All eyes on the rise of the far right
ELECTION night results will be a test of the strength of an emerging Christian right movement on the Sunshine Coast, part of a national trend which may challenge the long-term durability of existing conservative politics.
Rise Up Australia, a Christian-based party strongly opposed to the building of mosques and immigration from Muslim faith countries, formed only three years ago in advance of the 2013 federal election.
Its performance in that Abbott-led Coalition land slide was mediocre, the party’s sole Sunshine Coast candidate standing in Fisher where he drew only 305 votes.
Since then however it has grown in strength both in reach inside the Pentecostal umbrella of churches which scatter the region and the quality of its candidate.
Fisher candidate Tracey Bell-Henselin has spent her Sundays visiting congregations throughout the hinterland and connecting particularly with women through the mentoring programs she runs along with a business which sells gifts based around messages of positivity.
Her work as state manager of Destiny Rescue, a Sunshine Coast-based organisation committed to ending sexual exploitation and slavery of children, has also lifted her profile.
The church community has delivered an established network from which to draw not just votes but physical support at polling booths on election day.
A former member of the NSW Christian Democrat Party she says she is confident people want change.
Depending on its strength her primary vote will either be bolstered by preferences flowing from Australian Liberty Alliance candidate John Spellman or will boost his result.
ALA is also only running one candidate on the Sunshine Coast.
Mr Spellman, a former church pastor and farmer, lives outside the electorate at Mount Coolum but says it was more logical to stand in Fisher because the LNP’s Ted O’Brien was a “shoe-in” in Fairfax.
“He’s a decent bloke,” he said. “We decided to leave it to Ted and stand in Fisher.”
Mr O’Brien has directed his preferences to the Family First candidate David Rees - a Gold Coast pastor - a decision Mr Spellman would endorse having stood three times for that party on the Southern Downs and Maranoa.
He is not so happy with the LNP’s preferencing in Fisher where Andrew Wallace has listed Mr Spellman last behind even Labor and the Greens.
The ALA has attracted an impressive body of physical support for campaign day both through church groups and a call to arms by its Queensland lead senate candidate Bernie Gaynor based on a fear of Sharia Law and Islamisation of Australia.
For a party registered less than a year ago its capacity to staff with volunteers every one of the Coast’s 58 polling places is not only impressive but also signals a shift in the Australian political dynamic which may well find expression in the ballot box on Saturday.