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Family First close to gaining pivotal Senate -

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Family First close to gaining pivotal Senate role

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well, returning now to the potential control of the balance of power in the Senate by
the Family First Party.

Days of painstaking counting will now determine whether the party's Victorian candidate lands what
could be the pivotal role in deciding the passage of key legislation in the upper house, such as
the sale of Telstra.

And joining us tonight from Adelaide, the city that is apparently the power base of Family First,
the party's chairman, Peter Harris.

TONY JONES: Thanks for joining us.


TONY JONES: Well, thank you very much.

Do you see the hand of God in this election result?

PETER HARRIS: I don't know if I see the hand of God in the election result.

I mean, we worked very hard and planned our strategies and implemented them to the best of our
capacity, and at this current stage of the game, it seems that some of our strategies are playing
out very strongly.

TONY JONES: Now, Stephen Fielding appears very likely to become a senator and indeed he could hold
the balance of power in the upper house.

Is that an outcome that you and your supporters will indeed be praying for?

PETER HARRIS: Well, I think that we have an opportunity still in four States.

We certainly have an opportunity in South Australia and in Queensland still, certainly an
opportunity obviously in Victoria where we would appear to be the strongest, and we still haven't
discounted the possibility of winning the sixth seat in Tasmania.

TONY JONES: Tell us a little bit about yourself, if I can, because it seems that you and other
candidates are quite worried that the close connection between the Assemblies of God Church and
Family First could be something of a negative for you?

PETER HARRIS: Well, we've actually spoken very openly about this during the campaign.

I don't think it's actually been reported very fairly and it's been certainly misrepresented.

Certainly the party was established in South Australia back in 1992 when Andrew Evans became a
member of the Legislative Council in the South Australian Government.

Andrew Evans certainly comes from the Assembly of God and was a leader in the Assembly of God
movement but made a determination to go into politics, some two years after he retired.

So he first actually went to Nick Xenophon, the No Pokies politician in South Australia, and asked
him if he could join his party and Nick suggested there was a vacuum on family values and that's
really how the party established itself.

So Andrew Evans was certainly a couple of years out of retirement.

Now, there's no debate from us that our network of relationships and friendships around the nation
certainly come from a whole range of environments, including the Assembly of God and other

TONY JONES: You are a prominent member of the Assemblies of God yourself, aren't you?

PETER HARRIS: I don't know if I'm a prominent member, I'm a member of the Assembly of God Church,
but you know, Family First established itself to represent family values in Australia and that's
how we promoted ourselves and obviously there were other representations throughout the campaign.

And you know, we don't have a spiritual agenda for the nation.

We'll leave that to other people.

What we have is an agenda to represent Australian families and a lot of us have come from a base
where we've been working very hard with many families over many years in society.

TONY JONES: Alright, but if your case, let's just go through a little bit of your background as

You can correct it if it's not true.

Apparently you were a board member of the the church, the Paradise Assemblies of God.

It's also reported you were involved in setting up a strategic vision for your church which would
bring it into a position of influence in political business and media areas.

Is that so, and is this move into politics an extension of that?

PETER HARRIS: Well, certainly I have been a member of the board of the Paradise Church.

I am no longer.

But some years ago, we talked about wanting to have a greater say and a greater influence in that
environment, but this party has something that has resonated with the majority or the silent
majority of Australian families and it's certainly become something which has captured the minds
and hearts of Australian people.

TONY JONES: Why in a way deny the connection with the church?

It seems so obvious in a way.

I mean, Stephen Fielding is a member of the CityLife Church, which is part of the Assemblies of God
as we understand it.

PETER HARRIS: Well, Tony, I actually don't think we've denied it.

I think we've acknowledged the network.

There's no formal links between Family First and the Assembly of God movement or any church
movement, so the issue for us is not a matter of denial -- I'm proud of my Christian heritage.

I don't apologise for that at all.

But the real issue is that the party was not established to represent the Assembly of God Church,
it wasn't established to represent spiritual issues, it was established to represent the broader
needs of family issues in society as we saw them as being important in terms of them trending

TONY JONES: It may only be getting picked up by the newspapers, but there does seem to be quite a
lot of a religious nature, for example, do you stand by the material put out by one of your
candidates, Pastor Danny Nalliah in Victoria, who called on his followers to pull down Satan's

They included, along with brothels and gambling places, mosques and temples.

Most Australians would consider that to be an incitement to religious violence.

PETER HARRIS: Oh, absolutely.

And some people would see it that way but we, you know, we last week totally distanced ourself from
that situation.

We received a letter from the Islamic Council of Victoria.

We responded to that letter and our position is simply that we totally promote and believe in the
freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom of choice.

And I personally contacted the Islamic Council of Victoria and expressed that view and they
reflected a sense of relief that Family First wasn't about that.

TONY JONES: So what has happened here, Peter?

Have some nutters gotten on board your bandwagon?

PETER HARRIS: Oh, look we certainly wasn't aware of the material that was out there at the time.

But, look, any party, I mean, this is a party that didn't exist federally a short time ago, and we
fielded 125 candidates.

And we're going to have a situation --

We're going to have a situation where you've got some people on both the extreme left and the
extreme right of situations.

TONY JONES: Alright.

Here's another one.

There are posters put about the seat of McMillan, in the La Trobe Valley, that said, "A vote for
Christian Disarray" -- he was the Labor member before he was voted out -- "is a vote for Satan".

PETER HARRIS: Well I'm not aware of that and certainly the party had no involvement in that
situation at all.

TONY JONES: So the party doesn't stand by what some of its candidates are doing, that's what you're

PETER HARRIS: Well, I mean, sometimes people say things that are not supportive of the policy of
the party, and so in those situation situations, we step in, we deal with those issues and we move

But certainly if you look at the bulk of our campaign throughout the past six weeks, we've run a
very balanced, logical, focused campaign and people voted for us because they didn't accept the
extreme right or the extremist allegations that were made against us by a range of groups and

TONY JONES: Alright, you talk about having views in the party from the right to the extreme left,
as it were.

We've heard some pretty forth right statements from your President Andrea Mason over the past few

First she said personally I gather would vote against the full sale of Telstra.

Is that the position that Stephen Fielding would have to hold on behalf of the party were he to
become a Senator and hold the balance of power, that he would have to vote against the full sale of

PETER HARRIS: Well, we haven't actually said we wouldn't support the full sale of Telstra.

We've actually said we wouldn't support it at the moment because there's a number of issues that we
think need to be addressed.

But certainly we will look at every piece of legislation that goes into the Senate, if we're
elected of course, in a way that in terms of how it affects Australian families.

That was our mandate, that's what we've committed to in our election campaign.

We will view everything from the perspective of if it is good for the family, we will support it,
if it isn't we won't.

TONY JONES: Let me test another one on you.

Is it good for families to have a position on cross-media ownership, that's going to be another
huge issue before the Senate?

PETER HARRIS: Well I think concentration of media ownership is an issue for all Australians and we
all want a diversity of groups providing information so we get balanced reporting around the

Cross-media ownership is an area needed for review.

TONY JONES: Would you be concerned about any Government attempt to water down cross-media ownership
laws, to allow for example Kerry Packer town not only television stations but for example the
'Sydney Morning Herald'?

PETER HARRIS: It led to greater concentration of media ownership and it was bad for families, we
would oppose it.

TONY JONES: How would would you know if that would be bad for families?

PETER HARRIS: What we are in the process of developing is a family impact statement considering the
impact that a whole range of legislation has on families.

That is still very much under development, but we've got the Prime Minister's agreement that he
will support that and use it for all submissions to cabinet, so we will begin to set parameter of
how we will assess how legislation affects Australian families.

TONY JONES: So you'll be nervous about the concentration of media ownership in the hand of big
players like Kerry Packer ?

PETER HARRIS: Absolutely.

What we need to do is promote diversity and we need to promote an environment where there's freedom
of speech and people have an opportunity to get a lot of information but certainly the whole has
changed since cross-media ownership laws were put in place and we would think there needs to be
some review of those laws and the exploration of foreign media ownership as well.

There's a number of foreign media organisations that would love to participate in the Australian
media environment that are currently excluded.

TONY JONES: Tell me this -- if Stephen Fielding does actually back Senator, would he be bound by
what the party tells him to do in terms of his vote?

PETER HARRIS: The party is going to have a very democratic process to setting policy.

The party room debates and discuss and argues over policy and looks at a whole range of issues and
there's a broad range of people engaged in those discussions.

As the party mature and develops, so for example at the moment we have a South Australian branch of
the federal party, shortly we'll have a West Australian branch of the federal party.

There'll be national conferences that will begin to determine policy and certainly the party line
would be expect on a number of those policy based issues.

TONY JONES: If you do hold the balance of power, that is power I imagine beyond your wildest dream,
isn't it?

PETER HARRIS: When we answered this election campaign, we came into the campaign with expectations
that we could win Senate seats.

So we positioned ourselves obviously with our preferencing arrangements so that we could maximise
our opportunity of getting elected.

Now we didn't know whether that was going to lead to a potential balance of power situation or not,
and let's be honest, it still may not.

We may not get elected and the Howard Government may not get 39 seats.

So we'll just have to wait and see over the coming weeks what transpires.

We are in our best case scenario position as we stand right now TONY JONES: Here's another one from
your President Andrea Mason.

She says there's a veil over the country because of unresolved issues related to the stolen
generation and she wants an apology, she says, more or less that's also Family First policy, an
apology from the Government for the stolen generations.

Will that be sting you'll go into negotiating with the Federal Government.

Will you asking for an apology in return for a vote?

PETER HARRIS: It certainly is the party's policy to address the issue of reconciliation in

I mean Andrea Mason is the first indigenous female leader of a political party in the history of
the nation.

And so, people would expect us and we would believe that it's important to finally put to bed that
issue of reconciliation.

And really it's about relationships in society and ensuring that we have open and honest and
welcoming relationships across society.

If that -- there are areas that remain unresolved this that area, they should be addressed.

TONY JONES: Would sorry be one of those, a demand from your party in return for support for some of
these for the Government?

PETER HARRIS: Well, I don't know if you're going to horse trade on such serious issues, but
certainly there will be issues which we're going to be able to -- if we get elected -- get some
leverage from and which we can promote the cause of Australian families.

We are passionate about ensuring that we a group of people that champion the cause of Australian
families at every opportunity.

So, the very fact that John Howard has agreed to implement a family impact statement on submissions
to cabinet is a huge gain already and he has given us a commitment that he will implement that
whether we're elected or not.

TONY JONES: The Labor Party's national secretary Tim Garter over the weekend said he's going to
have a very hard look at where your party's money comes from.

A lot of scrutiny.

What's he going to find?

Where is the money coming from, for what's been a very sophisticated campaign for a first-up party?

PETER HARRIS: Well, you know, we're very open in terms of where our money's come from.

We've done a ring range of things and we've run major fundraising events, we've built a base of
2,500 plus members.

I've personally burnt a lot of shoe leather going to talk to individuals in business and
individuals that could back the party and a number of people have stood up and our campaign has
been totally privately funded and I'm very proud of that.

TONY JONES: Have you tapped into those networks you were talking about earlier of Christian
business people?

PETER HARRIS: Of course we've tapped into our relationships and networks and some of them have been
Christian-based people and we've approached other non-Christian-based people.

So we've approached a whole range of people seeking support and it's very been a very hard game.

It's a lot of money that we've had to raise and we've worked very hard to get there.

TONY JONES: How much have you raised, by the way, just out of interest?

PETER HARRIS: Well, I certainly hope we've raised enough to pay our advertising bills.

You know, it's probably in the vicinity of $1 million plus that we've raised and we've also had our
candidates out on the ground.

You know, 125 candidates out there, seeking to raise funds as well, so there's been a huge group
effort in achieving our goals in that sense.

TONY JONES: Alright, Peter Harris, we thank you very much.

We're obviously going to be hearing a lot more about your party if you do end up controlling the
balance of power.

Thanks for joining us tonight.

PETER HARRIS: Thank you, Tony.