Continuing in the spirit of Cate Speaks

The Reason Party

Summary

Website: reason.org.au
Social Media: FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube
Previous Names: Australian Sex Party & Fiona Patten’s Reason Party
Slogans: A Voice of Reason
Themes: Collaboration, support, and an end to discrimination
Community based policies with a local Victorian focus
Electorates: Upper House: Eastern Victoria, North-Eastern Metropolitan, Northern Metropolitan, Northern Victoria, South-Eastern Metropolitan, Southern Metropolitan, Western Metropolitan, Western Victoria
Lower House: Broadmeadows, Brunswick, Essendon, Melbourne, Northcote, Pascoe Vale, Preston, Richmond
Preferences: In most regions, Reason have tapped Legalise Cannabis for their second preference, followed by Animal Justice and Victorian Socialists. The Greens follow these in Northern-Eastern, Northern, South-Eastern, and Western Metro, and the ALP in Eastern and Northern Victoria. Northern Metro, where Reason are standing five candidates, preferences Victorian Socialists first, and Southern Metro preferences the Greens. For no adequately explained reason, given circumstances surrounding debate over the pandemic bill and recent events, Angry Victorians receive Reason’s fifth preference in Western Victoria.
Previous Reviews: 202220192018 (VIC) — 2014 (VIC) — 20132010 (VIC)

Policies & Commentary

One of the first things you see when you land on the Reason Party’s webpage is this mission statement:

”Reason is a political party that has proven there is a better, more productive way of getting sh*t done. With policies based around two basic principles – evidence and compassion, we are your voice of Reason in Parliament.”

That’s quite a claim, but it’s not entirely without foundation. Reason’s founder, Senator Fiona Patten, has been in Parliament since 2014, during which time she’s been instrumental in getting legislation amended and passed. Clearly something is working, since voters keep electing her. But are Reason as, well, reasonable, as they claim? Are their policies really evidence-based and compassionate?

Let’s kick off with their ”Accountable Honest Politicians” policy. Perhaps uniquely in this election, Reason are not just calling for show trials or Dan Andrews’ metaphorical head on a platter, instead proposing a range of measures to increase transparency and accountability. Reason want Victoria’s Ministerial Code of Conduct to be legislated, and enforced by the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC). Broadly speaking the Code of Conduct is meant to ensure that politicians behave with integrity, but in its current form, it’s largely toothless. I don’t imagine that trying to get such legislation through Parliament would be anything but an enormous headache as MPs and Senators break along party lines, but I applaud the sentiment.

Political donations would be capped and disclosed in real time, Reason advocate, rather than months after the fact – which, currently, is all too often the case. Ministerial diaries would also be disclosed in real time, so people know who their representatives are meeting with as it happens, rather than waiting for a Four Corners exposé.

Public servants would be encouraged to give frank and fearless advice, research and evidence should support proposed initiatives, politicians should engage with young people, and infrastructure planning would be a bipartisan endeavour. Honestly, these sound more like aspirations than actual policies. They’re laudable goals, but their feasibility is unfortunately in question without any detail on just how they would be accomplished and supported.

In line with their general aim of improving consultation, Reason support citizen-based engagement via town hall meetings, citizen juries, and citizen-initiated referenda (CIR). And here’s where I have a problem. Town hall meetings are genuine avenues of consultation at the electorate level, and it’d be a wonderful thing if local members took the time to actually make themselves available for hard questions from their constituents. Referenda and juries, though…

There have been numerous attempts by various Parliamentarians to legislate for CIR. All have failed. A cynical view of this is that elected legislators want to keep the power to make laws to themselves, but there are real problems with CIR that have been identified. Not least of these is what’s often referred to as the “tyranny of the majority”, where a position that receives majority support may in fact result in abrogation of rights or further suppression of already marginalised voices. Additionally, legislation is complex by necessity; you can’t just scrawl a few sentences on the back of an envelope in a pub and call it a day. Most of us don’t have the required skills to check for little things like constitutionality or whether the proposed law would fatally conflict with existing law, so there’s a real risk that CIR might either fall at the first hurdle, or result in a huge mess that needs to be sorted out by the High Court.

Citizen juries sound like a great idea. Randomly chosen people, examining issues of public interest, and giving their opinion. Randomness, though, isn’t always fair or equitable. Should a jury entirely composed of white people be able to make formal recommendations to government on Indigenous legislation? One suggestion to forestall this is to make the random aspect conditional upon a target demographic. In other words, not random at all. Without extremely proscriptive legislation, the citizen jury idea is vulnerable to manipulation.

Moving on to policies focused on criminal justice (what many parties would call “Law and Order”1And you all just heard the “DUN DUN” sound in your heads, didn’t you?), Reason have a lot to say. There are calls to overhaul sentencing to prevent reoffence, bail and parole reforms, support for victims of crime, and increased funding to the woefully underfunded Legal Aid program. The over-representation of women and First Nations people in the justice system would be addressed. The age of criminal responsibility (the age at which someone can be legally considered capable of having committed a crime) would be raised to 14 from its current appallingly low rate of 10.

In policing, Reason want to mandate the use of police body-cams, improve training in de-escalation techniques, dealing with mental health situations, and cultural competence. They also advocate for a trial of police stations to be run by women and trans folk, aimed at the issue of gender-based violence, and for widespread family and domestic violence education programs.

There’s very little to argue with here. All these initiatives are backed up by increasing evidence that the current situation is absolutely not fit for purpose. And I like that what’s being proposed here is oriented towards positive change, and a strong streak of compassion runs through it. This isn’t “defund the police” rhetoric. It’s an acknowledgement that there are major problems with policing in Victoria, and viable, sensible suggestions to address those problems.

For business (particularly small business), Reason have a suite of policies aimed at supporting and encouraging local industry. Decreased regulatory and tax burdens go hand in hand with an emphasis on sustainability, environmental protection, and workplace safety. Local businesses would be prioritised in government procurement. Development of the medical and pharmaceutical sectors should receive encouragement and support, and sustainable industry in general would be prioritised. There’s a good balance here of economic and environmental considerations.

One policy I want to single out is ”establishing a strategy to respond to the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on the economy and the workplace”. Workers in industries that are increasingly automated have expressed urgent concern for the loss of their jobs. A study by Forrester projects that up to 11% of workers will be out of work by 2040 as a result of automation. I haven’t seen anything like Reason’s proposal anywhere in other policies I’ve examined. This is an area of real concern, and it’s frankly startling – in a good way – to see a minor party coming up with a policy to address it.

Reason’s ”Affordable Housing and Homelessness” policy suite is huge. HUGE. There is an enormous amount of detail here, far beyond my ability to summarise adequately in a relatively short article, so here are only the broadest of strokes. If this is an area of interest or concern for you, I encourage you to visit the website.

Community housing is high on the agenda, but Reason aren’t just talking about buying blocks of flats or throwing money into existing programs here. They want to investigate the feasibility of ”pop-up housing” in underutilised buildings, transportable housing, and release of government land for social housing purposes. Long-term renters should have more security, they argue, including better and more accessible protection via the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. On homelessness, they want a ”no exit to homelessness” strategy, that would ensure that people released from hospital, rehabilitation, aged care, etc., had secure accommodation.

On ”Reproductive Health”, Reason call for increased access to abortion, contraception, and family planning advice. They also support a government-funded endometriosis and pelvic pain centre. Menopause and menstruation education and support would be provided for workplaces, including paid leave. These situations can be debilitating, and are still flippantly dismissed as “women’s problems”, particularly in the workplace. A policy designed to address this in a way that both helps those in need and attempts to change how these situations are perceived, is long overdue.

There are more than a few idiots out there in the cesspool that is Twitter who think they’ve been very clever in totalling up all the current and proposed paid leave initiatives, and claiming that this would see the average full-time employee actually work for only 50 days a year, along with the oh-so-snappy slogan, “Go Woke Go Broke”. How can I say this delicately? I can’t. This is unmitigated crap. Leaving aside the absurdity of suggesting that someone might need both menstrual and menopausal leave every year, this nonsense depends on the idea that every employee would either have the single most eventful year imaginable, or that employees would lie about their circumstances to gain leave. I have to wonder about the kind of mind that is so horrified by the idea of someone suffering from debilitating menstrual or menopausal symptoms that they feel the need to create sockpuppet accounts and retweet lies.2Actually, no, I don’t wonder. They’re selfish minds, who can’t accept the idea that someone might get “more” than they do.

Now, let’s look at those policies which attract the most vicious opposition.

First up, ”Tackling Religious Privilege”. This is unashamedly about reducing the privileged status of religion in an increasingly secular society. Currently, for-profit businesses owned by religious groups are exempt from taxes, religious institutions are exempt from mandatory reporting laws, and religious confessions are considered privileged communications for legal purposes (basically, you can admit anything to your religious leader, and it can’t be used against you). Parliamentarians take religious oaths, and sittings open with specifically Christian prayers.

Reason want this gone. All of it. They have no problem with charitable activities being protected, but if your religion-owned business is for-profit, Reason think you should pay tax like everyone else. And honestly, that’s fair enough. No one’s suggesting that a food bank or other community support organisation should be taxed, but there are all sorts of businesses out there that are not operating on a charitable basis. Bookshops, for one.

Mandatory reporting laws in Victoria have recently undergone changes to require those in religious ministry to report a child in danger. Confession, however, is still privileged. I would hazard a guess that there are few Victorians unaware of the major part played by religious institutions in both perpetrating and concealing horrific systemic child abuse. In Royal Commission proceedings, there were numerous admissions that clergy had known about what was happening, but had felt constrained by the admissions being “in confidence”. This is absolutely unconscionable. Psychologists are required to report crime, and clergy should be no different.

I think we can all guess how religious lobby groups, and those parties who are either openly or covertly aligned with particular religious institutions, feel about these policies. It’s discrimination! It’s persecution! Oppression! Why do you hate people of faith? Etc. Most of this comes from Christian churches, particularly those who would be most affected by such changes to tax law.3Yes, I’m looking at you, Catholicism and Victorian megachurches. The point is, though, tax exemption for religion was intended to allow a church to undertake charitable activity, not to rake in millions of dollars of profit every year.

As for doing away with privileged communication… well. The Catholic church in particular has defended this on some truly extraordinary grounds. Oh sure, priests can advise someone confessing to a crime to turn themselves in, or step outside the confessional box and tell the priest again, which would allow the priest to go to police.4There are some amazing mental gymnastics going on here, to say a few centimetres of wood can make such a fundamental difference. The seal of confession, however, is necessary so that people will confess “without fear”. Apparently it’s more important that someone be able to make a show of repentance and get absolved of their sins, rather than face the consequences of their criminal acts against others, particularly children. Because – and let’s be blunt here – this isn’t about the common good being undermined, it’s about preserving the idea that a church is special.

”Equality and Inclusion” contains policies aimed at promoting across-the-board initiatives to support people in marginalised groups’ and give them the ability to participate in all areas of society. Let’s start with the ones that no one is likely to object to, shall we?

Reason want public toilets to be more available and more accessible, as well as a feasibility study into accessible toilets being instituted as a national standard. That’s not even a consideration for most of us, but ask anyone who needs the help of a wheelchair or even a walking frame how easy it is to even find an accessible toilet in your local shopping centre, let alone one that’s truly accessible. Ask a parent who struggles to find a school for their disabled child.

There are also initiatives to support senior Victorians to stay in their homes rather than be forced into aged care, and to engage with the community via local libraries. Not too controversial, right?

But then.

Reason want racial and religious vilification laws strengthened to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender, or disability. They aim to improve employment opportunities, health care, education, and aged care for LGBTQIA+ people, to safeguard and strengthen the bodily and human rights of those born intersex, and to provide government-funded gender affirming care.

These are absolute social goods. They address real needs faced by Victorians. They are based on the assumption that all people deserve care, support and equity. Honestly, it’s such a relief to see a party that is both broadly supportive and has concrete policies. As we’ve seen throughout this election, this is all too rare.

There is much, much more to Reason’s policy suite, far more than I can cover in this one article (which I’m aware is already quite long). There are initiatives dealing with everything from public transport, to the arts, to drug reform, and First Nations self-determination and truth-telling. All of these are based on identified needs, and are crafted with an eye to positive changes to benefit both individuals and the wider Victorian population. I part company with Reason on their support for vaping as an anti-smoking initiative, because there is simply not good evidence to suggest that this works, and there is all too much evidence that vaping has serious effects on the health of both users and those around them. That’s about it.

I encourage you to visit the website and investigate the rest of Reason’s policies. It’s well worth your time.

The common accusation from parties whose policies include erasure and abuse of LGBTQIA+ people and who often have a dedication to bringing down Dan Andrews and everything his government has accomplished, is that Reason are a bunch of “woke Lefties”, and that Fiona Patten is the worst of the lot. You only have to look at Fiona Patten’s Twitter, or sample a few videos from the Freedom Party, Reginite Democracy Australia, and their followers, to see how she’s targeted. Much of this has to do with Patten’s support for the pandemic management legislation and assisted dying laws, but there’s quite a bit of hatred out there for Reason’s stance on social policies in general. I feel this reflects well on Reason.

On the whole, Reason have presented a comprehensive set of policies to take to the election that are, as they claim, both evidenced-based and compassionate. You can probably guess by now that I’m extremely impressed with Reason, and will be putting them very high on my ballot, if not at the very top.

6 Comments

  1. David Stosser

    “Reason want to mandate the use of *policy* body-cams” – a worthwhile idea, but probably not what you meant to say? 😛

    • Maz Weaver

      Damn, you’re right. Thanks for the catch.

  2. Sandra

    Re citizens’ juries: I used to be a sceptic, but having twice seen them in operation in South Australia I’m convinced of their worth. The first time the proponent believed a whole weekend with a randomly selected jury discussing the worth or not of parliament’s upper house would see them recommend it be abolished. I was an observer and it was clear the random choice had thrown up a mostly politically unaware jury. Academic political commentators were brought in to explain the role the upper house played. Knowing they were going to be part of an important decision the jurors kept asking questions and didn’t tune out. When they requested more information and from different people it was provided. At the end of the two days the jury soundly voted to keep the upper house.

    Similarly when the issue was the apparent need to site a national nuclear waste dump in South Australia, the proponent believed five days of immersion in the topic being told of the economic benefits this could bring and how relatively safe the waste was could only result in a decision to support the proposal. And as in the earlier case, the jurors were determined to inform themselves, and so sought more information and more experts to gain clarity on the issue. And at the conclusion they voted against the dump.

    • Maz Weaver

      Thanks for such a detailed comment. From what you’ve said, it seems South Australia might have found a way to counter attempted jury manipulation, which is excellent news.

    • M

      I’d also argue the application of citizen juries to Ireland’s abortion law was a resounding success in terms of garnering broad social support for a necessary, but historically contentious, reform. I don’t think the policy that resulted was perfect – but it was unquestionably well-calibrated to the electorate in a context where a constitutional amendment was required to fix the problem, and the process itself broke a pretty significant barrier of public taboo.

      Done right, they make a lot of sense. Done as a knee-jerk reaction to *any* difficult policy issue, and the scale of public attention needed to make them work evaporates. I could see them being well used in Victoria on, for example, a wide-ranging program of reform to drug policy.

      CIRs, on the other hand, are pretty much universally a disaster.

  3. JD

    Plenty to like here, and depressing (from my point of view) to see Patten currently on track to lose her seat to the DLP of all parties.

    I was, however, interested to see this assessment that a strongly pro-climate-action policy wasn’t entirely matched by their voting record. Curious to know if this is a fair criticism, but I’m frankly unlikely to do my own research, and I can’t imagine it affecting their vote much even if it was a widely-held opinion.

    https://voteclimateone.org.au/political-party/reason-australia-vic-2022/

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