Most newbie MPs take a while to work out where they are and more importantly, who they are in their new environment.

By Fiona Patten. 15 Dec 2022. 

If you’re a government or opposition backbencher things are pretty much set for you by the big party structures. But if you’re a crossbencher, you need to work out how to get your agenda up against a government that has the numbers to stop you at every step of the way.

Because I had been a lobbyist for the adult goods and services industry for two decades, I was used to knocking on politicians’ doors, asking the impossible and working out ways to get them on board with my goals, or at least some of them. As it turned out, I couldn’t have had a better apprenticeship.

New crossbenchers need a plan and they need to make relationships with government, the opposition and the crossbench, and that will mean not allowing the perfect get in the way of the good.

While cleaning out my parliamentary office the other day, I was amazed at the number of reports that I had been involved in and the number of submissions from so many amazing individuals and organisations I have had the privilege to work with. It reminded me of just how much Victoria’s social agenda has changed in only eight years.

In the 2010-2014 parliament, the Liberal government had the numbers in the Upper House to crush any moves from the Labor opposition or the Greens. From 2014 to 2022, Victoria saw the largest and most diverse cross bench that the Legislative Council had ever had, and the strange “ch-ch-changes” that David Bowie sang about started take place – changes that many said would not happen.

There was a newness and an originality to debate. We hosted three all-night sittings (a law which guarantees presumptive rights for firefighters diagnosed with cancer, Safe Access Zones and Voluntary Assisted Dying) where MPs tried to sleep between bells and watched the dawn on Spring Street. The VAD debate was long and intense, and while no success is achieved by any one individual, I was very happy to have initiated these new laws through lobbying other MPs and a committee referral that was taken up by government leader Gavin Jennings.

The Reason Party led the nation in assisted dying legislation, but our laws are now due to be reviewed. We need to fix access and stop publicly funded health facilities refusing access to patients who qualify.

While Tasmania was the first to implement safe access zones around abortion clinics, it was Victoria that led the change on the mainland. But abortion is still difficult to access here, especially in regional areas. We need urgent changes to a system that allows publicly funded hospitals to refuse abortion or contraception. Objection should be on the basis of an individual doctor’s viewpoint, not because a hospital objects.

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