By Tom Hartley
Edited for online by Rebecca Oakley
A new single-issue political party is hoping to give animals a voice in Federal Parliament and aims to win a seat in the Senate in September this year.
Four years ago Animal Justice Party (AJP) president Professor Steve Garlick witnessed more than 500 kangaroos herded from where they were living in a decommissioned naval base in Canberra, which was to become the site of a housing subdivision under the Territory Government.
Professor Garlick said this scene was the impetus for the Party’s creation.
“Kangaroos are not the kinds of animals you can herd, they’re extremely stressful animals, but that’s exactly what they did,” he said.
“A lot of people who witnessed it said it was quite easy to see this … and people to this day, five years later, are still traumatised by what they saw.”
Professor Garlick said despite detailed recommendations to relocate the animals, the culling still went ahead.
“At that point I decided the only way was to compete was on their terms,” he said.
“That was the only language that politicians would understand … the language at the ballot box.”
Now 1,300 members strong, the AJP stands to pursue issues of animal protection through the Australian parliamentary system.
In order to do this the party hopes to win at least one seat in the Senate later this year.
“Eighty or 85 per cent of all the decisions made by governments here would in some way impact on animals, ” Professor Garlick said.
“That’s our interest, so … we would like to get someone elected to the senate so they can actually start to raise these issues within Parliament.”
He said his party’s animal welfare policies would be an improvement on the Greens Party’s, but Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon maintained she was satisfied with their current policies.
“I certainly welcome more political parties as a part of the rich fabric of our democracy,” she said.
“But in terms of our animal welfare work, I think we’re doing a great job.”
Political analyst and former Democrats national president Nina Burridge said she did not believe the AJP would have significant influence on voters.
“It’s just going to be difficult, there’s too many other minor parties…and my prediction is the AJP will take votes from Greens rather than chip away at the other bigger parties,” Dr Burridge said.
Senator Rhiannon said the early days for smaller parties were often the hardest.
“I know it’s tough, it’s tough getting media coverage and getting the polling booth organised, when you’ve got committed people you’re able to achieve that,” she said.
“There’s many factors that will determine their (the AJP’s) success and…In terms of the richness of our democracy I welcome more voices participating.”
Senator Rhiannon said while the public often agreed with some policies of single focus or protest parties, those parties would not attract a vote.
Professor Garlick said the AJP did not need to touch on mainstream policies to attract votes.
“Asylum seekers or gay marriage or … the unemployed or education and so on. We say we are a party for animals, that’s what we are,” he said.
“Our members have different views on those topics but as a party, we don’t have a view.”
Dr Burridge said this approach will be detrimental to the Animal Justice Party’s chances.
“It’s not going to capture much of the middle ground at all,” she said.
“It would get some votes in the less-leaning urban centres but I don’t see it as gaining a seat, even in the Senate.”
For now the AJP is looking for a Queensland candidate.