All the Family First observations as they appeared in the subscriber only emails, wrapped up together on the site:
God on their side

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.

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.

We’ve also packaged up Christian Kerr’s Family First musings on the site here:
http://www.crikey.com.au/politics/2004/09/21-0001.html

Family First – spot the svengali]

Subscriber email – 20 September, second email

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.