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Labor pains: 'Factional brutality' claim, Family First revival splits party

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UPDATED | The failed challenger in a “sullied” Labor preselection ballot has fired a parting shot at the party’s “factional brutality”, while two former ministers quit the ALP to revive the Evangelical-inspired Family First political brand.

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Former Treasurer and Health Minister Jack Snelling joined former Employment Minister Tom Kenyon to reboot the defunct conservative party, quitting Labor in a bid to capitalise on an emerging chasm in the SA political Right.

The move stunned many Labor colleagues, as the party prepares to fight a federal and state election in coming months.

It comes as ALP preselection hopeful Alice Dawkins looks to have decisively lost what she claims was a “sullied ballot”, after her efforts to snare endorsement in the party’s safest federal SA seat fell short.

Dawkins, the daughter of former federal Labor Treasurer John Dawkins, is understood to have snared a total of little more than 11.5 per cent of the vote to Transport Workers Union official Matt Burnell’s decisive 88.5 per cent.

It follows a remarkable campaign in which she challenged the Right faction’s pick for preselection in Spence – and then vocally criticised the party’s handling of the process.

As InDaily reported last month, she threatened to take the party to the Supreme Court, before challenging the state branch’s commitment to affirmative action with a failed appeal to a national party tribunal.

Under rules recently introduced, members in a preselection contest need an overall majority of an election college comprised of state delegates, union bloc votes and rank and file members – with each group allocated a third of the overall vote.

Counting of the ballots began late this morning, but scrutineers have told sources that Dawkins is well behind in the current count – collecting just two of the unions votes to Burnell’s 88, and seven sub-branch ballots to her opponent’s 68.

As expected, she fared better in the rank-and-file vote, garnering 42 – but still well behind Burnell on 140, with one informal ballot cast.

Sources say the numbers, while not official, are not expected to change.

Dawkins earlier today said she would “celebrate every single” vote, saying: “Every vote for me is a vote against the brutality of the factional machine, made by enormously courageous people.”

“A victory gleaned in these circumstances is not made with merit – it is a product of sheer factional might,” she tweeted this morning, suggesting she anticipated the heavy loss.

“Perhaps foolishly, I believe in something better and yearn for open primary-style contests… calling out factional brutality is not inconsistent with dutiful ALP membership.

“Demanding a proper application of rules and fair process is the only way we save it. I’ve been willing to sacrifice my immediate prospects in service of this belief.”

In a separate statement, Dawkins said she launched her campaign, which was endorsed by former Premier Jay Weatherill, “out of a firm belief that Spence deserves new energy and fresh ideas for the future”.

“I also understand that the party quite obviously requires a woman preselected in Spence to meet its own national targets for gender parity in public office positions,” she said.

“To call this process a free and fair ballot does a disservice to democracy.

“There is no merit to claim when the process is this polluted… there was voter intimidation, there was febrile misinformation and disinformation which remains uncorrected by its perpetrators and participants [and] there were massive information and access asymmetries between me and my opponent.”

Dawkins insisted, though, that “change is inevitable”.

“I am not the first and I will not be the last to challenge factional arrogance,” she said.

“A movement towards democratisation and genuine participation of the grassroots is the only way this party survives in a fragmenting political landscape.”

She decried the SA party’s decision to “box on with their [preselection] timeline” during her appeal process, “thumbing their nose at procedural fairness in the process”.

“My appeal uncovered the startling inconsistencies between how the party’s national rules envisage affirmative action in the elevation of women candidates, and how the state branches put them into practice,” she said.

“Affirmative action isn’t just a metric for powerbrokers to obfuscate and manipulate, it’s meant to be a serious commitment to achieving gender parity… there is a deficit to be fixed. I have done my part.

“I call on the senior women and men in the party now to step up: you have the responsibility, and the power, to ensure change.”

She added to her party opponents: “I am not your enemy [but] gender and age aside, this is no way to treat any candidate in your internal contests.”

In an aside to Burnell, she said: “If you win this sullied ballot and if you accept endorsement, you will have a heavy burden on your shoulders: to create better outcomes for women in Spence and in this party than I could have done.”

“History has its eyes on you,” she said.

The Spence preselection has been a headache for Labor, which is yet to preselect candidates in several key seats, including the winnable federal Liberal seat of Boothby and state parliament’s most marginal seat of Newland.

It’s understood the party has a lined up a prospective candidate in the latter, but Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas told InDaily “there’s a process to go through for preselections and it’s important it runs its course”.

“We’re very excited about getting a good candidate in place – we’ll open preselections and see what the process delivers,” he said.

Tea Tree Gully deputy mayor Lucas Jones has ruled himself out of contention after being previously overlooked by the party in favour of an earlier candidate, who later withdrew their nomination.

It comes as Jones’ former boss and the seat’s former MP, Tom Kenyon, shocked colleagues by teaming up with former Labor Treasurer and Health Minister Jack Snelling to revive the defunct Family First party.

The pair today quit the Labor Party and will re-register Family First, began in 2002 by Assemblies of God pastor Andrew Evans.

Evans today endorsed the new venture, posting on his Facebook page an article about Snelling and Kenyon’s move, and saying: “Good people – may they succeed.”

In another post, he added: “Defend your religious rights – vote Family First.”

But Malinauskas said “these are former MPs from a former government”.

“My focus is on the future, and policy development for the state,” he said.

“Was I surprised? Yes… but I’m just not concerning myself with it.”

He said he didn’t know whether his decision to personally support voluntary euthanasia in a recent conscience vote was a factor in the former MPs’ decision to leave the party.

Snelling told InDaily “it was a really difficult decision” as “both of us have given our entire adult lives to the Australian Labor Party and the ALP has done an enormous amount for us”.

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

While it’s unclear who will run as candidates, the party hopes 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 Bob 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.”

Day said if anything, the revival would risk splitting the Upper House conservative vote between his party and the rebooted Family First, denying both a seat.

Former Family First and Australian Conservatives Legislative Councillor Dennis Hood – who has since joined the Liberal fold – said he had not been consulted about the new venture and “have had no involvement at all”.

Asked about the re-emergence of Family First, Premier Steven Marshall told ABC Radio Adelaide today: “I’m focussed on one thing at the moment and that is this coronavirus and getting out of the lockdown and getting South Australia stood up as quickly as I possibly can.”

However, he added: “I think it’s more of a worry for Peter Malinauskas to have two very high-profile friends and cabinet colleagues basically quitting his party – it says a lot about his leadership.”

“I think he’s probably more worried about this than I am at the moment,” he said.

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