It seems likely though not certain that the government will get exactly half the seats in the Senate, and that the Family First party will get at least one, largely due to preference deals with Labor. As with all new parties, there’s something of a lucky dip quality here. Certainly, it doesn’t appear that FF are the hardline religious rightwingers that they have been represented as. I don’t have any particular knowledge about this group, but I will offer a few thoughts.
First, as I said in relation to Pell and Jensen, the idea that religion and politics ought to be kept separate is in general a silly one. It’s based largely on a misunderstanding of the doctrine of separation of church and state. What this doctrine prohibits is action by the state which favors one religion over others or over those without religious belief. In this context, claims that FF is closely associated with one particular church (Assemblies of God) are troublesome. It seems, however, that even if a lot of its leaders have been associated with AOG, the party is broader than this.
Separation of church and state does not mean that there is anything inherently problematic about people holding, and acting on, political views that are derived directly from their religious beliefs. The problem, where there is one, arises from the content of the beliefs and views. Although I don’t share the belief that we are morally obligated to follow the teachings of Jesus, I am often in agreement with the political views that follow from that belief. On the other hand, I rarely have much sympathy with policy beliefs derived from the Old Testament, for example, those condemning gays.
From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like FF have a mixture of policies, some of which will be appealing to me and most readers of this blog and others not. On the positive side, they are sympathetic torefugees and may help in restoring some much-needed decency in this area of politics. More generally, family values are, in large measure, those of the left. Co-operation rather than self-seeking competition, equal sharing rather than incentives and so on. That hasn’t stopped plenty of poltiicians espousing family values and pursuing anti-family policies, and we will have to wait and see whether FF lives up to its own rhetoric.
The obvious negative is that, for FF, the traditional family is the only option. I imagine the realities of life impinge to the extent that plenty of FF members and supporters have experienced divorce, blended families and so on, but there will obviously be no sympathy for ideas like gay marriage. But this was never going to come up, given that Labor had already opposed it. In general, this is not an area where governments have a lot of direct impact.
Overall, then we shouldn’t despair about FF holding the balance of power in the Senate, though I’m not optimistic they will do much more than blunt the sharpest edge of government policy.
fn1. In addition, there are the Democrats, of whom Andrew Murray is most sympathetic to the Meg Lees view of seeking negotiated improvements to government legislation. This means that, most of the time, the government will be able to get legislation through, perhaps with amendments.