Tuesday, October 23, 2007

South Australian Liberal defects to Family First

Former Liberal MP Robert Brokenshire has defected to Family First and will contest the Liberal marginal seat of Kingston. The South Australian seat is one of the tightest in the country with sitting Liberal member Kym Richardson winning by just 119 votes (a margin of 0.1 per cent). Brokenshire was a state parliamentarian in South Australia between 1993 and 2003 and his move to federal politics is a major coup for the minor party. Brokenshire says Family First is yet to determine whether his preferences will support Richardson this time around. "Preferences are something that are yet to be finally decided," he said. "Kym Richardson's worked hard in the seat, most people would agree with that, but it's not for me to decide ultimately where preferences go – that’s for the executive of Family First Party.

The seat of Kingston is in the southern outer suburbs of Adelaide and has always been a marginal seat changing hands no less than seven times in the last forty years. Richardson won the seat from Labor in 2004. A new Adelaide Advertiser poll shows that Labor will easily win the seat. The newspapers poll of 724 voters gave a swing to Labor of more than six per cent taking its two-party-preferred support to 56 to the government's 44.

While Brokenshire’s move to Family First may have some impact on the 2PP vote, it is unlikely to be enough to swing the seat in the incumbent’s favour. According to the 2006 census, 30.1% of Kingston voters stated no religion on their census form, the highest rate in the country. This seat, therefore, would not appear to be Family First core constituency. However South Australia is the party’s heartland and where it was founded in 2002 by Pentecostalist pastor Andrew Evans. After being rebuffed by Nick Xenophon, Evans campaigned under the new banner of Family First was elected to South Australia’s upper house in the state election that year with 4.02 percent of the vote.

Evans’s victory attracted much media interest as well as increased local support. Adelaide businessman Peter Harris was recruited to become chairman and the brains trust behind Family First. It was Harris who negotiated the preference deals in Victoria that saw Steve Fielding elected to the federal Senate in 2004. Fielding, a former industry super fund marketing manager, approached the party to run as a candidate and succeeded despite Evans’s reluctance to push the party outside South Australia.

Steve Fielding
polled poorly in the election and even got fewer votes than the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). But he got elected thanks to the machine men of the Victorian Federal ALP who wanted to punish the Greens by preferencing Family First. Fielding got in thanks to all the Labor voters in Victoria who voted above the line. Fielding has been an unpredictable voter in the Senate. He has voted with the government on many issues but was opposed to tougher asylum-seeking legislation and managed to bring it down with the help of rebellious Liberal senators.

Following in Evans and Fielding's successful footsteps, Dennis Hood won the party’s second seat in the SA upper house in 2006. The party claims not to be an overtly Christian party though it does have an underlying Christian morality. It prefers instead to talk about promoting “traditional family values”. It had attracted some major funding figures including Craig Winkler, chief executive of MYOB. Robert Brokenshire represents a coup for the party and a boost for their chances of picking up another Senate seat this time round.

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