertarian party
- Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party Victoria (the name gives you a clue)
- a number of independents (including Adem Somyurek, expelled from Labor earlier in 2020)
It appears the crossbench united in their opposition to the government’s plans to extend the state of emergency by 12 months. This forced the government to the negotiating table and an amended bill seems likely. This incident is a reminder of the power the crossbench yields when it is united in its opposition to the government.
If a sex work decriminalisation bill is tabled during this term of parliament, the crossbench will be crucial to its success.