In Victoria the Australian Conservatives say they are set to emerge as front runners in a crowded field of minor conservative parties fighting for seats in the Senate.
The party’s number one Victorian Senate candidate Kevin Bailey entered the political fray at the 2018 Batman by-election, bringing in 6.41 per cent of the primary vote in a seat known as the most left-leaning in the country.
Bailey maintains that the merger – announced two years ago – of the Australian Conservatives, Family First and Australian Christians puts the party in a strong position to win a Senate seat.
The Australian Conservatives were founded by Liberal defector Cory Bernardi four days after his successful election in 2016. Family First merged with the party in April 2017, followed by the Victorian branch of the Australian Christians in May of the same year.
Election results since 2001 show an increasing number of minor conservative parties in Victoria vying for votes in the Senate, while Family First’s vote has declined over the last two elections.
According to a study commissioned by Sustainability Victoria, 78 per cent of Victorians believe climate change is an issue requiring urgent action and the same proportion supports a zero emissions target by 2050.
Similar polling across the nation has led to 2019 being dubbed the ‘climate change election’.
But, as the Liberal-National Coalition concedes ground to voters’ concerns on the issue, conservative parties across Victoria are maintaining a strong line on climate change denial and inaction on emissions reduction.
Bailey told Junction Journalism carbon dioxide was a “Trojan horse” and said, “We don’t have to use pejorative terms like pollution, because you can drink it” – a reference to carbonated water.
The Conservatives do not support renewable energy targets and would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
One Nation and the Rise Up Australia Party are also campaigning on a platform of climate change scepticism.
One Nation Victorian Senate candidate James Hallam, who works in disability support, said the climate “might be warming, I don’t know. But there is no evidence it is man-made.”
One Nation advocates withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. The party’s policy on climate change states, “More research needs to be done before we commit economic suicide.”
In contrast to other conservative forces, the United Australia Party’s Victorian Senate candidate Catriona Thoolen thought withdrawing from the Paris Agreement was “unnecessary” but advocated building “non-renewable” power stations in Victoria and lifting restrictions on nuclear power stations.
The construction of nuclear power plants is banned under the 1999 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Despite UAP polling only 0.3 per cent of the primary Senate vote in the state back in 2016, Thoolen protested, “We are not a minor party”, listing “$70m worth of advertising and over 200 candidates” as UAP’s qualifications for major-player status.
The Australian Conservatives – founded in 2016 by Liberal defector Cory Bernardi – One Nation, United Australia Party and Rise Up Australia – are all campaigning on platforms of lower immigration. The Conservatives argue immigration is “destroying our sovereignty”, advocating a reduction from 160,000 to 100,000 immigrants a year, Rise Up Australia is pushing for a cap of 35,000, One Nation 70,000.
Thoolen said Australia must “reduce immigration to manageable numbers” but declined to give a number.
None of the parties provides details on the breakdown of its proposal for a reduced intake. Asked whether he was referring to business immigration, partner immigration or family immigration, Bailey answered: “All of the above.”
Campaigning at Farm World both Bailey and Hallam listed conservatives’ main concerns as the cost of living, infrastructure and taxes.
Junction Journalism checked this perspective with people encountered at Farm World – and they listed a broad range of concerns. For beef farmer Robert Gray, “keeping animal activists under control” was top of mind, while Max Magee from Yarra Valley said continued economic growth and “the health of our rivers” were his top priorities.
One Nation, Australian Conservatives and the UAP are all focused on the regions this time round. The Conservatives are targeting areas “identified for their high level of conservative voters” including Mildura, Warragul and Sale, while UAP is promoting policies such as zonal taxation and fast trains to attract voters in the bush.
With so many parties crowding the conservative right in Victoria, it is currently unlikely any one of them will gain enough votes to secure a Senate seat in the southernmost mainland state.
But the election will serve as a litmus test for climate change scepticism and radical reductions in immigration.