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Ex-Labor ministers ditch party to defend 'religious freedom'

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A pair of former Labor ministers are quitting the party to reanimate the defunct Family First brand – with an aim to win an Upper House seat at next year’s state election.

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Former SA Treasurer and Health Minister Jack Snelling and Employment and Higher Education Minister Tom Kenyon have sought assent from the Evangelical-based party’s founder Andrew Evans for the move – but it hasn’t been welcomed by its last senator Bob Day.

Snelling told InDaily the move was a reaction to attacks on religious freedom that had flourished under the Marshall Liberal Government, but conceded the Labor Party was not the vehicle from which to defend them.

“It was a really difficult decision – both of us have given our entire adult lives to the Australian Labor Party and the ALP has done an enormous amount for us,” he said.

“But in the last few years the political environment has shifted, particularly around religious freedom.”

He cited proposed new Equal Opportunity laws that would remove exemptions allowing religious-based organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

He also pointed to the recent euthanasia debate, which only included amendments allowing faith-based hospitals to opt out after an 11th-hour addition by Liberal backbencher Steve Murray.

“I don’t think the ALP is going to be taking the lead on opposing the removal of those exemptions,” he said of Attorney-General Vickie Chapman’s equal opportunity amendments.

“We don’t think the ALP is ever going to be a vehicle to prosecute that argument.”

Snelling is yet to officially register the party name, but he is not expected to run as a candidate.

It’s expected Kenyon will run in March as the party’s lead candidate in the Legislative Council, where they hope to capture some of the vote won by the since-disbanded Australian Conservatives in 2018.

Liberal Right-wingers have recently embarked on a recruitment drive in Pentecostal communities, but Snelling said the party’s response – to freeze or reject several memberships pending an investigation – should give many of those prospective members cause to return to a revamped family First.

“I think there’d be a lot of people who tried to join the Liberal Party in good faith who would certainly be upset by the way in which they were treated by the Liberal Party,” he said.

But Day, who has recently started his own “Family First 2.0”, the Australian Family Party, is sceptical, saying the pair were “longstanding members of the Labor Party with a long tradition in the union movement”.

“It’s a new party called Family First, but it’s not restarting Family First,” he said.

“I ran Family First for 10 years – I was senator and chairman… this is a new party.

“Family First was a Mazda 3 – this is a Ford Falcon with a Mazda badge on the front.”

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