An Australian political party which advocates Donald Trump's idea of banning Muslim immigration says its membership has quadrupled in size since its launch with disaffected National and Liberal party members comprising the bulk of those joining.
The Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA) which was launched in secret in Perth last year by the far-right and anti-immigration Dutch MP Geert Wilders puts its growth down to social media given it has received virtually no mainstream news coverage and claims it had its request to advertise nationally in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp newspapers knocked back.
Though neither the Liberals nor Labor consider the party a serious threat, Liberal MPs confirmed the party was stealing "rank and file" members and said there had been a rise in communications from disaffected supporters telling them they were ditching the Coalition for the ALA, following last year's leadership change and the government's subsequent poor performance.
The ALA's Senate Candidate in New South Wales, Kirralie Smith, told Fairfax Media their meetings were attracting up to 300 followers in metropolitan areas and between 50-100 in the regions.
"We just get so many Liberal and National party supporters who were paid up members who have quit that party and joined us, they are very vocal in telling us," she said.
Queensland Liberal National George Christensen confirmed the ALA was "definitely taking rank and file LNP supporters" but doubted it would translate into enough support for the party to win a senate spot. He said a recent ALA meeting held in Mackay and advertised only on Facebook attracted 50 people. By comparison a meeting he advertised through direct mail attracted 200 attendees. "Without any direct communication, to attract 50 people from a single Facebook message, that's pretty good," he said. Other Liberals who did not want to be named said they were increasingly on the receiving end of emails and social media messages from angry supporters telling them they would be abandoning the Government at the next election for the ALA.
Ms Smith could not provide exact membership figures for the party but said they were in the several thousands having increased four-fold since their launch last year. A party in Australia needs 500 members to be registered.
Ms Smith hit out at News Corp, which has run several paid advertisements for the party in two of its newspapers, for falling victim to the "PC [politically correct] beast" when it refused to run ads for their upcoming meetings in other papers. "We're not too far extreme, they're far too extreme, their reasoning was that it didn't fit their brand," she said. A spokesman for News Corp declined to comment.
In its manifesto, the ALA calls for a 10-year ban on granting residency visas to anyone from an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member country which includes Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Morocco and Iraq. The only exception it would make would be for persecuted non-Muslim minorities living in those countries.
Ms Smith said the party had advocated banning Muslims migrating to Australia before the Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump suggested the United States could shut its borders to Muslims, following the US San Bernadino shooting.
"I think Donald Trump stole our ideas," Ms Smith said jokingly.
When asked if the ALA realised would prevent doctors, entrepreneurs and other skilled migrants from calling Australia home, Ms Smith said the measures to deal with the threat of Islamist terrorism "had to start somewhere".
"The reality the threat's greater than the benefit [of migration] at the moment," she said.
"I won't back down or apologise for wanting to confront an ideology," she added.
The ALA would also seek to impose restrictions on mosques. The Australian constitution expressly prohibits the Commonwealth from enacting laws which prohibit the free exercise of any religion.
"The fact is that being opposed to a mosque does not make you a racist, mosques are not a race," she said in a video posted on Facebook. Ms Smith said the post had reached half a million people and had been viewed 173 thousand times and said 85 to 90 per cent of the comments were supportive.
Mr Christensen is a strident critic of radical Islam and has advocated banning the burqa. He said the ALA's policy of banning all Muslim migration was a step too far for him but said that suppressing conversations about Islam in the community would only foster support for the ALA.
ALA not a serious threat
The ALA is fielding five Senate candidates who advocate smaller government, merging and radically stripping back the ABC and SBS but they are best known for their anti-Islamic views. Neither Labor nor Liberal considers them a serious threat or chance at gaining a Senate spot.
Labor MP Stephen Jones identified Tasmanian independent and ex-Palmer Senator Jacqui Lambie was a more serious threat when it came to a non-PC candidate as she drew blue-collar voters as well as conservatives.
"People like authenticity in a politician. They hear everyone else spin and look like a cardboard cutout, so when they see someone who looks like them and speaks like them they like it," Mr Jones said.
Several Government MPs said the fallout from the leadership spill combined with the disillusionment in mainstream politicians and the media meant there was fertile ground for a more credible and better organised splinter party to succeed.
Deposed Prime Minister Tony Abbott is amongst those who have urged for disappointed Liberals to remain "in the tent" rather than flirt with fringe-parties.
Shortly after his removal as leader, he urged anyone thinking of forming a micro-party to compete with the Liberals to abandon the idea warning such a move would damage the Coalition.
"I'd say please don't, please don't. The Liberal Party doesn't have enough members as it stands, we can't afford to lose good members. I can understand why people are dismayed at the fact we did what we said we'd never do."
"The impact of the One Nation movement was to bring the Howard government perilously close to defeat in 1998," he said.
"The last thing we need is another conservative party, particularly a rogue conservative party that is raging against the world. That's the last thing we need."