Family First

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[1]. 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.

28 thoughts on “Family First

  1. And they’ve come out and said they are prima facie opposed to the sale of Telstra, AND called for a sorry to the stolen gens.

    If Howard is forced to rely on them, I don’t think they will be a rubber stamp at all, except, unfortunately, for family oriented bigotry. Overall their pronouncements are a slightly silvery lining on the otherwise dark cloud hanging over leftist politics at the moment.

  2. Have FF announced any Industrial Relations policy?

    And in the unlikely event that they have, is it possible to discern how FF will discern where the “interests of the family” lie in regard to industrial awards and wrongful dismissal?

  3. Not yet that i’ve seen, but I wouldn’t be punting on them taking as hard an anti-union line as Howard at this point…

  4. FAMILY FIRST PARTY POLICY STATEMENT
    I have maligned the FFP in an earlier post in regard to the existence of their Industrial Relations policy. (See below).

    Moreover, on the face of it, there is nothing in this policy to cause root and branch deregulators to jump for joy.

    INDUSTRY, BUSINESS ENTERPRISE AND THE WORKPLACE
    Industrial Relations

    Family First sees the present Industrial Relations System as a realistic accommodation, generally, between the needs and desires for workplace flexibility, on the one hand, and requirements for safety, certainty, equity and justice for both employers and employees.
    Family First recognises the need to accommodate competing interests and rights along with principals of natural justice, procedural fairness and the rights of all workers to receive a just wage whilst the entrepreneur receives a just profit.
    The freedom of businesses and the role of markets to ration and allocate resources are also a central aspect of this balancing act. Family First acknowledges that industrial relations outcomes must reflect what is just and fair for all parties concerned in the light of economic constraints at the level of the enterprise and the wider economy.
    Family First recognises that a unique industrial relations system of law that has a legitimate place for trade unions has arisen and developed in Australia over a substantial part of our history. Family First believes that the system of Awards, Australian Workplace Agreements and Enterprise Bargaining generally meets the needs of Australian workplaces but acknowledges that many Australian workers are missing out on adequate conditions because of their casual or outworker status or because they are in unregulated and low paid industries.
    Family First will support improved provision of minimum entitlements (such as sick leave, annual leave, and family leave) for employees who do not come under the above mentioned agreements or awards.
    Family First will also seek to facilitate improved provisions to bring a proper balance to work and family life. Family First recognises that a level of empowerment and certainty for employees in regard to hours worked and the scheduling of work is of fundamental importance to achieving this balance. It also believes that in all workplaces there must be a respectful accommodation of the responsibilities of parents towards their dependants and the maintenance of meaningful family life.

  5. Family First is in favour of “business” sorting out the economy, and thus seem fairly likely to side with Howard’s gleeful attacks on workers and the only representation they get – unions. The background of the guy in Victoria is consistent with this.

    It will be interesting to see whether discussions with decent people like Sharan Burrow and Greg Combet prompt them to re-evaluate the ethical fit of their approach to industrial relations.

  6. Here’s some more from Family First’s policy statement, including an endorsement of a key Howard policy:

    Family First also recognises that the Industrial Relations System presents a particular challenge to many small business operators. Family First will seek to promote substantial support and education measures to assist small businesses in their dealings with this system. In addition, Family First will seek to investigate ways to minimise any additional costs to small business arising from dealings with the Industrial Relations System. It will specifically seek to investigate whether a statutory office should be established to assist for this purpose.

  7. The acid test comes when the bargaining starts. For example, would FF stick to the letter of their policies if offered, say, money for Pentecostal schools in exchange for support for privatization of Telstra? Or if offered Govt. support for anti-abortion policies? Since I presume many of the FF party faithful are “aspirational”, how long would a lone FF Senator be able to hold out in the face of Govt. offers of largesse to small business or direct offers to spend money in areas where FF has many members? Such examples are purely off the top of my head and probably not the best, but I hope you get the idea. Very few people could stick to their guns in the sort of bargaining environment that the Coalition will subject FF to.

  8. Yeah Harridine god botherer had no qualms about using deals to pork barrel. Mind you his rejection speech on the GST was a great moment in Australian politics (and the Democrats’ leap into his shoes to do a dirty deal one of the most pathetic).

  9. cs at October 12, 2004 11:58 AM most unwisely tries to try it on me:

    FWIW, I reckon Jack will play FF like a bung poker machine.

    This “bung poker machine” of which cs speaks, would this be the one that correctly predicted more than a few AUS party political and policy trends that this election has resolved? As opposed to the well-oiled Leftwing echo chamber run by the political tragics at backpages?
    If I, like cs, had invested so much in the Howard-hatred bubble I would not be so busy making making wise cracks against the Lesser Fools. I would be more concerned about edging away from a position perched perilously close to the rim of the Dustbin of History.
    Regarding F.F., my reading of them is that they are social conservatives with a Religious-Christian, not Racial-Caucasian, cultural identity. THis is an improvement on O.N.
    My guess is that they are a mainland version of Brian Harradine. They will find it hard to maintain their reservations about Howards economic agenda when he waves a fist-full of dollars in their face to fund their pet schemes of moral improvement. McCrann sums it up nicely:

    Did anyone notice its demand for an apology to the `stolen generations’? Did anyone notice Tasmania’s Brian Harradine – a near-perfect precursor of a Family First senator. True he was only there for a couple of dozen years.

    One thing that should be perfectly clear, as McCrann rubs in gleefully, the Bubble of Howard-hatred has been well and truly pricked.

  10. To John Strocchi,

    Seriously, it’s not all about you.

    > the Bubble of Howard-hatred has been well and truly pricked

    You wish.

  11. I can’t say i think much of their policy regarding internet censorship, it doesn’t appear well thought through, feasible or effective. If voluntary, user end filtering methods have had low up-take, perhaps there’s a reason…

  12. There is a quite a bit out in the blogosphere about Family First and their polices (very thin in many areas) are on their website.

    It includes links to the SA Branch ,which originated a couple of years back, and which has one senator in SA Legislative Council. That part of the site has some of Andrew Evan’s speeches in the SA parliament which would give you an idea of where they come from, although I know that they haven’t worked out detailed policy statements on lots of issues (if you caught Lateline last night, I think Harris said as much).

    I live in SA so FF is not unknown to me. I have met Andrew Evans MLC a few times but not in recent years. I also know – and it was confirmed by Harris last night – that Evans and his then running partner, Paul Newsham (another ex AOG pastor) were trying to join Nick Xenophon’s No Pokies party here in SA which is essentially socially conservative on many issues.

    FF tries to model itself on NZ party NZ First http://www.unitedfuture.org.nz/
    fromed by merging parties, but ending up with a ‘pentecostal takeover’. Hard for me to judge its popularity.

    Depending on who gets into the Senate (if at all) and how ‘strict’ the party structures are for voting along policy lines, etc etc, I think they will be out-manouevered and out-politicked by the old hands until they grow into the job. But the AOG, from which it draws its base, has quite a political power structure itself which can surprise some. Evan’s own motto while in the AOG was ‘never get any on you’ and he presided over a few scandals himself (e.g major insurance scandal which hit the papers, got the SA police in, kids and drugs etc) and so is not phased by king hits. But it depends on which candidate gets in federally. The Victorian candidate could end up being a political novice and a loose cannon. Or not.

    I wasn’t too concerned about FF in our state parliament as Evans had retired from the pastorate when he made his play. My main concern with federal FF is that all its key apparatchiks are AOG (so I see it as a confessional party). The way the AOG/pentecostal churches have suppported it and been used as fund-raising base can be seen as exploitative (and has been by some within the churches) but that is probably of no concern to you guys. But once the fur starts flying in the Senate, those close links between church and party can cause divisions within the church. The overt Hillsong support for Markus (Liberal) vs other AOG support for FF is also one to watch I think – will the real slipperies in the Coalition try to play that to some degree. Even though I am not a pentecostal Christian, I won’t take kindly to that idea of state interference in the church

    P.S. as a (non-pentecostal) Christian nevertheless, I am always amused every time I see ‘god-botherer’. Does anyone know where this term originated? Promise I won’t go on about how the theology behind it sucks.

  13. Andrew Evans has been responsible in his approach in the Legislative Council in SA. Who knows until we see the votes. I fancy that there may be more Liberals and Nationals now who will develop a conscience – although not on Industrial Relations.

    Having confounded the Workers in the Forestry industry the Govt will have little compassion as jobs move off shore and local wages are pushed down – they may even have a sense of satisfaction in people bringing down their own conditions.

  14. HIya Saint- I don’t know where it comes from. My understanding of its usage is that it isn’t a label for all christians, but rather those that want to prosthletise (spelling?) and push views on others to an extent that makes them stand out from Joseph Blogs who goes to church.

    I think it is grammatically incorrect as it refers literally to “bothering God” whereas I reckon it means “bothering us about their take on God”.

    I wouldn’t lose any sleep about it, there are worse insults going around. SOmeone could call you an intellectual elitist- then you may as well leave the country…

  15. JQ condemnation of homosexuality, adultery and fornication come from the NEw Testament.

    I won’t engage in a theological debate but anyone taking this postion relying on the O/T has got his/her/it’s theology wrong.

    Technical point for the pedants homosexuality did not come into english until the 18th century but you get my gst.

  16. Homer, I’m not a theologian either, but I’m pretty confident that the Sixth Commandment prohibits adultery and that this is in the Old Testament.

    I’m also pretty sure that prohibitions on homosexuality are found in Leviticus, also OT.

    No doubt these rules, along with observation of the Jewish Sabbath etc are assumed to be valid in the NT, but that’s not the same as saying they “come from the NT”.

  17. JQ I am essentially saying anyone who says that they are against the big H only because of the O/T or Levictus in particular do not know what they are on about.

  18. Saint,
    God botherers bother you with god, commission botherers bother you with their Vic govt HREOC Acts and the like. Of course those who like telling you how to run your life don’t like other ‘religious fervour’ type nutters telling them how to live. Hence you can see why FF freaks out the left of politics.

  19. On adultery, Jesus, taught on the one hand that “anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her is guilty of committing adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27). A teaching which puts the OT commandment in a completely different light. On the other hand when Jesus was challenged with a woman “who had been caught committing adultery” and who was to be stoned, Jesus replied memorably “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”(John 8)

    So to argue that the position of the OT and NT on adultery is any way the same is just wrong.

    The problem with fundamentalists and pious people who quote the bible willy nilly is that they often forget the basis of Jesus’ message which is that Love rather than the law should be our primary motivation. They also have a tendency to overlook the second commandment of jesus while giving much attention to the first.

  20. Thanks for the explanations of ‘god-botherers’ (I think!). No I don’t find it insulting just amusing.

    I seem to have lost the point of the homosexual/adultery argument. Marriage and whoredom are two great themes throughout all the books of the Bible. But that’s a few thousand blogs worth of discussion in itself.

    Homer – the word might have entered the language whenever, but noone can seriously read say, Plato’s Symposium, and not think homosexual relatonships were unknown in antiquity. Humans are humans and have always been humans.

    Kyan – I can argue the point but perhaps on my blog some other time. Two golden rules: 1. context, context, context 2. Too many people including some Christians (god-botherers?) read the narratives in the Bible as some sort of set of moral tales. No. The books in the Bible, even Jesus himself whose own Bible was our OT – will tell you how to interpret the Bible. Jesus said all the Law and Prophets spoke about Him. Hmmm. How do laws about stoning speak about Him?? Try the idea of God’s cumulative self-revelation.

    But back to FF. We will have to wait and see. Because I don’t even think they know what they will do should they get senate seats and hold balance of power.

  21. Homer, I think you mean the 19th century for the use in English (and indeed the concept of a sexual identity based on same-sex object choice rather than a sexual behaviour) of ‘homosexuality’. See Michel Foucault’s “History of Sexuality Vol. 1”.

    My understanding also is that a verse from Leviticus is usually quoted by anti-gay Christians as justifying their view.

  22. Mark – unfortunately yes. And even though I disagree with that form of interpretation (quoting whatever bit of scripture suits you), those who Leviticus in this way forget the whole book addresses God’s covenant people – i.e. Christians.

  23. Sorry to introduce a new theme to the thread.

    Mark you are in fact saying what I was trying to say.

    My major point is any person calling themself a christian who justify calling homosexuality a sin ( which of course it is just as adultery and fornication are sinful and in my opinion more harmful to scoiety) and then merely quotes Leviticus doesn’t understand the bible correctly.

    One needs to read romans and 1 corinithians better.

    Jesus did indeed come to fulfill the law and the prophets. There is nothing wrong with the law however it only points un to our sinful state.

    Jesus was the only man not to sin which is why he was ressurected and therefore remains the only way to The Kingdom of God.

    There endeth the lesson.

    to everyone go and sin no more

  24. Saint – don’t get your point? I quoted two seemingly opposite statements about adultery from the Gospels to make the pint abut context (sorry if it seemed elliptical).

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