Senator Steve Fielding: the week he went looking for love in all the wrong places
After observing the performance of Senator Steve Fielding last week, many rank and file Family First members must have been left scratching their heads and wondering what the Victorian senator, Family First’s most visible national symbol, is doing to their party’s image.
Senator Fielding is the only Family First parliamentarian in the federal sphere. The position he occupies presents an enormous opportunity to show what a political party that is identified strongly with Pentecostal Christianity can contribute to the national political debate.
Putting aside Senator Fielding’s risible attention-getting stunts of the past (as hard as that may be), last week’s performance must have been viewed with great disappointment by Family First’s organisational leadership. If it wasn’t, the party probably deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of Australian political history.
After helping to defeat the alcopops tax, Senator Fielding ludicrously claimed, “What Family First has done has actually broken the back of the alcohol hold on Australia”.
On Wednesday, Senator Fielding joined Senator Bob Brown’s unrelenting jihad against the Exclusive Brethren.
Senator Brown, along with Fairfax newspapers and the ABC, has been persecuting the Exclusive Brethren ever since some of the church’s members and supporters ran newspaper ads in the 2004 federal election warning about the radical policies of the Greens and the corrosive effect of the party on traditional Australian values.
The Greens moved to amend Labor’s Fair Work Bill to remove a long-standing conscientious objection provision that some small business owners, members of the Exclusive Brethren, have used.
So Family First saw its senator, its national symbol, supporting moves by a rampantly secular political party to attack conscientious objection. Nice one, Steve.
The week closed with Senator Fielding’s cringing appeal for a hug from Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard after he used his vote to help Labor pass its regressive Fair Work Bill – legislation that some say takes industrial relations back to the 1970s and imposes on small business tough conditions that will deter job creation at a time when the nation needs it most.
That move probably had embarrassed Family First members leafing through the party’s manifesto to see what it said about small business. Here’s what their policy statement says:
“Family First also recognises that the Industrial Relations System presents a particular challenge to many small business operators. … Family First will seek to investigate ways to minimise any additional costs to small business arising from dealings with the Industrial Relations System.”
It is possible that WorkChoices wasn’t the only thing Senator Fielding was killing off last week. He may have been extinguishing the enthusiasm of a lot of business owners for Family First.
In one sense, it is understandable that Senator Fielding felt compelled to appeal for a bit of love from a government he had so generously helped. After all, he has endured months of derision and contempt from the Rudd Government and its loyal press gallery supporters because he refused to kowtow to Labor’s demands.
He was pilloried mercilessly and unfairly by the press gallery over his stands on FuelWatch and the luxury car tax. If you’d like examples of the treatment Fielding received from journalists, a trawl through last year’s archive of Sky News Agenda is a good place to start.
However, Senator Fielding’s patently ridiculous statement about breaking “the back of the alcohol hold on Australia” attracted a degree of ridicule and contempt from press gallery journalists at a doorstop last week that the Australian’s Lenore Taylor admitted “verged on hectoring”.
Maybe that’s what did it.
After nearly 18 months of abuse from Labor, the Greens and their media acolytes, Senator Fielding opted for left wing love over loathing.
But what a price he seemed prepared to pay.