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The Age

Family First buoyed

Date: 27/11/2006
Words: 701
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: News
Page: 10
THE 2006 state election was always destined to be remembered for the rise of the minor parties, but Family First has proved to be the surprise package.

The conservative-values party, which enjoys support from the Christian right, more than doubled the vote it received in the 2004 federal election at which Steven Fielding was elected into the Senate with just 1.9 per cent of the vote.

While the party is unlikely to win any seats in the Victorian Parliament, it managed to command about 4.27 per cent of the primary vote, only 1 per cent less than the Nationals.

Family First's Victorian leader, Cameron Eastman, said the result in its first Victorian election was encouraging and showed that voters were breaking away from the major parties.

"There is a disenchantment with the major parties and people are looking to the minor parties to have a voice on their behalf," he said.

Mr Eastman said he felt the success of minor parties needed to be established over many years and that Family First would use the Victorian election experience to bolster its chance at next year's federal poll.

"You have to be prepared to build up your support gradually and for people to be aware of what you stand for," he said.

"It is really the brand that we are trying to let people be aware of and we will build on that and look to the federal election and see how well we do out of that."

Mr Eastman, who ran for the upper house seat of Eastern Victoria, said he did not think the make-up of the Legislative Council would be completely decided until vote counting finished on December 15.

"Until that time I don't think anyone can say they have a guernsey or they haven't with any certainty," he said. "The Nationals' Peter Hall has obviously done very well, the community are very happy with the way he has represented them and to his credit he looks like getting that fifth spot in Western Victoria."

Changes to Victoria's upper house, including a move to proportional representation, meant the minor parties were more likely to be a factor in the make-up of the Parliament, needing only 16.7 per cent of the vote to get elected.

Another election surprise came from the Democratic Labor Party, which looked set to win the fifth seat in Northern Metropolitan in early counting.

DLP leader John Mulholland said the party still had hopes of winning that seat and were also a chance in Western Victoria.

With counting still under way, the DLP had registered about 1.87 per cent of the vote in the upper house, consistent with its performance in the last federal election.

While the minor conservative parties were contending for seats, anti-pokies party People Power did not poll as well as it expected.

In early counting, People Power's anti-gambling spokeswoman, Gabriela Byrne, looked like she was a contender to win the fifth spot in Eastern Victoria.

But as more votes were counted, support fell away. Ms Byrne held 2979 votes last night.

. Yesterday People Power was sitting on 0.96 per cent of the upper house vote.

"I think the party is disappointed with the way we polled overall," Ms Byrne said. "I am very disappointed with my own numbers. It is not demonstrated that Victorians are as concerned about the pokies issue as I thought they were."

The result for the Democrats did nothing to hush the death rattle surrounding the party. They managed just 0.77 per cent of the overall upper house vote.

Democrats lead candidate Paul Kavanagh said next year's federal election could be the party's last chance of survival.

"I can't see the party continuing if it doesn't do well at the federal election," he said.

But it was not all good news for Family First, with one of its candidates rushed to hospital after being attacked at a polling booth. Witnesses told The Age that Shane Porter, Family First's candidate for Eltham, had been knocked to the ground and kicked by two men while handing out how-to-vote cards on Saturday afternoon. It was not clear whether the attack was politically motivated.

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