Victorian Senate Group G: Putting the Family First

Moving along the ticket we find ourselves back in right-wing Christian land, albeit in a somewhat calmer and less racist incarnation.  Yes indeed, it’s time to meet Family First! Incidentally, what’s with all the right-wing Christian political parties on the ballot this year?  I count four, and that’s just based on the ones I recognise – there may be more hidden in small parties I haven’t read up on yet.  As a left-wing Christian I find this rather disheartening…

(but for heavens’ sake, let’s not start another, left-wing Christian party to the mix.  Religion doesn’t belong in politics, to my mind… and in some ways, that could be a summary of this entire post, but I digress)

It is worth noting that while one cannot strictly do a donkey vote of the senate above the line (if you do number all the groups above the line in order, the AEC will simply ignore all the numbers other than 1, and your vote will follow that party’s ticket), anyone who decided, for some obscure reason, to donkey vote below the line would be likely to have their vote end up either at the Liberal Party or here with Family First – between the two, there are unlikely to be many fractions left after that point.  So donkeyish voting in the senate will be electing someone from the right wing of politics.

Also, a quick disclaimer – I currently have a horrible lurgy and am doped up to the gills on Codral, so this post may be sillier than usual, and while I will do my best to avoid typos, there may be some transposed words, so apologies in advance for any errors – feel free to point out corrections in the comments.

Let’s start with Family First’s Senate Ticket.  We quickly learn that Family First is enthusiastic about motoring, against coal seam gas and in favour of bank reform.  They also like Australian Christians, bullet trains and online senators.  In fact, they really are rather fond of small parties, including, alas, Rise Up Australia, Climate Sceptics and One Nation, the first place where their vote might stop for a while (though, to be honest, I would expect Family First to be in the game, counting wise, for longer than One Nation).  They eventually wander past the Democrats and the Citizens Electoral Council to the DLP, which is an interesting choice – the DLP may be Catholic, but I would have thought they would have more in common with Family First than the CEC, who are frankly a little bit nuts.  Finally, they make their way down to Liberal, then the Nationals, and then immediately Labor, which says a certain amount about how similar they think these two parties are.  The very bottom of the ticket is held by the Socialist Equality Party and finally the dreaded Secular Party of Australia.  Is any commentary on this even necessary?

In short, this ticket favours the Christian bloc and all the smaller right wing parties, before finally landing in the Liberal Party box.  It’s kind of nice to see the smaller parties standing up for each other, though I bet the people counting these votes find it as annoying as hell!

Probably shouldn’t use that phrase in this post, come to think of it.

On to the policies!  Family First’s Website tells me that it’s all about “Strong Families. Strong Values. Strong Australia.”  Strong Slogan.  Strong Website.  Strong Colours.  OK, shut up, Catherine.

I’m beginning to think I should have a section on my favourite quirky thing from any given political website.  In the case of Family First, they have an App, which you can download to get the latest news, and stay connected.  You can also send a message to Family First, and there are special quotes, the national anthem, an election count-down, and a puzzle game:

The most impressive feature of this app is the voting campaign. It’s completely in game mode. So, voting is more like fun. The game is located on the front page with an Australian map jigsaw puzzle and 21 different Family First policies to vote from. It allows you to vote for one Family First policy at a time. Every time you vote, you will receive one point and if you invite your friends to download the app, you earn 2 points. When you reach a certain number of points, you will be entitled to different upgrades/rewards:

  1. Privilege – This allows you to place 2 votes a day, 4 votes a day and so on.
  2. Titles – Vote for your chosen policy and when you reach the voting limit for that policy, you will solve 1 part of the jigsaw puzzle and then another policy will be unlocked. With increased numbers of your votes, you will be moving from level to level earning different titles such as a Diplomat, Governor, Senator or Prime Minister.

Indoctrination – it’s a game the whole family can play!

Actually, to be fair, that does sound kind of cute.

I’m doing a fine job of avoiding actual policies so far, aren’t I?  Sorry, I got distracted by the App.  The policies page has a header proclaiming “A job, a home, your finances under control, a safe neighbourhood to live in, a secure retirement and a few of life’s small pleasures.”  This sounds pretty nice.  I am, however, having a lot of trouble finding their actual policies in detail, which is odd, because I could see them this morning.  Political parties, stop re-working your websites while I am trying to analyse them!  Oh, I see, I got stuck in South Australia and couldn’t get out.  It wouldn’t be the first time…

Family First sees itself as a mainstream right-wing party, and one of its stated goals is to become the the third major party in Australian politics. Their Party History reads as follows:

Many great organisations and political movements (the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, public education, health, aged care organisations etc), started in a church. Motivated by a sense of concern for others, people of goodwill established schools, hospitals, welfare agencies and many other lasting endeavours. Family First began the same way.

And as you no longer have to be a member of a particular denomination to be admitted to these hospitals, schools or retirement villages, so it is with Family First. Family First is independent of any church or denomination. In the above examples the focus is on the best medicine, the best education, the best aged care. In other words, excellence, integrity and respect.

Family First works on the same principles.

Like so many other Australian institutions, at Family First our Christian heritage is something we are both proud of and grateful for.

As you can see, they are positioning themselves as church-founded, but no longer church dependent, and non-denominational (which of course still implies Christianity and no other religions), and in common with Churches of most stripes, they are interested in social justice and community issues.  It will be interesting to see how their policies navigate between a tendency to economic rationalism and a tendency to compassion, always within certain moral bounds…

Let’s start with Family, because that is what this party is all about – and indeed, they tell us firmly that their starting point is that familes come first.  In fact, they deserve to be quoted in full here:

No form of human association can match the profound benefits of being raised in a loving, functional and secure family. As the fundamental building block of society, we diminish their capacity to function effectively at our peril.

The health of the family is thus critical to the health of society. In fact, the wellbeing of families is a powerful barometer for the wellbeing of the nation.

Families should be at the centre of our Australian way of life, not government bureaucracies. With the rising cost of living putting more and more pressure on families they need more income to function properly and make ends meet.

Going into more detail, they want to support initiatives to make families economically and socially self-reliant – they include access to healthcare, education including vocational training, employment and home ownership here, so we’re golden so far.  They are very big on supporting carers, both stay at home parents (and they include stay at home dads in this, interestingly), and those who are caring for the sick or elderly, and want to affirm these roles and assist them economically and financially.  They feel strongly that families should care for their own, but that it is the job of governments to support this.

They find the paid parental leave scheme to be unfair on stay-at-home mothers, which has some interesting implications if you think about it, and want to establish more family mediation services.  While they don’t actually mention divorce directly, this is clearly aimed at reducing it, though in a non-punitive way.  They are also against pornography, what a surprise!

So far, so good.  But what constitutes a family? And indeed, what constitutes a marriage?

Yep, you guessed it: “marriage at its essence and by definition is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of others for life”.

Oh, Family First.  You were doing so well…

I actually like much of the rest of their policy on marriage – there is a lot to be said for making relationship counselling more accessible, and assisting people to find ways to fix their relationships before so much damage has been done that things are irreparable, but you do tend to lose me once you go all anti-marriage equality.

One thing that Family First has always done pretty well, I think, is on disability policy.  They are all about inclusion and providing “opportunities for all citizens, including those with a disability, to live with dignity and achieve their potential”.  They want to establish “as a fundamental right, supported access to education, medical care and housing” for those unable to live independently, they want to expand early intervention and funding for medical aids, develop better IT and communication technologies to improve quality of life, support participation in work and further education, and provide financial and respite support to carers, as well as providing “education, development and workplace incentives that will attract increased numbers of well qualified staff to the vocation of caring for people with profound disability thereby providing improved levels of care and alleviating current shortages”.

A big tick from me.  This one sounds like it has been well thought through, with my only caveat being that something about the wording suggests that they have spent more time talking to carers than to people with a disability themselves.  But I might be being over-sensitive, or just plain wrong.

Unsurprisingly, Family First is pro-life, which is to say, anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia.  While I don’t much like this, I will give them credit for actually trying to promote policies in other areas which might reduce the reasons for people choosing these options – such as better access to healthcare, better support for carers, and initiatives to help people escape poverty.  There are, of course, plenty of other entirely valid reasons one might choose abortion or euthanasia, but at least they are trying to address some of the social and economic ones, rather than just punishing people.

Their policies on Poverty are actually really good.  Of course, I would think that, because they hit on two things that I agree with very strongly in their first few paragraphs:

At Family First we believe that the plight of the poor, whether in Australia or in other parts of the world, is a collective responsibility and that “to whom much is given much is required”. We believe that whatever wealth we have, whether as individuals or as a nation, it is a gift to be shared… Our policies include recognising that access to education is fundamental to breaking the cycle of poverty. We support and promote initiatives that make education available to those who are poor and marginalised, whether they be in Australia or overseas…
Yes, yes, one hundred times yes.  I grew up in a family of educators and I think this is absolutely spot-on, so well done.  They want to increase foreign aid, particularly to programs that develop community development, and they want to promote programs to develop people’s capacity to gain employment, as well as supporting benefits for those unable to work.
Speaking of education, Family First wants equitable distribution of funding to private and public schools, because they want parents to be able to choose schools for their children which reflect their values.  They also support a high level of autonomy for schools.  This sounds to me like a shout-out to the various Christian private schools.
For Youth, Family First has an extra special page with a funkier background and a YouTube video!  It has funky music that the youth of today will like and relate to!  And it has brief, one or two word descriptions of their policy areas.  Family First is so hip, they are practically a walking pelvis…
Mockery aside, I have to say that if it wasn’t a wholly different from the rest of their site, I’d rather like it.  Sadly, it does give the impression that they are trying a bit too hard to be cool.
It’s sort of endearing, actually.
In keeping with their policies on poverty and disability, Family First has a nicely inclusive policy on Aboriginal Affairs, trying to promote economic and social opportunities in partnership with local indigenous communities on five fronts: community safety, workforce participation, education and home ownership, and oops, it looks like Family First can’t count to five.  I’m guessing that was an editing oversight, to be fair.  I honestly do not have the knowledge to evaluate how effective or useful these policies are likely to be, but I think that they are on pretty solid ground when they talk about developing policy in partnership with community.  From a totally uneducated perspective, they look reasonably good, though I’m not sure how Family First’s obsession with home ownership will work in conjunction with traditional Aboriginal culture and the tendency of large extended families to want to live together.
And then we get to employment, which is where Family First and I part company again, because they feel that workplace regulation laws, designed to protect people from discrimination, assure minimum wages and safety, and a number of other bagatelles of this nature, are keeping people out of the workforce by discouraging employers.  They want to get rid of all that and “create, enshrine and and protect in legislation employees and employers right to have the freedom to determine what is in their common interests”.
Look, this sounds good in theory, but the reality is that it doesn’t work like that.  There is a huge imbalance of power between employer and prospective employee that weighs negotiations heavily against the latter.  I suspect in Family First’s world, all employers are benevolent and even-handed, and all employees are capable of speaking up for themselves without fear, but it really doesn’t work like that in the world most of the rest of us live in.  I am also interested to see that some of the protections Family First would remove would potentially include things like paid leave and overtime, as well as disability accessibility.  This is in complete conflict with their policies about disability inclusion and about family.

Their policies on small business and tax are of a similar alignment – there are a whole bunch of economic policies which seem to go hand in hand with the right of politics in Australia, such as reducing red tape for small business, flat tax rates, and getting rid of mining tax.  Family First has the complete set.

Family First is very big on the Great Australian Dream of home ownership and wants to restore housing affordability.  Their plan for doing this is to remove zoning restrictions and allow development of “basic serviced allotments ie water, sewer, electricity, stormwater, bitumen road, street lighting and street signage. Additional services and amenities (lakes, entrance walls, childcare centres, bike trails, etc can be optional extras if the developer wishes to provide them and the buyers are willing to pay for them)”.
I’m not too sure about this.  One of the biggest problems we have in Melbourne, at least, is a lack of infrastructure to support the newer suburbs – public transport is poor to non-existence, there are insufficient schools, and the nearest hospitals are further and further away.  I absolutely agree that we need to make housing more affordable, but I’m not convinced that this is the best way to do it.

Family first is big on property rights, which they think are “the foundation on which many other rights and privileges are exercised”.  The temptation to find one of Jesus’s more inflammatory communist sayings and juxtapose it here is strong, but I shall resist.  In fact, I don’t actually follow this policy very well, especially the bit about Native Title, so I will leave it for others to comment on.

Family First does not believe in climate change, and thinks that carbon dioxide is a plant food.  Also, if China and India won’t scale down on coal, why should we.  Sigh.

Finally, we have their water policy, which seems to be a shout out to South Australian voters, as it is entirely about South Australian access to the Murray River.
Here’s the thing with Family First.  They do have a very specific set of moral values, some of which I like more than others, but with one or two exceptions their policies aim at promoting these values, rather than punishing those who act differently.  Also, while I don’t have evidence for this, my impression is that they have become a bit more mainstream and a little less rabid since they started a few years back.  While I suspect that I will shortly be informed that in fact they are exactly that scary, just a bit more politically cunning, it is not the place of this blog to try to read the minds of party members (nor, alas, do I have the time to hunt through Hansard and news articles to compare actions with policy intentions).Based on what they have written, I can’t vote for them.  Being anti-marriage equality and anti-choice is a deal-breaker for me, and I’m also very uneasy about their notions of workplace reform.  But I like them much more than I expected to, and there are policies on this website that I would dearly love to see taken up by some of the major political parties.

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One thought on “Victorian Senate Group G: Putting the Family First

  1. Pingback: My personal How to Vote Card… | Cate Speaks

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