Interview: Hayden Ostrom Brown, Australian Democrats leader
In this exclusive interview, Lib Dem councillor Mathew Hulbert speaks to Hayden Ostrom Brown, the leader of the Australian Democrats and the only out leader of a political party Down Under.
Mathew Hulbert: So, Hayden, how and why did you get into politics?
Hayden Ostrom: I entered politics because I saw injustice whether it be in laws affecting me and the LGBT community or others and felt I could make a contribution in changing attitudes and laws.
MH: You’re the youngest leader of an Australian political party, right?
HO: Yes I was elected at the age of 21 as President of the Australian Democrats and was last month re-elected with an increased majority. I’m really thankful to the members for the opportunity and faith in me.
MH: Tell us about the Australian Democrats? Is it fair to call them Australia’s Lib Dems?
HO: The Australian Democrats broke the two party system in Australia and are Australia’s most successful third party. We lost parliamentary representation i 2008 but after some much needed annual leave we are rebuilding and ready to bring back balance to Australian politics.
As for comparisons to the Lib Dems there are certainly some similarities. Our youth division are linked with the International Federation of Liberal Youth and both parties have a strong history of fighting for civil liberties and fighting for liberal policies.
MH: Does your Party have an official position on LGBT issues? Such as Gay Marriage (which remains illegal in Australia)?
HO: Yes we do. We are in favour of marriage equality and have a proud history on LGBT issues. We elected the first gay senator, introduced the bill to make discrimination based on sexuality illegal in the workplace and continue to fight for equality for all.
MH: Awesome! And you’re the second gay leader of a political party there?
HO: Third I believe. Former Senator Brian Greig who was a member of the Australian Democrats and the first openly gay senator in Australian history briefly led our party.
(Former Greens Leader Bob Brown was the second.)
MH: OK. So, quite a lot of pressure for you…or not? In terms of representing our community on a national stage?
HO: I don’t see it as pressure. It is a privilege to be in the position I am to lead a party with such a fantastic history on many fronts including LGBT issues and if in doing so I help one young person struggling with their sexuality or make someone proud of who they are then that makes it all the more worth it.
MH: You Came out earlier this year, right? How was that?
HO: I did I came out in February. It was the result of a lot of internal wrangling for almost 9 years but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It did mean the end of a relationship with someone who wasn’t out which was regrettable, but being able to declare who I am to the world has been a weight off my shoulders and my friends and family have been amazing.
Nothing has changed in relation to my family and friends, it just means now I can date and hold a cute man’s hand!
My message to all young people out there, come out come out where ever you are. There is so much love and support out there from the community just waiting for you. It really does get better.
MH: Well, as a friend of yours across the pond, it was lovely to see. Politics can be tough, though, with some prepared to use something like this. Are you prepared for that?
HO: Thank you, Mathew. Politics is a tough business and you need to be prepared to encounter criticism and abuse from policy to personal life. Ultimately though, being in the closet was unhealthy for me and I’ll always be able to deal with said criticism or smearing if I’m being true to myself which I am now. I’m happy to deal with anything like that in order to make it easier for the next person and the one after that.
MH: Good man. So, looking at Australian politics at the moment and in Parliament, where does it stand on LGBT issues?
HO: I think it is important to make the distinction between parliament and the wider Australian public. Sadly, the parliament hasn’t kept pace with the changing attitudes of Australian’s. More than 2 thirds of Australians support marriage equality yet it failed to pass. We still have old minded individuals in parliament who are out of step with modern Australia and powerful vested interests.
But momentum is with the LGBT community.
MH: And, Tony Abbott’s been a bit all over the place on the issue, has he not?
HO: Well Tony Abbott has been consistent in opposing Marriage Equality. The debate now focuses around whether he and the party room will allow a free vote on the issue. If he and the party room grants a free vote it will increase the chances of it passing but sadly we face an uphill battle. Won’t stop us fighting!
MH: Didn’t a relative of his Come Out, forcing him to re-think at least some of his views on LGBT people?
HO: Yes his sister did come out though he has shown no inclination to change his backward thinking on Marriage Equality despite his sister publicly expressing her support.
MH: What about Labor? They have a new leader, right?
HO: The Labor party will be granted a free vote and their new leader Bill Shorten does support Marriage Equality however there are still a number of members of their party who oppose Marriage Equality and regrettably Mr Shorten recently addressed the Australian Christian Lobby which continue to misinform and fight marriage equality.
That was disappointing.
MH: Have you watched what’s happened in the UK? Has that helped change public opinion there?
HO: I certainly have followed what has happened with interest and admiration. A huge congratulations to the campaigners who have fought tirelessly. I think it has added to the inevitability feeling when you see close international friends implementing Marriage Equality.
I think it has emboldened those in the Australian Liberal Party to speak more freely about their support for Marriage Equality. I hope they can win over more of their colleagues.
MH: We should point out-for those not acquainted with Australian Politics-that the Australian Liberals are your Conservatives.
HO: Yes that’s right Mathew. Little Aussie quirk!
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MH: So, what’s next for you? Are you hoping to stand for Parliament?
HO: I’ve got a big 12 months ahead of me as leader of the Australian Democrats. The big goal for me is to see the Australian Democrats return to parliament whether that be at a state or federal level so we can fight for a fairer, stronger and more inclusive Australia. As part of that I’ll be standing for parliament in some capacity.
MH: Well, I think you’d make a first class Parliamentarian. I have so much respect for all you’ve done and I’m sure you’ll be inspiring lots of LGBT young people in Australia and-via interviews like this-further afield too. Any final thoughts?
HO: Thank you Mathew, that’s very generous of you. Thank you to yourself and Pink News for the opportunity. I’d finally just to say to any individual reading who is struggling with their sexuality or considering coming out that it really does get better. That there is such love and support just waiting out there for you. And to any Australian’s reading, join the Australian Democrats and help me Bring Back The Democrats!
Mathew Hulbert is a Liberal Democrat Councillor and is on the Board of the Leicester LGBT Centre. He writes here in an Independent Capacity.