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Family First Party

The Family First Party is a socially conservative minor political party in Australia. It has parliamentary representation federally through Senator Steve Fielding, and in the state parliaments of Western Australia and South Australia.

History

The party was founded in South Australia in time to contest the 2002 state elections, when former Assemblies of God pastor Dr Andrew Evans became its first MLC, winning a seat in the South Australian Legislative Council. A second MLC, pharmaceutical executive Dennis Hood, was elected at the 2006 South Australian election.

In the October 2004 federal election it contested seats all over Australia, generally exchanging preferences with Liberal candidates (but in some seats exchanging preferences with the Australian Labor Party). At that election the party was successful in electing their first and at present only federal politician Steve Fielding, Senator for Victoria. No candidates were elected at the 2007 federal election, however Fielding shares the balance of power in the Senate with independent Nick Xenophon and the five Australian Greens since the new Senate met on 1 July 2008.

Although officially secular and eschewing religious labels, many of its candidates and members are from conservative Christian backgrounds.

Election results

2002 South Australian Election

The first election Family First contested was the 2002 South Australian Election. Dr Andrew Evans received a primary vote of 4.02% which, with preferences from other parties, was sufficient to get him elected to one of the 11 seats available in the South Australian Legislative Council.

2004 Federal Election

The party agreed to share House of Representatives preferences with the Liberal-National Coalition at the 2004 election (with some exceptions discussed below).

Family First did better than expected at the election, picking up 1.76 percent of the vote nationally, and outpolling the Australian Democrats by more than 40,000 votes. This resulted in an unexpected victory in Victoria, where candidate Steve Fielding was elected on preferences to the Federal Senate, despite receiving significantly fewer primary votes (56,376 or 1.88% Group Totals) than The Greens' David Risstrom (263,551 or 8.80% Group Totals).

The party also came close to picking up other Senate seats in Tasmania (largely due to surplus Liberal votes, because Liberal polled over three quotas but only stood three candidates) and in South Australia where the then party leader Andrea Mason narrowly missed out (polling 3.98% and receiving Liberal preferences). Their preferences also assisted the performance of the governing Liberal Party in several House of Representatives seats, such as in the highly marginal South Australian seat of Makin.

State Elections since 2004

In the 2005 Western Australian Election, Family First polled just over 2% in the Legislative Council (although only contesting 5 of 6 seats). Interestingly, in 2005, the Liberal member for Ningaloo, Rod Sweetman, and Alan Cadby (who was defeated in Liberal preselection for a further term) offered to serve out their parliamentary terms as a Family First members - an offer which was rejected by Family First due to their both supporting a bill for decriminalisation of abortion in 1998.

In the 2006 South Australian election, Family First's vote increased to 4.98% in the Legislative Council, and a second Member of the Legislative Council was elected - former pharmaceutical executive Dennis Hood. In several rural and outer metropolitan seats, Family First's vote approached 10% - and in the seat of Kavel, Tom Playford achieved a vote of 15.7%. In the Legislative Council, Family First shares the balance of power with the other minor parties and independents.

The 2006 Queensland State Election saw Family First receive a primary vote of 7% in contested seats (many seats were not contested), with a high of 14.5% and several other seats posting results of 10% . Queensland does not have an Upper House, and these results were insufficient for any candidates to be elected.

The 2006 Victorian State Election saw Family First's vote increase from 1.9% to 4.27% of first preferences , however no candidates were elected.

2007 Federal Election

Family First contested the 2007 federal election, in particular seeking to increase its Senate representation. Nationwide, the party received 1.62 percent of the primary vote in the Senate, and 1.99 percent in the House of Representatives, both down slightly on the 2004 result. In Victoria however, both the lower and upper house vote increased by 0.64 percent, to 2.52 and 3.02 percent respectively. No Family First candidates were elected. Sitting Senator Steve Fielding's term does not expire until 2011.

Before the 2007 Elections in Australia, Fred Nile criticized Family First for giving preferences (in some states) to the Liberty and Democracy Party, a libertarian political party that as one of its policies wants to legalize recreational drug use, stating "They gave their preferences to the enemy, the anti-Christian party. This was suggested as a reason for their poor election result. Ironically, Fred Nile's own party had also preferenced the Liberty and Democracy Party before any other major party in the Senate.

2007-08 defections from other parties

The party has benefited from a series of high-profile defections from the Liberal Party in 2007 and 2008.

  • Former South Australian state Liberal minister Robert Brokenshire contested the 2007 federal election for the party, and subsequently won preselection to replace retiring founder Evans in the state Legislative Council.
  • In June 2008, former Western Australian deputy Liberal leader Dan Sullivan announced that he would become the parliamentary leader of a new state branch of the party, WA Family First. Three former One Nation MPs have expressed support for the new party.
  • Also in June, 2008, Bob Randall, a former South Australian Liberal MP and party president joined the party, complaining that the Liberal Party had drifted too far to the "left", and that "Family First is the only truly conservative political force now left in Australia".
  • On the 3rd of August 2008 Bob Day, a prominent Coalition fundraiser and Liberal candidate for Makin in the 2007 Federal Election announced that he was joining Family First and would contest the 2008 Mayo by-election for the party
  • On the 14th of August 2008, independent (former Liberal) Western Australian MP Anthony Fels joined the Party

Wanting to "relaunch himself as a mainstream political player, beyond Family First's ultra-conservative evangelical Christian support base" as some commentators put it, Fielding considered breaking away from Family First to create another party. He tried to recruit Tim Costello and other big names around the beginning of 2008, but failed to convince them. The revelations came after Fielding changed his position on abortion, after being rebuffed by his party for taking a softer approach.

Policies

Abortion

According to their web site, Family First say that they will "seek to promote recognition and valuing of the inherent dignity of each human being from conception. In this context, Family First is opposed to the medical treatment procedure of abortion."

Asylum seekers

Family First contends that it has a 'compassionate' stance towards asylum seekers, supporting fast on-shore processing. In what would have been a deciding vote, Federal leader Steve Fielding opposed the Liberal Government to ensure that asylum seekers to Australia are not processed in overseas detention facilities. This resulted in the government not proceeding with the proposed legislation

Drugs

Family First oppose harm reduction as a primary strategy for combating drug abuse, instead favouring prevention, zero tolerance, rehabilitation, and avoidance.

Environment

Family First's environment and resources policy states that "Family First is committed to the environment as essential to ensuring the health and happiness of future generations of families".

In the South Australian parliament, Family First MPs have taken outspoken positions on environmental topics such as desalination schemes and the Murray-Darling Basin. Family First MPs also successfully lobbied the government to include an interim 2020 greenhouse reduction target in Climate Change legislation.

In the 2006 Victorian election, Family First advocated several positions that that the Australian Conservation Foundation viewed as non-environmental . These positions included the construction of new dams to increase water supplies , arguing for a reduction in fuel taxes , arguing against cuts to existing logging agreements, and supporting continued access to public lands for "recreational fishing, shooting and hunting" .

Euthanasia

Family First is opposed to euthanasia, holding the view that "the duty of health carers is to promote health, relieve suffering and safeguard life". Instead, they favour palliative care.

Sexuality

Family First opposes LGBT adoption, IVF treatment for lesbians, and opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, stating their declaration of marriage as "a union of a man and a woman. Family First's only official LGBT rights-related policy is that "all co-dependents should not be discriminated against – whether Homosexual or not".

In the 2004 federal election the party directed preferences to the Coalition ahead of Labor except in the seats of Brisbane and Leichhardt. The party's lead senate candidate in Queensland, John Lewis indicated that the reason was the public advocacy on gay issues of the Liberal candidates for those seats.

In 2006, the two SA Family First MLCs voted against the Statutes Amendment (Domestic Partners) Bill.

Indigenous Australians

Family First was the first party in Australia to nominate an Aboriginal woman, lawyer Andrea Mason, as party President. The party did hope to attract a large Aboriginal vote in South Australia where Andrea Mason was touted as possibly the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to parliament.

Although Family First's policy on indigenous Australians does not specifically address the Stolen Generation, Mason has said: "I think there is a cobweb, there is a veil over our country... in terms of this unresolved issue... I think that there will be a significant change in the way we perceive ourselves and our relationships with each other when there is an apology made to the stolen generations.

Industrial relations

Family First is opposed to some aspects of the Howard government's Australian Workplace Agreement measures, campaigning against the measures in the Federal Senate , and voting against the 2005 WorkChoices legislation. In his Maiden Speech, Senator Steve Fielding argued for a fairer work / rest / and 'family time' or leisure balance in opposing the measures.

Pornography

Family First's internet pornography policy calls for a "Mandatory Filtering Scheme at the ISP Server Level" as a matter of child protection.

"It is a national travesty that is so easily fixed if the Government and the opposition would exercise their moral will and pass legislation that requires Internet Service Providers (ISP's) to provide a compulsory filtering of pornography on the Internet... Adults can elect to opt out, but we are putting ISP's on notice that greater diligence is required", said Andrea Mason in a media release on Wednesday, 25 August 2004.

War in Iraq

Family First believes that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was wrong because diplomatic avenues had not been exhausted, but that having participated in that invasion Australia is now obliged to protect Iraqis and Australians in Iraq through a military presence.

Structure

Family First is incorporated as a limited liability company overseen by a Board of Directors. A National Conference occurs at least once every two years for policy formulation and to endorse candidates. Federal and State branches have Annual General Meetings that are open to all members.

Political relations

Family First and the Australian Greens are often at odds, with Family First often referring to the Greens as "extreme" in their media statements. The two parties are in competition for Senate preferences, particularly from the Labor Party, and ideologically opposed on many issues. In the 2006 Victorian election, Family First's limited television advertising campaign specifically singled out the Greens for criticism .

Relations between Family First and Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party (Australia) are strained by the need to compete for the same group of voters and to secure Senate preferences, particularly from the Liberal Party of Australia.

Although Family First New Zealand is also a Christian Right lobbying organisation, it is not a political party, nor does it have any association with its Australian namesake.

Religious affiliation

Family First co-founder Pastor Andrew Evans was the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Australia for twenty years. In the 2002 South Australian election and the 2004 Federal Election, a number of Family First candidates were church members. In New South Wales, 11 of their 23 candidates for the 2004 federal election were from an Assemblies of God church, the Hawkesbury Church in Windsor

South Australian Family First Member of the Legislative Council Dennis Hood, the party's state parliamentary leader, is a member of the Rostrevor Baptist Church. When Sunday Mail columnist Peter Goers stated that Hood was an anti-evolution Creationist, Hood did not deny this in his response, while he did attempt to set the record straight on issues of policy.

Family First's preferencing agreement with the Coalition (Australia) in the 2004 federal election led Barnaby Joyce, the National senate candidate for Queensland, to publicly slam the party the day before the election, calling them "the lunatic Right", and stating that "these are not the sort of people you do preference deals with. Joyce's comments came in response to a pamphlet published by one of the party's Victorian Senate candidates, Danny Nalliah who in his capacity as a church pastor had criticised other religions and homosexuality.

In September 2004, party leader Andrea Mason said that Family First is not a Christian party and Family First Federal Secretary Dr Matt Burnet issued a press release stating:

"The party is not a church party or an Assembly of God party, nor is it funded by AOG churches. It does see itself as socially conservative, with Family Values based on Christian ethics. Like any main-stream party we do not have on record the religious affiliations of any of our members. The Board of Reference in South Australia includes business-people, members of the medical profession, as well as ministers and people from Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Uniting and other church groups. The rapid national growth of the party leading into this election and the late decision to contest in all seats possible, has meant that in some states there are candidates, with strong family values, who have been introduced to the party through the personal relationships they have from their involvement in community/church networks".

However, news reportage continued to associate the party with Assemblies of God, as did concerned church member Nathan Zamprogno, who commented publicly about the intersection of politics and the church.

References

External links

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