“I know you’re on tape recorder but I want to show you something, ” began Senator Derryn Hinch.
Seated in his office, overlooking St Kilda, the former journalist and broadcaster jumped up from his chair.
“I carry around with me, because of how important [my role as senator] is to me, I carry around with me everywhere – on weekends, weekdays, work times – I carry that,” he said.
Hinch carefully removed a gold medal from his coat pocket.
“Now that,” he explained, “is a gold medal given to you by the Usher of the Black Rod the day you’re sworn in.
“In the old days, when only men were senators, of course,” he mocked, “you wore it on your fob pocket or your fob chain with your watch and got your free rides on the train. I don’t know if it would work on Myki but I haven’t tried it yet. But that’s just to show you how much I do take it very seriously.”
The broadcasting celebrity was first elected to the Senate in July 2016. Senators’ terms normally run for six years but as the 2016 election followed a double dissolution, all 72 Senate seats were vacant.
To determine the allocation of six-year and three-year terms, the Senate can employ a ‘recount’ or ‘order of election’ method. The ‘order of election’ method – used in the 2016 election – mandates the first six members elected from each state receive a six-year term and the latter six receive a three-year term.
Had the ‘recount’ method been used, Hinch would have received a six-year term. However, the use of the ‘order of election’ method resulted in Hinch receiving a three-year term.
Hinch has said that, if re-elected in May’s federal poll, he will be pushing for separate royal commissions into child abuse and into the Family Court which he believes is a “disgrace”.
He also said he would be “hammering” away for the introduction of nurse-patient ratios in aged care.
Heavily backed by Hinch, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has brought attention to the low staffing levels in aged-care homes.
“I’m so pleased that we [the Derryn Hinch Justice Party] put pressure to get this Royal Commission on Aged Care,” he said.
“It’s shocking. I’ve got horror stories of one registered nurse for 120 people at night-time.”
“Now if there’s an emergency how do you [cope]? You just can’t.
“I believe in the care of the attendants, but the problem is the ratio. It’s the numbers.”
After breaching suppression orders for a third time in 2014, Hinch was sentenced to jail for 50 days. He was horrified to learn the average daily cost of food was $10 per person in jail and only $6.07 in aged-care accommodation.
“We were having chickens and steaks … and this and this and fresh bread. And that is terrible.”
Central to his party’s policy platform is an overhaul of Australia’s legal system, including tougher parole and bail conditions. The impetus behind the formation of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is his long-time campaign for a national public register of convicted child sex offenders.
Hinch has collected more than 170,000 signatures for a national registry under legislation he wants to be known as ‘Daniel’s Law’, named after Daniel Morcombe.
Morcombe, 13, was abducted and murdered in 2003 by a convicted child sex offender while waiting to catch a bus on the Sunshine Coast.
“Every time I meet up with Julie Bishop or [then] Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, or the Justice Minister, [Michael] Keenan, whatever we were talking about I’d finish up by saying, ‘What about my sex offenders register?’ ”
“I think if Labor wins the election I’ll get it. They’ll support it, which is very important … but look, I’ll work with the government of the day.”
At this election the Derryn Hinch Justice Party will be fielding candidates only in Victoria.
“I hope to get myself re-elected into Victoria to build [my] base, build it slowly and concentrate what little resources we have on Victoria,” Hinch said.
He will be travelling around the state campaigning in his party’s Justice Bus, which this election, features the slogan ‘Unfinished Business, Sick of Them, Vote for Us’. He and his campaign team plan to visit as many towns as possible, including Portland, Geelong and Torquay.
“It’s crazy … but look, it’s lovely, you get out and you meet people … and chat to them.”
This time around, Hinch says he feels more confident: “Why I feel stronger is that people know who I am and know what we’ve achieved.”
During his current term, Hinch fought for legislation changing the Australian Passports Act to prevent child sex tourism so that convicted sex offenders could no longer travel overseas on what he calls “child rape holidays in Vietnam and Cambodia”. Within eight months of being in office, the Bill was passed.
“People say, ‘You’re only an independent, you can’t achieve much’, but one of the greatest moments of my life was on the 2nd of December. I got a phone call, just down the road from here, and the voice said, ‘Derryn, it’s Malcolm.’ He said, ‘I want you to be the first person to know that they turned the first one back in Sydney today.’ I stood in my lounge and I just burst into tears and I thought, ‘Yes, you can do stuff, it can happen.’ ”
Hinch said his biggest achievement was not the change to the Passports Act but his success in securing an official inquiry into transvaginal mesh.
Designed to treat stress urinary incontinence, it was “this polypropylene mesh which breaks down [women’s] bodies and pierces their organs.
“Fifteen to twenty thousand women have been affected. Some of their lives destroyed. And I said, ‘This is a disgrace.’ ”
Labelled by the British Thalidomide Association as “a greater scandal than the thalidomide disaster”, the mesh was banned, except as a last resort, due to a 2018 Senate inquiry that Hinch spearheaded.
As Hinch places his gold medal back into his coat pocket he says: “It’s much harder work than I thought but I’m loving it. I’m relishing in it. For somebody at my age, at my stage of life, most people are retired. It’s an honour to have this career.
“There was an American senator called Strom Thurmond who was there until he was about 97 or something” – he actually made it to 100 – “so I don’t think I could manage that,” he laughed. “But I certainly want to do another six years.”