Just when you thought politics in WA couldn’t get any more colorful, up pops wafamilyfirst.com, a concoction of traditional conservative politics blended with postmodern technology.
Launched last week, wafamilyfirst.com is a merger of the remnants of the Western Australian chapter of Family First with former Liberal MLA Dan Sullivan and his small group of supporters.
This meeting of conservative minds with internet technology might seem as counter-intuitive as drinking Red Bull with your pumpkin scones. What next: Joh2.0, or perhaps SirRobertMenziesTube?
The leading force within wafamilyfirst.com, 48-year-old Sullivan, is a former deputy leader of the WA Libs who resigned from the Party in February. WA’s new one vote, one value electoral system saw Sullivan’s seat disappear, but he claims that his decision to resign from the Liberals had nothing to do with the redistribution.
The immediate trigger for Sullivan’s resignation was the elevation to the leadership of Troy Buswell, the Benny Hill of WA politics. Sullivan is one of three Liberal MPs who have resigned from the party since Buswell became opposition leader.
The web is a fecund but fickle tool for politicians that can lead to easy ridicule.
Although he is now the Parliamentary spokesman for the supposedly tech-savy wafamilyfirst.com, Sullivan’s own website still proclaims him not only as still a Liberal, but as Deputy Leader of the party.
Among the links from the wafamilyfirst.com website are connections to YouTube, MySpace and Facebook pages. Sampling one of these links – Facebook – one finds that the wafamilyfirst.com Campaign Leader Trona Young has 10 friends. This is not a bad effort for wafamilyfirst.com, particularly considering that what might be the authentic Troy Buswell on Facebook currently has no friends at all.
wafamilyfirst.com professes a strong focus on traditional family values. The irony is that the arrival of the internet is one of the big changes that has undermined traditional community structures, by offering greater individual choice.
wafamilyfirst.com buys into that rhetoric, presenting itself as a brand alternative. According to the party’s website (or is the website the party?): "If there were only two supermarket chains, or two car manufacturers, or two mobile phone companies, or two home builders, we wouldn’t put up with it. We’d demand more choice, especially if we didn’t think much of what was on offer… so why should we put up with a lack of choice in our mainstream political parties?" It is rhetoric that reduces political conviction to just another form of consumption.
wafamilyfirst.com is not the first internet based political party to contest an Australian election, a distinction that goes to Senator On-Line, which won around 8000 votes nationally in the 2007 Federal election.
Exactly what web 2.0 – and whatever follows it – means for democracy is an open and shifting question.
Senator On-Line offered supporters a vote on every bill before the Senate. Had any Senator On-Line senators been elected, the party would have required them to vote in accordance with online voting of the party’s members on every bill. The party stands for no particular belief system beyond a belief in internet-based direct democracy.
While it is easy to be dismissive of something as wacky and impractical as Senator On-Line or as philosophically incongruous as the i-familyvalues championed by wafamilyfirst.com, both parties nevertheless reflect serious underlying issues.
Although Senator On-Line is not the answer, the growing disconnect between Australian citizens and their public institutions and representatives is a profound problem that needs to be addressed by government.
Similarly, while a long term political future for wafamilyfirst.com seems unlikely, the destruction of community by neo-liberalism is a legitimate concern that is inadequately addressed within the contemporary Liberal party.
wafamilyfirst.com may not be the right address, but the Australian political right does not currently offer any comfortable home for conservatives who are uneasy about the increasing commodification of human experience.
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