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Gathering to activate ‘quiet Australians’ raises questions

Conservatism American style came to Australia recently when Sydney played host to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Fashioned on the American model of gatherings of conservative politicians, activists, media pundits, Christian adherents and ‘free speech warriors’, the conference was billed as the largest gathering of conservatives in Australia.

Several American conservative politicians jetted in to speak, along with pro-Brexiteer Nigel Farage, right-wing British activist Raheem Kassam, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a brace of politicians from the Coalition and One Nation, plus a bulk supply of Sky News and Daily Telegraph commentators.

The conference was marketed as a chance to activate ‘quiet Australians’ against the threats of militant unions and socialism by joining the fightback against the constraints on free speech.

On face value, it is impossible to believe any commentator from Sky News or the Daily Telegraph lacks a platform with which to practice free speech.

The always forgotten Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act, which allows for fair comment in good faith on matters of public interest, gives these commentators scope to opinionate.

An examination of the themes for the speeches given by the conservative luminaries reveals the deeper ideology at play.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott lamented the loss of “moral anchor points” by Australians, and advocated people read great books “the greatest of which is the New Testament”.

This being the same Tony Abbot whose morals prevented him apologising for standing in front of a sign reading “JuLIAR, Bob Brown's Bitch” in 2011.

He claimed his conservative side of politics are better placed to deal with the “pressing problems” currently facing Australia because the Coalition are “less ideological” than the opposition and not obsessed with gender and identity.

Those with any exposure to the same sex marriage survey, repealing anti-abortion and religious discrimination laws, and the humane treatment of refugees would obviously disagree with this ‘less ideological’ claim.

He also invoked the conservative trope of having exclusive rights to patriotism; “We are, above all, patriots,” before claiming Australia is suffering because of a loss of spirituality and abandonment of Western Values.

During his speech, Raheem Kassam labelled the Australian Labor Party anti-Semites, bigots and racists. He went on to claim “We’re (Conservatives) winning in so many ways. We’re governing in so many places. And what happens when conservatives and nationalists govern? Low unemployment. High minority employment. Bigger, stronger families. Controlled immigration,” he said.

This winning claim is easily debunked by the high rates of underemployment and falling birth rates throughout the Western World.

As for controlled immigration, star speaker, Trump acolyte and Fox News commentator Judge Jeanine Pirro brought some Trump rhetoric to the event by describing the southern border of the United States of America as under siege from gangsters and murderers. She claimed to have visited the border and being told of children being raped and their hearts cut out with a machete.

She too invoked the patriotism theme, and stirred in a dose of nationalism and tribalism. And omitted any mention of forced internment of children and separation of families by the Trump administration.

The common threads between the speakers are therefore easy to spot – Western Culture and Christianity is under threat by immigration, and the patriotism and individual freedom ideology of Conservatism is the answer.

What wasn’t spoken about was the disconnect between the small government and personal responsibility position of Conservatism, and the Christian tenet of scapegoating responsibility through vicarious redemption; i.e. receiving reward by placing your sins upon another. But I wouldn’t expect it to be.

I wouldn’t mind an answer to this – what is the end result, the ultimate vision, the ultimate prize the CPACers want?

Do they want restricted freedom of movement for those of another skin colour or faith?

Do they want unchecked capitalism, rampant privatisation and no regulation?

Answering yes exposes the two-headed coin of authoritarianism – we’ll scrutinise the lives of others, but we don’t want anyone to scrutinise us.

And does the Coalition think this American-inspired ideological shift further to the right is a vote winner?


Greg Smart

By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.