The property developer and the party – Family First lives up to its name

Electoral contests are increasingly about preferences and the brokers who cut deals that give minor parties a bigger say than they could possibly achieve on their own. And sometimes, those minor parties can take on a very strange complexion.

Consider Family First, founded in 2002 and gaining its first major success with Victorian Steven Fielding, who was elected to the Senate on the back of a byzantine preference deal in 2004, despite receiving only 2500 primary votes.

But Mr Fielding is no more. ‘We haven’t caught up with Steve for a while,’ says the current Upper House Family First candidate in the Victorian state election, Mr Andrew Conlon.

Instead, in the last few years the Victorian branch of Family First has been virtually taken over by people associated with property developer and party state director Mr Ashley Fenn, his companies in the Ethan Property Group and his place of worship, the Ringwood-based GROW church.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the party’s policies now include advocating for a complete abandonment of rezoning controls for residential development on the city fringe, and an abolition of urban growth boundaries.

Meanwhile Mr Fenn’s best known company, the not- for- profit Ethan Affordable Housing, has become one of the largest beneficiaries of the National Rental Affordability Scheme, started under the Rudd Labor Government in 2009 and administered by the State and Federal governments.

When it comes to the selection of candidates, Family First lives up to its name.

Of the 55 Family First upper and lower house candidates running in the state election, six are members of the Fenn family, including Mr Fenn’s wife Cielo, who is contesting the marginal goldfields electorate of Wendouree, his son and daughter- in- law Brendan and Helen Fenn, who are contesting the upper house Northern Metropolitan region and the lower house seat of Northcote, his daughter Janna Fenn and family members Judith and Norman Fenn, who are contesting Eltham, Mildura and Mulgrave respectively.