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"We didn’t realise the power of Family First": Fallen Conservative rues botched re-branding

Politics

The Australian Conservatives appear to have failed their first electoral test in founder Cory Bernardi’s home state, with likely Legislative Council loser Robert Brokenshire declaring the party botched its re-branding from Family First.

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The SA-based party founded in 2001 by pentecostal pastor Andrew Evans teamed up with Bernardi’s fledgling venture last April, in part to distance itself from the political legacy of ousted senator Bob Day after the controversial collapse of his building empire.

The move had an immediate political cost, with Day’s senate replacement Lucy Gichuhi refusing the join the new party – and later signing up with the Liberals.

But the party is now counting the potential cost of the amalgamation at the ballot box, with veteran Brokenshire a long shot to retain his seat in the state’s Upper House.

With two-thirds of the vote counted, the Conservatives sit well short of a quota on 3.5 per cent, and seem unlikely to generate enough preference flows to get him over the line.

The most likely scenario for the 11 Legislative Council seats up for grabs appears to be four each for Labor and the Liberals, two for SA Best, and Greens MLC Tammy Franks returned.

That will mean the Conservatives are left with just incumbent Dennis Hood in state parliament, with speculation the Liberal Government may offer him the Upper House presidency, although it’s understood backbenchers John Dawkins and Terry Stephens also have designs on the role.

Brokenshire told InDaily today it was too early to speculate on what had gone wrong, other than to note that the re-branding exercise appeared to confuse traditional Family First supporters.

“The amalgamation was not a mistake – that was good – [but] we made a mistake with how we went about marketing it,” he said.

“We didn’t realise the extent of the power of Family First as a brand name until after we amalgamated with the new name.”

The one-time Liberal minister, who returned to parliament with Family First after losing his seat in Labor’s 2006 landslide, said party strategists “probably didn’t realise because we were living it, but a lot of people out there… didn’t realise Family First had amalgamated with Australian Conservatives”.

He said volunteers had told him that “a lot of our supporters were looking for Family First” on the ballot papers.

“My son was down at Goolwa and people were coming up to him saying, ‘Where’s the Family First How To Vote cards?’” he said.

“Unless you’re fortunate enough to get massive media like Xenophon, which was probably unprecedented, I think branding recognition does take a long time.

“We had the brand and probably should have realised that more… it was always going to be a hard one because the branding recognition was a factor.”

He also blamed the SA Best factor and the fact “Labor held up pretty remarkably when you think about it”.

“You put all that in the mix,” he said.

However, he said he would reserve judgment about the campaign until after a “debrief” with Hood.

The Conservatives originally committed to a limited Lower House campaign of “10 to 15” candidates, but ended up running 33 statewide.

Brokenshire said he was “not conceding until I see what happens in the last 35 per cent” of the votes counted.

“It’s a big ask [but] you don’t say it’s over until it’s over,” he said.

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