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Vote 1 for Senator Andrew Bartlett !!

If you're an Aussie you'll undoubtedly have heard of Senator Bartlett and if you haven't you will soon.

He's charming, outspoken and he looks great in lashings of Max Factor!

He takes his job as a Senator with the Democrats seriously just as seriously as he takes his stance on animal rights.

I wouldn't trust a politician as far as I could throw 'em (that's a good old Aussie colloquialism) but I would trust Andrew.

Interview by June Bird, August 2000.

Extract from First Speech to the Senate
by Senator Andrew Bartlett, 11/11/97

I am personally very committed to encouraging us all to give more consideration to the welfare and rights of animals. The lack of consideration humans give to each other in the world today is exceeded only by the lack of consideration we give to the other animals we share the planet with. My personal belief is that there are compelling environmental and ethical grounds for encouraging people to stop eating animals.

Vegetarianism has a long ethical tradition in our society. There are also very sound theological arguments in the Christian biblical tradition against the eating of meat where practicable, as Senator Woodley would acknowledge. I have found many people acknowledge some of these arguments, but not enough to stop their meat consumption. I guess the spirit is willing, but the flesh is just too tasty for many people.

Whilst I understand the traditional, cultural and economic reasons why animals are imprisoned and killed for human consumption, I believe the time has come for us to look to move beyond that. There are too few voices for the welfare and rights of animals in our society, let alone in our parliaments. I hope I can provide a voice for them in this place.

June: Senator Bartlett, I believe you're a vegetarian ... good onya!!!! But when did this come about?
Andrew: I became vegetarian when I was about 19 or 20 (16 years ago). I've tried being vegan a couple of times, but sadly haven't succeeded (yet).
June: Has it been difficult for you?
Andrew: I haven't found it difficult at all in terms of resisting meat. It can be a bit difficult finding decent food when you travel a lot, although that's certainly less difficult than it used to be. It can get a bit tiresome when people treat you like you're from some alien planet just because you don't eat meat. But the frustrations of getting vego food will never outweigh the positives!
June: What's the best part of being vego and what made you decide to 'turn'!?

The best part is being able to reduce the unnecessary suffering of animals. I think this was the main motivation I had for trying to go vego if I can stay alive and healthy without eating animals, then there seems no reason why they should have to die just to suit the desires of my tastebuds. Since I became vegetarian I've also become much more aware of the massive additional environmental damage which meat production causes.

(Picture right: Andrew at work in the senate.)

June: Can you recall what instigated your vego lifestyle?
Andrew: I'm not one of those people that has blinding flashes of revelation (very boring I know). I'm much more someone who comes to a view over time as an accumulation of things. I think I've always had something of an appreciation for nature.
June: Are there some folk that think that this is just a fad for you?
Andrew: I don't think anyone that knows me thinks that. Maybe my mother thought that for the first year or so. Although I try not to be too pushy, I still tend to do a fair bit of 'preaching' on vegetarianism much more than I do on most other issues so I think people know it's a strongly held belief rather just a passing phase.
June: What do the rest of the Bartlett clan think about you being vegetarian?
Andrew: My wife has been vegetarian longer than I have and if anything is a bit more strident about it than I am. The rest of my family are fairly accepting and I think even concede that there's a valid logic to vegetarianism. I haven't managed to fully convert any of them yet, but I think some of them are certainly eating less meat than they used to I don't know if that's my influence or not.
June: Are people taken aback when they discover you're one of those s t r a n g e vegos?!
Andrew: I think different people have felt I was weird for a variety of reasons. Some people find my dress sense a bit odd. I also used to have very long hair and from time to time indulge in wearing nail polish and/or a variety of earrings (still do from time to time) a few people find that a bit odd, but I find most people are comfortable with people being able to be themselves. Let's face it, you can't get lower in most people's eyes than being a politician, so being a vegetarian is certainly no damage to my reputation.
June: What tickles your tastebuds?
Andrew: I love anything with mushroom and/or tempeh. Hot curries and spicy food are a particular favourite too.
June: Have you found that when you're travelling that there's plenty of yummy vego fare to be had?
Andrew: It's getting better, although there's not many restaurants better than Squirrels which is in Newmarket in my home town of Brisbane, about 2 suburbs from where I live.
June: Are you a culinary genius or a kitchen disaster?
Andrew: Well, I can produce edible stuff, but I don't have a natural feel for it.
June: Foodwise, at conferences etc, are you well catered for?
Andrew: Most times it's fine these days. I think I've spruiked loudly about vegetarianism for so long that people remember to cater for me. Mind you, they know I'll still make a few barbed comments about facilitating environmental destruction, landclearing, soil degradation and huge water consumption whenever the meat appears all good natured of course. June: Of course!
June: Feathers 'n' leather ..... how far you do take your animal rights stance?
Andrew: I'm not as good as I should be. I do usually wear leather shoes just haven't got around to ordering some shoes from Vegan Wares yet. I also have a rainbow coloured feather boa which a good friend gave to me which I wear in the Democrats' float at Mardi Gras. Sometimes I point out to others that I still mainly wear leather shoes as a way of suggesting to them that it's not a matter of all or nothing even if they just reduce their meat consumption it is a move in the right direction in reducing animal suffering and environmental damage. None of us can completely avoid damaging the environment or hurting animals, but we should all be encouraged to do what we can.
June: I haven't bought any shoes from Vegan Wares yet, though I've heard they're excellent, but my guy buys his shoes at K-Mart! They're brilliant, and very cheap, last for ages too. As for your feather boa it may not be real feathers as there's a lot of faux feathers on the market these days......
June: Zoos, circuses with animals, rodeos and factory farming your thoughts here please Senator Bartlett?

I find rodeos to be particularly appalling they are so obviously cruel and don't have even the flimsiest justification other than some people find it fun to torture the animal. They're almost as bad as bullfighting in my view. I can see no justification for animals in circuses either. Whilst I am not comfortable with zoos a well run wildlife park is much better than a zoo any day there can be at times some benefit by maintaining animal numbers with endangered species. Although this should never be used as a substitute for trying to maintain habitat and numbers in the wild. There has been some improvement in the conditions at zoos in recent years, but there is still a lot of room for more improvement. I believe that some animals, particularly larger ones such as elephants, lions and the like should not be allowed to be kept in captivity except in exceptional circumstances. Unfortunately these also tend to be the animals that draw people into zoos and keep them profitable.

(Picture right: Senator Bartlett helping with the rescue of sick and dying hens in a huge battery cage shed.)

June: Is there one area of animal exploitation that you find particularly disturbing?
Andrew: Factory farming is a classic case of the profit motive overriding any concerns about the rights or well being of animals and often overriding concerns about environmental impacts as well. It is the clearest demonstration of animals being turned into nothing more than economic commodities with no other value. It has also reduced people's understanding of what is involved in producing food.
June: Are there any other vegetarian politicians lurking about?!
Andrew: I'm not aware of any other federal politicians who are fully vegetarian. I've had a couple tell me they are partly vegetarian I'm not sure what that means although anything's better than nothing. I've seen other federal MPs listed as vego on an international vegetarian website, but I've asked them and they're not. Sadly, none of the other Democrats or the Green Senator are vegetarian, although I'm still working on them. I'm sure Richard Jones in the NSW Parliament is a vego I think Ian Cohen is too.
June: How has your health been since you eliminated animals from your diet?
Andrew: I never felt much difference either way. I've never particularly been into healthy living and my diet is not always that good. I'm one of those people that don't get sick much, but if I do, it won't be because I'm vegetarian, it'll be because I don't exercise enough (OK I don't exercise at all) and I eat too many potato chips and drink too much alcohol and coffee.
June: Yes, it's really funny that people automatically assume that because one is a vegetarian that we're all 'hippie-love-peace-and-mungbeans' guzzling down copious amounts of lentils and carrot juice at a rate of knots! I've always been healthy but I don't exercise and I'm not standing at the stove boiling up legumes up all day!
June: So you seem to actively encourage others to eat a vegetarian diet?
Andrew: Yes, without being too pushy about it, I do try to encourage other friends and many Democrat members when a chance presents itself.
June: Do you take vitamin supplements?
Andrew: Not often.
June: Any animals in your life?
Andrew: I live with a Rottweiler, who is very sweet and very old and sadly not too well at the moment. I also lie with a marmalade tabby cat who decided to move in a couple of years ago. (Despite the Rottweiler).
June: Have you been involved in any animal rights protests?
Andrew: I have been involved in three different rescue missions into battery hen establishments. I've also done a range of protests and press conferences from time to time usually around the battery cage issue, although also on circus animals, live sheep trade and animal experimentation.
June: Do you think you've influenced a few people towards a cruelty-free lifestyle?

Hopefully millions though it's always hard to judge! I try not to seem too much like I'm trying to convert people more like putting forward an example of a good way to reduce environmental degradation and animal suffering. As a strong environmentalist, as well as the Democrats' environment spokesperson I'm often talking about ways we could better care for the planet, so it fits in well with the vegetarian message.

Certainly a number of people have told me they've become more aware of animal issues as a result of me sometimes just on one issue that particularly disturbs them and sometimes in their overall approach. Sometimes the people who have expressed for an animal rights issue have surprised me including Senators from other parties. Occasionally I get the feeling some politicians don't speak out so much on the issue because they're worried it's seen as a 'fringe' issue and might damage their credibility.

I disagree strongly I have found that, while people may not be vegetarian many of them still have concern about animal suffering and there is an enormous amount of unnecessary and preventable suffering and cruelty that is being inflicted on animals. I do a lot of statements and speeches on a huge number of issues tax reform, welfare issues, gay rights, environmental protection, immigration, refugees, multiculturalism, housing, tourism and more and I've found the most positive public responses I have had have been on animal rights issues.

Banning the battery cage is certainly more popular than the GST I can tell you that.

(Picture above right: The famous postcard to highlight the plight of the battery hen. It certainly did that, plenty of people are still talking about it. (Click on the pic to see a larger version of the image).

June: And finally what do you want people to know about vegetarianism and animal rights?

The basic message I try to give out is that vegetarianism is an easy way to help the environment and reduce animal suffering. Whilst I'm personally not that interested in the health impacts, there is also no doubt that a vegetarian diet is as healthy, if not more so, than a meat-based diet.

On animal rights more broadly, I try to raise awareness about the reality of the suffering that is deliberately inflicted on so many animals when it doesn't need to be. Once people know what's happening they are more likely to support moves to changes things. People can make changes to their own lifestyle in a manner and at a pace that suits them you don't have to be a purist in everything but the first step is to be aware of what's actually being done to animals and then showing people what they can do to change things. This might be through pressuring industry or governments to change things, or changes they can make to their own actions.

June: Thank you very much for the interview. You know, I just want to be able to tell the animals that are suffering; animals that are trapped inside tiny cages, animals that are being forced to buck in a rodeo or being made to perform in circuses etc "It's going to be okay ... Senator Andrew Bartlett is on your side ... help is on its way!"

In a sad postscript to this interview, Andrew's much loved rottweiler Oscar passed away not long after this interview was done. So, pictured right is Andrew and Oscar.