The pundits keep telling us that this is a dull election. But imagine what it would be like without the minor parties. I did a quick sampling last week of some of them. At the very least they add some zest to the campaign. Few have much chance of winning a seat in the lower House but with the reduced Senate quota, some have realistic hopes of picking up a Senate seat.
Take the Christian Democratic Party. Its president is the Rev. Fred Nile MLC who has served 35 often tempestuous years in the NSW Upper House (where he learnt a thing or two about politics.) He is not standing in this federal election but his Party is fielding a candidate in every House of Representatives electorate in New South Wales. None expects to win but all of them will contribute to their Party’s chances in the Senate. One candidate quotes the Gospels: All things are possible for him that believeth.
The Sydney Institute last week gave Fred Nile a platform from which he dismissed ‘marshmallow’ Christians or churches which ‘sit on the fence’. He supports Israel and favours a refugee policy that gives priority to Christians. He boasts the support of some conservative homosexuals and atheists. He also claimed that since the deposition of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, former members of the Liberal Party are switching to the Christian Democrats at the rate of 20 a month. He was loudly applauded at the Sydney Institute.
Or take the Australian Sex Party whose Senate candidate in NSW, Professor Ross Fitzgerald, also spoke at the Sydney Institute. It has a catchy name, one MP (in Victoria), and a collection of policies ranging from voluntary euthanasia to legalising the recreational use of marijuana. (Their federal leader Fiona Patten MP says she has enjoyed the ‘many blessings’ of cannabis). It is still unlikely to win a seat on July 2, despite the smaller Senate quota and despite what Anthony Green has called the ‘complex quota mathematics’ of Senate voting (capable of driving some voters mad). But it is not without hope. All it needs is a better than usual primary vote and a tight exchange of preferences with other small parties.
Professor Ross Fitzgerald is much less of a Party-liner than some of his Sex Party colleagues. He supports the Party on ‘dying with dignity’ (voluntary euthanasia) and same-sex marriage. But he is ‘not sure’ about ‘gender fluidity’ or the merits of an ‘atheistic republic.’ He wants to tax profit-making religious institutions but rejects any call for ‘an all-out war on the Roman Catholic Church’. (‘If I were a Christian, I would be a Catholic.’) But he agrees with Fred Nile on the evils of booze. He received a rousing reception.
One curiosity at the Sydney Institute was the unwillingness of the audience to accept the usual hospitable glass of wine. One observer claimed this was because Christian Democrats never touch a drop and Sex Party followers are reformed alcoholics! This can’t be altogether true. At the ‘official’ Sex Party launch at the Pyrmont Point Hotel– a lively, jolly affair restrained only by a whip-wielding chairman – Pat Sheil, the candidate for Grayndler against Labor’s ‘Albo’ Albanese, denounced ‘brainless bigots and religious wowsers’ who want to impose a nanny state. He went on: ‘We don’t want their lousy advice, gutless legislation and twisted ideologies.’
At another rally, this time in Trades Hall, a network called Just Us provided a platform, chaired by Quentin Dempster, for the Greens’ Silvie Ellsmore and the Socialist Alliance’s Peter Boyle. They are, they said, ‘a voice for people in prisons and hospitals.’ They oppose the privatisation of prisons (especially when dressed up as ‘assets recycling.’) The Palmer United Party did not send a speaker to Trades Hall but it sent a message that it believed in Australia. Nor did the Liberal or Labor parties front up (although Michael Danby MP of Melbourne Ports was in Sydney to denounce the Greens and any deals with ‘the devil.’)
But after listening to so many lively or eccentric independents, I have to report that for me the most telling speech of the week was Malcolm Turnbull’s address to the Menzies Research Centre in the Radisson Blu Hotel in which he got stuck into the independents. It was long and demanding and may have lacked sparkle. Some of us may have heard much of it before, and you might be forgiven if sometimes your mind wandered. But it was a thorough exposition of the Turnbull thesis of ‘jobs, growth and innovation’. It became most dramatic towards the end when he warned against the micro and minor parties and independents. Think carefully before voting, he said. A few thousand votes across a handful of seats could decide our future. ‘Now is not the time for a protest vote or a wasted vote.’ To ensure stable government, vote for the Coalition in both Houses!
At one of the rallies during the week I fell into conversation with Beb Thomas, the Christian Democrat candidate for Wentworth – Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate and my old seat over 30 years back.
He told me he was drawn to party politics and the Christian Democrats by Jesus whose death on the Cross healed him of a life-threatening illness. His commitment was sincere and moving. Neither the Liberals nor Nationals nor Labor can match this sort of appeal. Not even Malcolm Turnbull can.
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