Family First, conservative Christians join the Victorian Liberals

Conservative Turnbull government MPs are recruiting members of hardline micro parties such as Family First and the Australian Christians, in a move described as a "horrifying" lurch to the right that could thwart the Liberals chances at the next Victorian election.

Former defence minister Kevin Andrews is believed to be attending micro party meetings and holding church-based community forums in a broad bid to attract more members from the religious right, sparking deep divisions in the state branch.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, a spokesman for Mr Andrews did not confirm or deny the claims, other than to say the MP "encourages people who share the values of the Liberal Party to join".

Deakin MP Michael Sukkar argued that getting more members into branches was critical to fighting Labor's well orchestrated grassroots campaigning, adding that those opposing new memberships were using fears of Christian conservatives as "a red herring".

And some in the minor parties are also pushing for a shift, saying that the federal Senate reforms had stymied their electoral prospects and prompted them to rethink their political strategy.

"Conservatives are concerned that we're losing our voice, so it's fair to say that a number of people are going over," said Peter Bain, who ran for Family First in the July poll and is now one of several ex-candidates applying for Liberal membership.

The targeting of micro parties follows revelations there had been a concerted recruitment drive – led by Brighton branch president Marcus Bastiaan – targeting Mormon and evangelical churches as well as probus and community groups.

Mr Bastiaan has also been at the centre of branch-stacking allegations plaguing the Liberal Party more broadly this week, with claims of enrolment "irregularities" designed to sway the outcome in Saturday's preselection battle for the prized state seat seat of Brighton.

However, Mr Bastiaan - an ally of party president Michael Kroger - has denied any wrongdoing, telling Fairfax Media: "Branch-stacking allegations are false and politically motivated. Statewide membership drives are an ongoing strategy to turn around our party's collapsing membership.

"With the average age of members over 70 and less than 15 per cent who are under the age 40, the party has an immense amount of work to do to rebuild a dynamic base to win and hold government."

The push to get more people from the religious right to join the Liberals is likely to pose a challenge for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who many believe is already beholden to the hardline conservatives within his ranks.

And with opposition leader Matthew Guy keen to capture the political middle ground against Daniel Andrews, state MPs are also concerned it could hinder their chances in the 2018 Victorian poll, or result in an "uprising" of candidates in future elections with single-issue agendas, such as winding back abortion laws.

"It's horrifying. If we become a more right-wing party there is no way we will win the election," said one senior Liberal source.

Another MP told Fairfax Media: "We've had a strong two years, but if this shit gets any worse, I think it could really undo us."

The changing ideological fault lines have also caused tensions among the micro parties, with DLP state MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins saying: "I am a true representative of the conservative voice here in Victoria. I am aware of, and distressed by, the move to leave minor parties like Family First and Australian Christians, to join the Liberal party."

But others say it's a necessary shift, given Liberal membership in Victoria has dropped by 1800 compared to 2014. In the past 12 months membership has increased just 220.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/family-first-conservative-christians-j...