The Family First Party is not new on the scene, but few voters know anything about who they are and what they stand for, so Crikey's Christian Kerr has been doing some digging:



Last updated 29 September, 2004


Family First’s friends go coy
Subscriber email - 29 September

Drop by the Assemblies of God website, http://www.aogaustralia.com.au/. We were able to visit it last weekend. This morning the message is coming up “This site is currently under construction and will be available shortly”.

Are they disobeying Biblical instruction and hiding their light under a bushel in the lead up to the election to assist their friends in Family First.

Many key Family First personnel are linked with the church, but as their details are not available from the Assemblies of God website at the moment here are a few pertinent details.

Take federal chairman Peter Harris, a self-described property developer and management consultant. He has been a member of Paradise AOG for ten or fifteen years from his accounts, and has been on the board of the church for many of those, at least the last five.

In the late nineties, he was involved in setting a strategic vision for Paradise AOG to bring the church into a “position of influence” over the political, business and media communities in Adelaide.

Harris is involved heavily in the business ministry – a ministry that makes much of the God given role of business people is to make money to support the work of the church. This network of Christian businesspeople has been a significant source of funds for the church and, presumably, Family First.

Then there is the Evans family. Andrew Evans is a Member of the South Australian Legislative Council. He has two sons, Ashley and Russell, who are also both pastors. Ashley is the Senior Pastor of Paradise AOG in Adelaide, while Russell is the director of Planetshakers Ministries, their youth conference, and is the Senior Pastor of the new City Church Melbourne church which was started earlier this year and meets at Storey Hall, RMIT. More details on the City Church Melbourne team are available here.

And the question everyone is asking – where’s the money coming from? One church insider e-mails:

“Pentecostal churches are brilliant at fundraising. Even though we can trust Family First when they say they aren't being funded by the AOG or by particular churches, with people like Peter Harris and the Evans's involved, you can bet your bottom dollar the same people involved with supporting Christian ministries like Paradise and Planetshakers are involved with supporting Family First. So while the organisations are separate, the same identities are most probably present, both on the fundraising and the giving sides of things.

“When Peter Harris was in Melbourne late last year, he was saying that they were preparing for this Federal election. My guess is that while the process of putting up candidates and building local support bases has been very last minute, Peter & Co were probably obtaining commitments of money well in advance of the election, if not from the moment Evans senior got into the upper house in SA.”

One significant Family First mystery remains. Yesterday, The Australian revealed that the party will not directly preference three Liberals – the openly gay Ingrid Tall in Brisbane and parliamentary secretary Warren Entsch, a supporter of same-sex marriages. But the third? No one knows. Any clues, Crikey army? We’ve heard some suggestions, but they seem to be based on slurs on sexuality rather than hard fact. Over to you, subscribers.


Family First set the record straight
Second subscriber email - 27 September




Family First have now published this document on their website called “The truth about Family First – setting the record straight”.

It contains the following claim: “The party has not raised any bill against Abortion in the SA parliament…”

No, but check out this question on notice from their lone State MP, Andrew Evans, in response to - would you believe it - the release of ABS data on South Australia’s low rate of population growth:

“I note that the list of factors contributing to South Australia 's low population rate did not state that thousands of abortions were carried out each year. In South Australia last year a total of 5 471 abortions were carried out…. It is my understand­ing that, if we applied the same figure given for the number of abortions carried out last year … to the year 2050, the population of South Australia would rise by 246,376.

"It is my understanding that certain centres in the United States , such as a centre called A Woman's Concern in Massachusetts , provide extensive support, counselling and assistance, as well as accessing the use of technology such as ultrasound to allow the expectant mother to view her baby. The result is that many women make a choice not to proceed with abortion. It is my understanding from a preliminary survey carried out from October 2000 to December 2001 at The Revere Centre (a centre that follows the above approach, that is, counselling and the use of ultrasound) that, of the abortion-minded women who contact the centre to have an abortion, a total of 74 per cent do not abort. My questions to the Premier are:

"1. Will the government investigate programs in the United States that are reducing the number of abortions being carried out in centres such as A Woman's Concern and The Revere in Massachusetts which provide counselling and the use of technology such as ultrasound to inform women prior to an abortion being carried out; and will the government give consideration to a pilot project being undertaken in South Australia? If not, why not?

"2. Given the government's new population policy aimed at increasing the population in South Australia to two million by the year 2050, will the government give consider­ation to introducing a bill to ensure that medical practitioners obtain a signed declaration from both abortion vulnerable and abortion minded women to confirm that full disclosure of all the risks associated with having an abortion has been presented so that these women are fully informed when consenting to an abortion? If not, why not?

You can read it for yourself here.

Anybody like to explain to Family First why not? This certainly sets the record straight about where Family First stands on abortion.

Meanwhile, read what Crikey has written on Family First so far on the site here: http://www.crikey.com.au/politics/2004/09/21-0001.html

Is the Uniting Church part of Family First?

A candidate in the current election writes:

The Family First media release titled "The Truth About Family First - Setting the Record Straight" also stated "The Board of Reference includes....people from Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran and Uniting and other church groups".

I don't believe anyone comes from the Uniting Church. If they are refering to Rev Rob Moores, he left the Uniting Church six months ago over the sexuality issue, and started a new church in which he names his mentor as being Andrew Evans MLC.

Also I believe that no candidates, including the number one senate candidates were voted into their positions. Everyone is just chosen - or annointed!

Family First’s preferences explained?


Forget the talk of some svengali being behind Family First’s preference decisions. A simple typo may have given us the answer. Key in www.alp.org – no “au” – and you come to the homepage of the “Audre Lorde Project”, a “Community Organising Centre for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit and Transgender People of Colour”.
>
God on their side – Part 1

First subscriber email - 27 September
Where is Family First getting the money from for all those coreflutes – let alone TVs during the Grand Final? Go to the Electoral Commission’s annual returns site – and you’ll find zip.

Family First have not yet had to declare anything at a federal level, and laws in their home of South Australia and the party structure mean they have not had to open the books.

Does the money come straight from the Assemblies of God? They know a lot about the ins and outs of finance. Have look at the "Finance Matters" section of their website here.

God on their side – Part 2

Family First’s repeated denials that it is a religious based party is interesting considering its birth inside the most aggressively proselytising denomination in Australia.

It is a political reality that minor parties often stand candidates in lower house seats with little chance of success out of principle or to try to tip someone else over the line on their preference. This seems to be key role number one of Family First – but it has another, more insidious task it seems to be attempting, too.

Family First seems to be an attempt to create a neutral brand name in an attempt to ensure that the religious conservative vote can flourish and grow firmly under the control of the Assemblies of God, or the slightly wider umbrella it also goes by, the Australian Christian Churches.

Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party has long relied on support from AOG Churches, but was most certainly never under the sway of its leaders, people like prominent minister Brian Houston of Hillsong. Nile’s and Gordon Moyes MLC’s Uniting Church links have always been problematical, given that the non-evangelical wing of that denomination could best be described as the Australian Democrats at prayer (or perhaps deity interfacing).

Family First is an attempt to create a brand that has a broad enough appeal to appeal to voters who are not fundamentalists and may not even be churchgoers, but may well send their children to non-government church schools for the quality of moral teaching they receive.

However, despite assurances of having an ecumenical board, Family First is overwhelmingly a branch of one specific – and autocratic – church movement, the Assemblies of God.

Their policies were not drafted by party branches, but by pastors. Any attempt at debate about the merits of those policies are likely to be rebuffed by claims of a lack of respect for the spiritual authority of church leaders. Infallibility and democracy, surprise, surprise, do not mix.

PS Yesterday’s “God on their side – Part 2” item said that Family First were supporting Bob Katter in Leichhardt. Katter, of course, is the candidate for Kennedy. The Family First target is Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who behaved quite uncharacteristically and threatened to opposed the ban on same sex marriage. The independent Family First is supporting is Jen Sackely – who no one seems to know a thing about.



> God on their side - Part I
Subscriber email - 26 September

Now that the major media outlets have also begun to share Crikey’s interest in the Family First party, we interested to see this claim in a release from Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party - who are looking more and more like the poor cousins in the God bothering politics stakes nowadays: "Christian Democratic Party - an intentional Christian party, representing the 70% of people who say they are Christian."

Really? Have a look at some of these excellent articles on Family First from the last couple of days to see who has the real clout on the religious right - Michelle Wiese Bockmann’s stories from The Australian:

Family First party likely to put Labor last
Howard now has God on his side

Then there were Mike Seccombe's two efforts in the SMH:

Behind Family First is a clan of true believers
Evangelical about politics

Family First represents the strongest push yet by religious conservatives into Australian politics. Fred Nile may have got seats for himself and his missus under the Festival of Light, Call to Australia and Christian Democratic banner and been briefly joined by Libs struck down on the road to Damascus like Jim Cameron (Ross’ old man) and Queensland MHR John Bradford, but they have not had any real impact.

As we have been saying all along, Family First’s preferences mean they matter. Family First say their internal polling puts the party at four per cent. More than a fifth of the 150 House of Representatives seats are held by less than that amount.

We have also pointed out how the party is running Senate candidates in all states and in more than 120 Reps seats in the nation. This is where its church links become important. The mainstream political parties find it increasingly hard to get the faithful out on staff booths on polling day – let alone increase their flock.

The religious metaphors are deliberate. Family First have a large and motivated pool of believers they can tap into. They can get personnel on the polling booths pushing how to votes into people’s hands. Who know what influence this might have in some of the tighter seats? If undecided punters take the Family First HTV and follow it, thinking that they’re casting a protest vote, who know how it might influence the results.

Still, we know all about the parable of the uppity guest and the seating arrangements (sorta like Bronny at past Liberal launches) and all those Old Testament lines about that what is high being laid low.

God on their side – Part II

Family First have had a couple of clangers in their media releases recently that mean the new party come under close scrutiny in the lead up to polling day. This media release announcing their House of Representatives preference deal on Friday was curious in parts to say the least – curious and defensive.

Look at its opening pars:

Family First commenced due to a concern that societal principles were shifting away from conservative family values and that a whole section of society were not being represented in the political forums.

Family First is not about imposing a spiritual agenda upon Australia but simply about representing a section of society that is concerned about family values…

Fair enough. It’s their right to do so in our democracy – but why have they always been so coy to play down their Assemblies of God links?

And look at the deals they announced:

Family First will be preferencing the Nationals in the Queensland seats of Brisbane and Capricornia. Family First will be preferencing the Independent in the seat of Leichhardt. We will be preferencing the Liberal Party first in the rest of the nation.

What does it mean? They like Bob Katter. Not a good start. They think the Nats are a better bet to knock off young Kirsten Livermore in Capricornia than the Libs. That’s a fair enough call. And the Libs get their preferences everywhere else, other than the openly gay Ingrid Tall in Brisbane. That’s odd. Nasty and odd. Openly gay Democrat Brian Grieg is getting preferences to try to keep the Greens out in the Senate race in WA – and no-one serious gives Nat Nick Withycombe a chance against Arch Bevis in the Labor marginal of Brisbane anyway, so the preferences will just head back to Tall.

Then there was this line: "There have been some Liberal candidates who we have asked to sign a 3 year voting agreement on certain FF policy platforms that may arise in the Parliament over that 3 year period."

Say what? Wouldn’t this represent a breach of parliamentary privilege, compelling MPs to vote certain ways? No wonder this clarification came out later:

In reference to the preference announcement by Peter Harris, Federal Chairman of Family First, in Adelaide this afternoon.

In his speech Peter Harris made reference to a ‘contract’ or ‘signing a voting agreement’ in a few seats.

This should have been ‘a commitment is being sought from a number of candidates’ where there are some issues to be sorted out before confirming preferences…

Indeed. But there are still these interesting quotes from the original preferences media release:

We have had discussions with the Prime Minister in relation to policy issues that affect families. As a result of those discussions, we feel confident that Family First will be able to have significant input into the development of policy affecting families in Australia…

In particular the PM is very receptive to the introduction of family impact statements on submissions made to Cabinet…

Really? Sorry to spoil the PM’s big policy launch day, but perhaps some journos should ask him about when these meetings occurred, how many there were, who attended, what was discussed, and what deals were struck.


Charles Richardson predicts Family First for NSW Senate

Subscriber email - 23 September, first edition


Crikey psephologist Charles Richardson has been studying all the polls and preference deals for the Senate and will be producing firm predictions on a daily basis as to how the state's house will look after October 9. We commence the series with a look at the likely outcome in NSW:

New South Wales is often the most interesting Senate race. It has the most votes and the most candidates, so it takes the most work to analyse. And it's the only state, since the expansion of the Senate in the 1980s, that has ever thrown up anything other than a 3/3 left/right split in a half-Senate election.

NSW has done so twice: in 1990, when right-wing groups directed preferences away from Chris Puplick and elected a Labor senator in his place, and in 1998 when the Coalition directed preferences away from One Nation and elected Democrat Aden Ridgeway instead of David Oldfield.

This year, preferences are even more confusing than usual due to the presence of the Families First (Assemblies of God) ticket, which has had remarkable success in sewing up preference deals. Assemblies of God will receive preferences from Hemp, No GST, Lower Excise, Australians Against Further Immigration, the New Country Party and Liberals for Forests.

These are all tiny parties, but between them in 2001 they had a fifth of a Senate quota. That is a big chunk of votes. If those votes are enough to put Assemblies of God ahead of its minor-party rivals, then further preference deals will come into play: from Fred Nile (Call to Australia), One Nation and the Australian Democrats. In that event, it is very likely that these parties between them would have enough to elect a senator ahead of the third Coalition candidate, Senator John Tierney.

If Assemblies of God are eliminated too early to benefit, then Fred Nile could conceivably be elected instead, since he will also get a third of any preferences from the ALP. But the Democrats cannot perform the same trick, since Nile and One Nation both flow to the Coalition ahead of them.

None of this would disturb the 3/3 left/right split; it is likely that Labor and the Greens will still have 3 quotas between them, electing 2 ALP and 1 Green. But if Labor is doing badly overall, Tierney and Joan Wood, the Assemblies of God candidate, might both sneak in (one of them getting the surplus votes of the other) at the expense of the Greens.

So my call is 2 Coalition, 2 Labor, 1 Green and 1 Assemblies of God, but the third Coalition candidate and Fred Nile both in with a chance.


Political editor Christian Kerr adds:


Family First are organised. Organised and cashed up. They are wheeling out a series of television ads that will start running from the AFL Grand Final at a media event in Adelaide tomorrow and promising to reveal "unique preferencing arrangements for the House of Representatives". The plot thickens.



Family First candidate nicknames

Family First's lead Victorian Senate candidate Steve Fielding works in the superannuation industry as a marketing person for Vision Super - the old Local Government Super Fund. He's universally known as "Creepy Jesus" by colleagues. Says it all really.


Family First goes all fire and brimstone on Crikey


Subscriber email - 23 September, second edition

Family First has sent through the following response to an item in the morning sealed section:

I wish to place on record my regret at the provision of a link, posted on your site, that assists in the circulation of certain defamatory statements.

The author of these statements, was previously employed by the Australian Assemblies of God national office around 10 years ago whilst I was Chairman of the National Executive.

After his employment with the Assemblies of God finished, he published defamatory statements about a number of Members of the Executive including myself.

He was requested to stop circulating those statements but he refused and we were left with no alternative but to take legal action.

Those defamed then sued him and sought an injunction preventing distribution of the defamatory statements. The injunction was granted.

I wish to express my disappointment at the hurtful and defamatory tactics of those involved in this matter. It is a low point for democracy and civilised political discourse.

Dr Matt Burnet
Federal Secretary
Family First Party


The Family First files


Subscriber email - 22 September, second edition


Three links about God-botherers - this blog on how the Assemblies of God tell their congregation to vote, this very puzzling piece on Family First's only MP and in today's Herald Sun, Andrew Bolt reveals what he sees as the sinister side of the conservative Chrisitian party in his column on the power of the pulpit.

Meanwhile, a Green supporter writes:

The papers are all writing that Family First are opposed to euthanasia and gay marriage. They are also opposed to abortion as as you can see from this contribution from their number two Queensland senate candidate Tracey Skellern-Smith writing in an online bulletin board.



Who's who in Family First?

Subscriber email - 21 September

Who's who in Family First? Well, www.archive.org is a wonderful thing. And check out the list of a "Board of Reference" up on the Family First website here.

The big question, however, is not answered. Who is their chief tactician? Who is the preference negotiator? How have they come from nowhere to become key powerbrokers in just two years? Yes, they are tapping into an established but untouched powerbase in the Assemblies of God and other evangelical churches - but just who are the "they"?

A oncer South Australian Liberal state MP and pastor, Stuart Leggett, has given the party advice, but he remains a member of the Liberal Party - on the other side of Adelaide from where he lives in one of disgraced former minister Joan Hall's branches. He's no svengali.

Meanwhile, Family First's full ASIC details are here: www.crikey.com.au/images/2004/09/21-YVFF8JHT00.pdf

Do any names strike a light?



Family First - spot the svengali

Subscriber email - 20 September

Christian Kerr writes from the seat of Menzies:

Are we going paranoid here in the Crikey bunker, stuck out in the Melbourne burbs getting some sort of cabin fever - or does the Family First Party have some sort of svengali giving them a hand?

They only appeared at the South Australia state election back in 2002. The media ignored them until the end of the campaign. They barely noticed their links to the Assemblies of God Church - links that let them get people out on the booths on a mission (literally) pushing how to votes into punters had - and the way they managed to cut preference deals that saw them end up with a Legislative Councillor.

Now they are running a Senate ticket in every state and have candidates in most electorates. All the focus this election has been on Green preferences - mainly because Bob Brown can never shut up about the subject, but Family First have cut some smart Senate deals (yes, Antony, another plug for your ABC election website.

If they can draw on their congregations to man the booths, they could have an impact on the House of Representative outcome, too. Bob Brown has been making much about his lower house preferences power, but Family First seem to be - to quote the Good Book - hiding their light under a bushel on this subject. Even if they only steer a few stray votes off in a particular direction, Family First may still be able swing some seats.

Which begs the question - who's behind this all?

We referred a couple of months ago to the company structure of the party as mentioned on an online candidate application form. The page vanished almost immediately.

An Andrea Mason is listed as the party leader on their media releases. Her details are at http://www.familyfirst.org.au/sa/am.php - but she doesn't look like a svengali. Their executive is listed at http://www.familyfirst.org.au/fexec.php, but other than their e-mail addresses we get no details about them. The party's contact details are given as post office box in Adelaide's north-eastern suburbs at http://www.familyfirst.org.au/contact.php and there's the brief, obligatory "About Us" at http://www.familyfirst.org.au/who.php - but that's about it.

Bob Brown is a media tart. Family First, as good God-fearing types, aren't tarts - per se - so we don't hear that much about them. What they clearly are, however, are efficient organisers - efficient organisers with a good grasp of political tactics with the potential to deploy the people needed on the ground to make a difference.

Is it all there own work? Is there some svengali - either inside the party or a conservative leaning tactician from outside - helping, or are they simply moved by the spirit. Interesting. Try and block out Bob Brown and the Greens and keep an ear to ground for what you pick up on the Family First Party.