There are four minor conservative parties that seek to represent the views of Australia's Christian voters: Family First, Democratic Labour Party (DLP), Australian Christians/Christian Democratic Party and Rise Up Australia Party.
And they need to hear some hard truths. Because while these parties are filled with good people who have good intent, collectively, they are not very good at politics. Considering that they are political parties, this is not going to get them very far at all. For a start, most Australians don't even know these parties exist. Furthermore, those that recognise them would only be able to point to internal bickering to explain why they don't cooperate on the issues that set them apart from the rest: life, marriage and family
On average, these four parties jointly get around 2-5 per cent of the Senate vote. Although this might seem like chicken feed compared to the major parties, or even the Greens, it isn't. It's enough to get a senator elected. This was proven in Victoria in 2004 and 2010 and again in South Australia at the recent Federal Election.
In fact, this vote was enough to also get a Family First senator elected Tasmania this time around as well, and for candidates to go very close in both New South Wales and Victoria. Furthermore, in all the other states, there was enough Christian vote to propel a candidate from these parties into the final stages of the Senate count. But it did not happen.
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, these parties do not allow their vote to be combined. Instead of preferencing tightly, deals are made that spray Christian preferences all over the place. That is why the Motoring Enthusiast Party got up in Victoria and why the Sports Party was in contention in Western Australia. And because this vote was divided it also meant that the Sex Party went very close to success in Tasmania, while Dr Patricia Petersen, the pro-pornography Australian Independent candidate was almost elected in Queensland. It was more luck (or divine intervention) that prevented these anti-Christian results than any skilful campaigning on the part of the minor Christian parties.
Secondly, these parties do not capitalise on the Christian vote. There is a large chunk of it that the Liberals keep a firm grip on. It is pure speculation to guess how large this chunk is, but there is no doubt that many Christians think they get a better deal by voting for the Liberals than the Christian minors. It may even be that the majority of voters who are influenced by Christian values vote Liberal/National. If that is the case, it is conceivable that the number of Christian voters outnumber Greens supporters. At any rate, the Christian value vote is likely to be somewhere around 5-10 per cent of the electorate.
So while the last election, like those before it, was not great news for the minor Christian parties, the truth is that they could play a big role in Australian politics if they get their collective act together. After all, 5-10 per cent is more than enough vote to gain control of the Senate.
The first thing that must be done is to end preference battles. It is a clear cut fact that Family First would have won a Senate seat in Tasmania if it had received DLP preferences. And Family First would have gone very close to winning in Victoria if Rise Up preferences had come its way. Conversely, in South Australia where Bob Day was elected for Family First, it was done without much help from the other Christian minors. He was nearly eliminated before he received any of their preferences.
Mind you, Family First is not innocent either. The Australian Christians would have done much better in Western Australia and the Christian Democratic Party would have been in a winning position in New South Wales, except that Family First chose to support other non-Christian minor parties before them. Even in Victoria, where Family First outpolled the DLP but fell behind after preferences, it chose to support the Motoring Party over its political cousin, forcing the DLP's early elimination.
This just does not make political sense.
This is clearly evident in the table below. Disregarding South Australia, where Family First won, the minor Christian parties all bombed out in the Senate race well before they should have. With the exception of Tasmania, the final Christian party candidates were all eliminated with a vote below the combined total of the minor Christian parties. If there is anything that highlights so clearly how the Senate preference negotiations failed, it is this. Furthermore, although Family First was able to secure good early preference deals in Tasmania and was well-placed for preferences in Victoria, it was unable to take advantage of either precisely because the minor Christian parties did not preference tightly. It was almost the same story in South Australia.
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