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Lucy Hamilton is Melbourne born and based. She studied humanities at Melbourne and Monash universities, until family duties killed her PhD project. She is immersed in studying the global democratic recession.

The war on “gender” is a fascist threat

The Right is obsessed with gender. This deep paranoia comes out of America and international far right movements. It harms straight people and LGBTQIA+ people differently, and we need to fight it before our copycat Right entrenches it here too.

On Sunday night, Channel 7 broadcast a deeply specious piece of argumentation about trans youth suffering regret. It featured few examples and generalised that experience on the basis of activist talking points and from outlier medical opinion. The international far right is very enthusiastic about the “investigation.”

Most pain that might inspire regret is described by trans people as emerging from the difficulty of living within families and societies that demonise and discriminate against them.

In fact over 95% of trans youth embrace their changed form with joy. Most have only hormone treatment which has proven to be a saviour of mental health and life. Very few have irreversible decisions made before adulthood and expert consultation. To suggest that any other treatment is common is misleading and dangerous for the fostering of hate that it provokes. The estimated overall rate of regret at transitioning is as low as 0.5%.

Depicting children as victims of harm is one of the most powerful ways that a faction can ignite violence against a chosen enemy. Spreading propaganda against the weight of evidence to fuel this terror is indefensible.

The international Right shares a single concept as the enemy for which their targets operate: gender. For them “gender” is the unifying force behind modern society’s disorder and degeneracy.

The concept of gender in society was meant to highlight our wholistic identity and life choices. It was meant to free us from the dictates of biology which limited women’s options in particular. Gender stood in contrast to an idea of sex that determined our lives.

For the Right, however, the idea of binary sex is the prized attribute, with gender its perverted enemy. The Catholic Church invented the mythical “Gender Ideology” in the 1990s as a focus for the fear of LGBTQIA+ existence and feminism. The term now pervades the international Right. For these forces, biology must dictate sex. There can only be male and female. These (mistaken) “facts” are irretrievably based on sex allocated at birth. That sex label must dictate most elements of the life that follows. Man is strong, traditionally masculine, a leader in the world and at home. Woman is reproductive, but only within the confines of sacred marriage.

They must function together as a reproductive unit, within the “traditional” family home. This unit, it is argued by many on the further Right, ought to be the basis of any democracy they allow. The father must have the sole family vote, acting for his wife as he does now for his children.

In Republican states across America, women’s access to reproductive healthcare has been savaged as a result. Ironically this has also made desired pregnancies much more dangerous too. Plans exist to make abortion illegal nationwide, despite the disingenuous Supreme Court arguments that the Dodds decision was about states’ rights. In discussion also are plans to block access to contraception and women’s ability to initiate divorce.

The intent is that women will be functionally removed from the civic space: uncontrolled reproduction is a crippling weapon. It is not just implicit, however. The American Right is selling this message overtly too.

Turning Point USA, the youth arm of the MAGA movement, holds an annual Young Women’s Leadership Summit. There predominantly women with successful media careers tell school and college-aged young women that they should not aim to pursue careers, but embrace a glorified domesticity.

This year, a medical student asked organisation founder Charlie Kirk how to manage her career with future family. He told her to spend time with babies, to contract baby fever. If she was implicitly unnatural enough not to become infected then she was welcome to her medical career, and a miserable future with cats for company.

The more frightening aspect of this attack on gender is that LGBTQIA+ people have no place at all and certainly not anywhere near children.

Christian Nationalism embraces America’s Purity Culture. It fosters a prurient obsession with what people do with their bodies. It leads to a focus on distinct dress that is both sex-appropriate and modest.

Anyone who does not dress or live according to these mandates is advertising their sinfulness. Indeed within the Pentecostal movement so important to today’s Right such people are literally demonic.

Instead of seeing gender as describing a whole person, the Right sees “gender” as depicting a person misusing their God-given reproductive organs. This focus on genitalia is manifest in the way that homophobic groups are fighting to have children’s picture books labelled as literal pornography.” It explains why merely speaking in support of LGBTQIA+ existence earns the label “groomer” on social media.

If two penguin dads raising a chick in a picture book are “pornographic,” imagine the fate of LGBTQIA+ people in these regions. In fact, we don’t need to imagine. Bills have been tabled in their hundreds in Republican states to constrain not just trans but all LGBTQIA+ people. The presidential campaign of Ron DeSantis has trumpeted that his gubernatorial term in Florida has been an attack on all LGBTQIA+ people, not just trans people. DeSantis has painted Trump as the pro-Queer candidate to discredit him.

Russia has also been a leading force in social media’s spreading of bigotry against Queer people and feminism. The international Right has been fusing these campaigns since the end of the Cold War, depicting both feminism and LGBTQIA+ existence as societal threats. The attack on LGBTQIA+ people has been core to Russia’s propaganda justifying its invasion of Ukraine. Hungary’s Viktor Orban is a particular conduit of this ideology into Australia.

Both these threats are on display in our Coalition parties under siege by Christian Nationalists and Orbanist Eastern European “traditionalist” politics.

No identity’s existence is a matter for “debate.” No group (or rights) should be used as wedge issues for political gain.

Australians who want to be free to make choices about our own bodies need to join together against a Right who would eliminate us.


This was first published in Pearls and Irritations as Channel 7 fostering fascist politics

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What Barbie tells us about the Right. (Hint: it’s all sex.)

If you have been watching the aftermath of the Barbie movie, you might have learnt a lot about the Right. The most important lesson is that everything is sex.

Barbie, like almost every “woke” development now, is a “groomer.” Poor Stereotypical Barbie thought she’d fixed the world for women’s equality, and now it turns out she’s a demonic force.

The American radicalising Right had been allowed to like Barbie because, for them, she was only about training girls in the utterly unattainable standards of femininity to which they must devote their lives. It’s all clothes and makeup and the perfect figure. Be pretty/perfect. Be still and silent.

Barbie the movie reminded the moral minority starkly that there was a more dangerous side to the doll than that. She threatened to teach their daughters (white liberal) feminism. Aw heck no.

Barbie has no reproductive organs and, for this Right, woman has no other purpose. Woman is utterly defined by her ability to spawn. Biological essentialism is back with a vengeance. No reproductive rights for you, girlfriend. No contraceptives or ability to initiate divorce. No vote. No career. Get baby fever and know your God-given place.

The opening scene of the film is sin made celluloid. Bored girl children are being socialised into deadening domesticity over their baby dolls, when sexy Barbie appears causing a violent orgy of destruction. Smash those baby dolls, little sisters.

The movie’s central tension between Barbie Land and Patriarchy makes clear that Barbie, for all the damage she does, is meant to help girls aspire to a role in the civic space, or even in space.

More dangerous still is the fact that Ryan Gosling’s Ken reveals the Right’s “truth” about the feminist project: the neutered man. Cue spasms of incel horror. The Right completely missed that the film’s joke was about the movie industry: Ken was being put in the female role in movies. Instead he was perceived as another weapon in the ginned up Masculinity Crisis.

Some on the Right saw what the Left saw: Barbie ultimately leaves the gender dynamic pretty much untouched. They could see Barbie’s conclusion (spoiler alert) in a visit to the gynaecologist as a reinforcement of their anti-trans sentiment: sex is genitalia. I prefer to see it as a pro-trans message: this woman chooses her womanly genitalia.

The Right loathes the concept of “gender.” “Sex” is all, binary and heterosexual.

Sex – identity and act – at least for women, must be sacred and reproductive.

The idea of blurring,“races” or sexes, is a nightmare for the bigots on the Right. And so their performance of gender online is about sexual polarity.

The Right’s performance of gender is only out-dramatised by one sector: drag artists.

For the Right’s men, they are inspired by the fascist posturing of figures like Bronze Age Pervert with constant inspiration from the muscled White warriors of the ancient world. In a homoerotic act, they ogle the glistening muscles of the biggest men. No wonder Melbourne’s gym-junkie Nazis turn out in black shorts instead of black shirts. Hello sailor?

The women of the Right have moved from the honeytrap sexual appeal of their earlier influencers like Lauren Southern to the Tradwife. In this performance of Barbie-like submissive femininity, they hope to tempt women to the glories of domesticity, to catch the Right’s baby-fever.

Some on the young Right also saw a warning that Barbie Land conveys for men. Barbie Land has been equated to “the longhouse.” The Right used to fret about “the cathedral,” a description of the modern world which argued that the liberal establishment had destroyed everything. Only a revolution into patriarchal and authoritarian monarchy could save the nation. The cathedral has become the longhouse, emphasising the shift in focus. The longhouse says that the feminisation of the modern world is the true crisis.

Apparently before those muscled Greek idols forged everything worthwhile about civilisation – including manly architecture – people lived in matrilineal longhouses ruled by the Den Mother. That society was barbaric, muddy and lame. Just like Barbie Land (minus the pink).

The destruction caused by this modern feminised, diverse, and excessively egalitarian world – a new longhouse – has apparently fostered cross-breeding between “races.” It has led, oh horror, to moral destruction in not just extra-marital sex but the existence of LGBTQIA+ people in public. Even worse, they exist in front of children.

If gender ceases to be about wholistic identity and freedom of choice about how the individual presents themself to the world, and instead is a representation of genitalia, everything becomes unavoidably sexual.

There is safe sexual where men are manly and women are cute.

There is dangerous sexual where this mandated binary is confused. Any LGBTQIA+ presentation that does not abide by that binary represents a derangement of genitalia.

Thus the existence of LGBTQIA+ people – or feminists – in front of children is “grooming.” In the Right’s obsession with genitals, this “deviant” presentation of gender is advertising confusing or aberrant genitalia.

This is why a story book that includes a family with two penguin dads or someone with non-binary gender identity is described as “pornographic” in the Moms for Liberty purges taking place in American schools and libraries. A Mem Fox picture book with a woman discreetly pictured in a bath was removed for being pornographic.

And so anyone who merely supports the equal existence of LGBTQIA+ people will find themselves labelled a “groomer” by online commentators. One community member fighting the Florida book bans explained the intent: This entire effort is “designed to put LGBT people back in the closet and keep us there.” Ron DeSantis’s recent campaign ad made clear that his presidential campaign was pursuing that very goal.

A figure that epitomised the clash of worlds in Barbie was Dr Barbie. The vast majority of normie viewers probably never noticed that the actor, Hari Nef, is trans and that’s just fine. It’s the performance not the “sex” that counts. For the Right, this was one of the appalling efforts by the demonic Left to “indoctrinate” their children with “pornography.”

The same cohorts that are driving the attacks on LGBTQIA+ existence are the ones hyper-sexualising prepubescent children in kiddie beauty pageant displays which border on “child sexual abuse material.” Florida is the driving force in the war on Queer. It is also the state where “conservative” rural mothers partake in the highest number of child beauty pageants of anywhere in Republican America where these grotesque displays dominate. Apparently the only safe place to display sexualised womanhood in Purity Culture America is on the pre-teens. No wonder these are also the states supporting child marriage most vehemently.

These mothers treat their children like Barbies.

Barbie was a lot of fun. The lessons the Right are taking from it, however, are scary. Any of us living in a secular world where incels are a laughing stock and the domestic goddess is a cookbook need to pay attention.

Our efforts towards an inclusive and egalitarian world are a call to revolution for them. America is showing us what they intend as theocratic Right forces table ever more laws to constrain sexuality.

The same forces are at work in Australia. The IPA is trying to drum up a parents’ rights campaign (which translates to radicalised Right wing parents dictating what everyone’s children learn at school). The attempt to stop Big W stocking a guide for parents on how to talk to children about sex was precisely the game plan. The campaign to make this an Australian battle is underway.

Don’t ignore them. They are sure as hell not ignoring you.


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We can’t ignore politicians’ Christianity any longer

It has been traditional for journalists and public figures to respect the individual political candidate’s religion as private. America shows us the danger of creeping Christian Nationalism erupting into prominence, and we can’t wave that away as a distant threat. Voters need to know what our candidates’ Christianity means for our future.

We need to give ourselves permission to talk about political candidates’ religious beliefs. Above all, we need to do so regarding Christian politicians.

When Nicole Werner was selected as the Liberal candidate for Warrandyte, some Labor figures tried to raise the point that she had been a pastor for the Planetshakers Pentecostal church. The Australian (19/6) condemned this as a “smear campaign.”

It may well be that Werner’s politics are driven primarily by a loathing forwoke crap.” She may well have left any dedication to the Pentecostal movement’s strangest tenets in the past. She may be worshipping as a much more mainstream Christian now. This is not, however, a question that ought to be hidden from voters any longer.

The media and public figures have tended to respect the religious beliefs of political candidates as private and out of bounds for discussion. While the majority of Christian parliamentarians belonged to mainstream denominational churches, this did not pose as much of a problem.

It has tended to slow change in society because the Christians’ belief in their right to mandate public morality has been imposed upon the rest of us. We have struggled to redefine marriage, a good death, women’s rights outside the Christian majority’s religious rules. That, however, is the negotiation between worldviews inherent in a democratic system.

The American-style Christianity becoming apparent in Australia’s federal, state and local politics is another matter. This Christianity does not negotiate.

The risk for anyone writing about the beliefs and behaviour of the Pentecostal movement is that the writer, rather than the faith, sounds hysterical. Every Australian should read Elle Hardy’s expert and thoughtful account of Pentecostalism’s surging influence around the globe to see that these wild accounts are indeed accurate. Beyond Belief is a gripping read.

While the fact that Pentecostal churches are nondenominational means that not all beliefs are represented in all groups, there are some ideas that are common.

One is that no Christian outside the Pentecostal faith is truly a Christian until they’ve embraced the spirit in Pentecostalism. Catholicism is as likely to be seen as the “whore of Babylon.” Society is their mission field: we are all intended to be saved.

There is a tolerance for Jewish people but only if they are in Israel, ready to die to announce the beginning of End Times.

End Times and the return of Christ to rule adds an urgency to their evangelising. Christ cannot return until every single one of you lives purely, as defined by their rules. There is to be no sexual activity outside the sanctity of marriage. No pre- or extra-marital sex, no LGBTQIA+ identity or activity, no reproductive healthcare beyond the ushering of many more Pentecostal Christian babies into the world.

This is all Spiritual Warfare. There is a literal belief in the demonic forces at work in Catholicism, Queerness, Media, Science, Academia, democratic governments. Scott Morrison spoke of social media as the work of “the devil.” How he meant it we cannot be sure, but within Pentecostalism broadly this is meant as a genuine description.

The certainty that End Times are upon is is made more urgent by the fact of floods, fires and plagues. Every iteration of a natural disaster intensified by the climate crisis throws fuel onto the Pentecostal bonfire of certainty that the rest of us must be made pure immediately.

Americans are now seeing the impact of the utter determination of this small minority. This radicalised religion has taken over the Republican Party. Half the country has become deeply dangerous for women of reproductive age, and LGBTQIA+ people. The white supremacy inherent to the movement is evident in the brutal attacks on the demythologised teaching of American history.

The American majority has supported some abortion access and the equality of Queer people by at least 70% and yet the minority is imposing draconian restrictions upon half the country. The Christian Nationalists are now targeting access to contraception and women’s ability to initiate divorce. This is the path to dominion.

The mission to reverse the progressive gains made since the New Deal and the Civil Rights era in America has taken decades but it has been unswerving. The project gives itself permission, however, to mask the theocratic goals for the good of the project, because no honesty is owed to the sinner.

Scott Morrison described himself to a Pentecostal congregation in 2021 as secretly performing a “laying on of hands,” nonconsensually, when he hugged survivors of disasters.

Morrison is understood to belong to the powerful Prosperity Theology strain of Pentecostalism. This involves the belief that wealth signifies God’s blessing. Poverty, in turn, signifies God’s punishment. It is a moral failing in the poor that makes them poor; it is hubris in the politician to intervene in God’s punishment. Those that have a go, get a go, according to Morrison. Apparently the poor never tried.

Prosperity Theology in its utter contradiction of Christ’s message ought to signal to more traditional Christians that the Pentecostal movement is something unfamiliar and discordant.

Eastern European Christianity, resurgent after the Cold War, has intertwined itself with this American Christianity’s beliefs and goals. Australian politicians channelling Orban’s cultural Christian/Western chauvinism share the same enemies: anyone to be labelled “woke.” (“Woke” has become the catch-all word for anyone representing modernity, secularism, pluralism, liberal openness and social justice goals. Sometimes it just means a person displaying manners or compassion.) Muslims are a particular target of this European aspect of the movement, which characterises progressives as “Islamogauche” – the Muslim-embracing Left. This fostering of existential hatred is on display in Koran burnings in Europe.

The Machiavellian nature of the movement is manifest in the readiness to work with anyone. Pentecostalism loathes feminists, for example, but will embrace anti-trans “feminists” to begin the project of forcing LGBTQIA+ existence out of sight.

While Pentecostals may loathe the boorish sexuality of the internet “manosphere,” the latter’s dedication to complementarianism makes them easy colleagues. In this reading of “natural” society, sex is binary and opposite: the man is dominant in world and the home. Woman, only welcome in the home, must only be passive and obedient.

The only female exception is granted the extremist Christian woman fighting against the “woke” evil, such as Moms for Liberty. We have seen that trend emerge in Australia with the Women’s Forum Australia attack on Big W for stocking a parent’s guide to discussing sex with their children in the parenting section. Moms for Liberty are tactically embracing conservative members of the (despised) Muslim faith to broaden their appeal in America. We saw a similar effort underway in the Victorian Liberal insurgency event in Caroline Springs.

Pentecostalism became intertwined with QAnon over the worst of the pandemic, and its messaging has pervaded much of the “freedom” movement that gathered pace over the era. The religious movement’s demand that people believe wild tenets and disdain empirical knowledge makes it an easy vehicle for conspiracy.

The Liberal Party is dependent upon this anti-woke coalition to regain power. Victoria’s John Pesutto baulked when Moira Deeming revealed the extremity to which the anti-“woke” coalition could take the party. It was not accidental that the Conservative Political Action Conference – aka MAGA Australia – part-funded the anti-trans-existence tour in which she took a role. Neither was it accidental that Neo Nazis arrived to provide “security” for the Melbourne event.

John Pesutto campaigned with Nicole Werner in Warrandyte despite his efforts to face down the anti-“woke” insurgency in his Victorian opposition coalition. Winning – even without a Labor candidate standing – was more important for his goals than defeating the insurgency.

The Pentecostal movement that has become the moral weight of the anti-“woke” coalition is not just a belief system aiming to improve our societal ethics. It is a theocratic cult.

Australians need to know which kind of Christianity our candidates represent: a private morality or the authoritarian enforcement of their own bizarre interpretation of Christ’s dominion.


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CPAC 2023: the Christian Nationalists taking over the Coalition

It is hard to gauge the importance of the Trumpist Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event that took place in Sydney this weekend. There were more high-profile figures speaking than previously, and several currently serving politicians alongside white supremacists and antisemites.

CPAC’s budget did not allow the recreation of the Nazi “odal” rune stage shape that emerged in the 2021 American version. The organisers did maintain the spirit of trolling the left into futile outrage against deniable provocations: the weekend’s press passes were slapped with the words “fake news” in large print.

Despite claims that it was a sold-out event, there seemed to be many empty seats. It was streamed live on Alan Jones’s low-rating “network” ADH TV and the production values seemed intent on making the show look a glitzy echo of the American parent on a TV screen. The man behind the “network,” conspiracy-peddling Maurice Newman, was on the speaker list with several ADH TV presenters. This suggests the weekend was as much about raising the profile of Australia’s further-right-than-Sky viewing option for the base. It is not alleged that key ADH TV funder Jamie Packer was present over the weekend.

So, while CPAC remains a fringe event in the Australian scene, there were several key political figures there. Orbanist Tony Abbott gave the keynote speech. Warren Mundine is Board Chairman of the Australian CPAC organisation, so the Coalition’s No campaign to the Voice to Parliament was at the core of the weekend’s speeches.

The Liberal Party insurgency was represented by Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Alex Antic, Bev McArthur and Ted O’Brien. Of course, the insurgency’s poster girl Moira Deeming appeared twice. Former Liberal politicians Amanda Stoker, Bronwyn Bishop and Gary Hardgrave also spoke.

The Nationals were represented by current and former leadership: John Anderson, Barnaby Joyce, Bridget McKenzie and Keith Pitt presented. It seems there was no need for the white supremacists to infiltrate the National Party back in 2018; they are now appearing on platforms alongside people posting antisemitic and white supremacist barely-coded material without that coup succeeding.

The threat remains: if these Christian Nationalist, truth-distorting and conspiracy-peddling politicians take the reins of the Coalition fully, a “conservative” vote in Australia becomes a vote for the extreme fringe. Watching what percentage of their base is ready to be further radicalised is key to evaluating our risk.

Moira Deeming’s solo speech on Saturday was redolent with self-pity. She describes herself as an “Independent Liberal” MP and is full of her own martyrdom. She spoke of having been “publicly stoned” for her bad judgement in appearing at a rally where Neo Nazis provided security, over and above the CPAC funding the event had received. Deeming made the typical far right assertion that Nazis are actually socialists to frame distance between herself and fascism. She also appeared mistaken when she asserted that there was no interaction between the Nazis and the anti-trans speakers at the March event.

The weekend’s nadir was a “comedy” routine by the corporate hoax speaker, Rodney Marks. His performance as “Chaim Tsibos” was a diatribe of ghastly anti-First Nations racism in a Jewish caricature. He began with an acknowledgment of “the traditional rent-seekers past, present and emerging” before rejigging his tribute to the “Traditional owners: violent black men” with particular notice for “woman-basher Bennelong.”

Apparently not performing as a failing comedian was former Labor MP Gary Johns, who took recent scandals about blood testing people to determine their degree of Aboriginality and escalated his provocation. He distanced himself from the prejudice displayed in his words by crediting them to Price’s father, Dave Price. “If you want a voice, learn English. That’s your voice.” The only answer, he asserted, is for Aboriginal people to stop sitting “there outside the economy, playing out the role of an Aboriginal person” because “being Aboriginal is not enough.”

American speaker Elijah Schaffer was perhaps the ugliest figure on the list – to the point that CPAC scrubbed his name from the menu of speakers but not his actual speech which went ahead. He focused on fighting white guilt” and opposing immigration’s harm to a (white) Australia. Amongst other (repeat) speakers was Trump’s scandalous former acting Attorney-General Matt Whitaker, who continued spreading Trump’s lies about the 2020 election in Sydney.

Any serving politician who shared a podium with these men ought to be made to answer for their appalling judgement in choosing to appear at CPAC, home to Trumpist troll politics.

The IPA and Menzies Research Centre “think” tanks were enthusiastic participants. Christian Nationalist figures were well represented in the event’s presenters. Rachel Wong of the Christian right Women’s Forum Australia and Lyle Shelton were both speakers. The Australian Christian Lobby CEO Michelle Pearse railed against the banning of human rights-abusing gay “conversion therapy.” Christian nationalist “thought leader” Evelyn Rae was dropped from the speaker list at the last minute.

The weekend continued the usual apocalyptic tone from the Right. The war of values is existential. On the dark side is the Voice to Parliament and climate action. The existence of trans people was constantly demonised, with them depicted wrongly as a threat to women and children. Alan Jones redeployed the ridiculous kitty litter hoax from the American anti LGBTQIA+ propaganda networks. Barnaby Joyce warned against the dangers of politicians with the “wrong conviction,” alluded to supporting abortion as one of the loathed progressive values that we must escape. He bemoaned that being a politician of conviction, by his standards, can look like derision, ridicule, hate, jail and death. The founders of the fundraising platform of white supremacists, Give Send Go, depicted abortion and trans health care as crimes they would not support.

The motto of CPAC Australia 2023 was “We are one,” an echo of the QAnon mantra “Where we go one, we go all.” That apocalyptic conspiracy has pervaded the Christian Nationalist movement, and many disparate factions united at CPAC to fight for their paranoid reactionary politics tied to that banner.

Lyle Shelton quoted Maurice Newman approvingly when he stated, “Laugh it off if you like, but there are parallels between Germany 1933 and Australia 2023.” As one of the few observers who could stand to watch the entire weekend’s events observed: “I actually couldn’t agree more with this, those parallels were on stage at CPACAustralia this weekend.”

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations as The Insurgency

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The insurgency within the Liberal Party

What does a Liberal vote mean if the ultraconservatives take over the party’s mechanisms?

The Liberal Party is in deep trouble. As our main “conservative” party, the fact that it is besieged by far-right figures is reason for vigilance by the rest of us. No party holds government forever, and a “conservative” or anti-incumbent vote must not be an accidental vote for theocratic politics.

Figures like Moira Deeming in Victoria and Alex Antic in South Australia are at the heart of the effort to drive the Liberal Party towards ultraconservative policy.

Australia is, by a strong margin, a country content to let people make decisions about our own lives. Pew reports that 75% of Australians favour same-sex marriage. Abortion is supported by roughly 76% of us. Only 8% of Australians think all abortion should be totally banned. Australians support euthanasia by at least 73%.

While we have social and religious conservatives in our midst, we are content for them to avoid life choices that they find troubling or sinful. We baulk, however, at letting them impose their views on the substantial majority who don’t share their beliefs.

The moderate majority has believed that our western societies are trending towards acceptance, leaving behind the unfounded fears, prejudices and dogma that controlled key life decisions. Resistance to bodies like the Voice can come from a misguided belief that no act needs to be taken to reverse longstanding practices and policies that harm groups, that time itself is the cure.

The more motivated “conservatives” around us have, however, been strategic in making sure that our complacency works to their benefit. Many of them have not accepted the changes we embrace. Some of them continue to work to reverse these majority-supported positions.

Note that the American public holds “progressive” social views in similar percentages to Australia, but the majority is coming to be restricted by the theocratic rules of the few.

Moira Deeming was considered too extreme a prospective candidate by Scott Morrison. She is now best known for her activism ostensibly for women but practically against trans people. Her entry into Victorian state politics came as part of her work with Liberal Bernie Finn in his anti-abortion project. That movement “prays” for abortion to be banned outright. She has written in a Christian publication that abortion is “a terrible evil.”

In fact that sermon in the Christian publication sounds like something Italian PM Giorgia Meloni would write. Rhetorical flourish abounds in her exhortation to prayer, and for “the restoration of FAMILY, FATHERHOOD and MOTHERHOOD in our nation.” (Meloni was not fulfilling the fears that she would rapidly bring extremist rule to Italy. Now in her first concrete act against LGBTQIA+ Italians, lesbian mothers are being stripped from their children’s birth certificates. If the birth mother in the couple dies, the children can be taken to the birth mother’s relatives or into state care.)

While Deeming has been expelled from the Liberal Party for the moment, there are a number of Liberals who want her back in the fold. She headlined at a Victorian Liberal Party branch fundraiser in Caroline Springs at the end of July. The event was chaired by Peta Credlin who later said that politicians were there to “connect with West Melbourne” but also, she asserted to “show their public support for Moira.”

Federal Senator Alex Antic came to Melbourne’s west from South Australia to support Deeming with high praise of her as the “prototype for a modern MP” in a follow-up interview with Peta Credlin on Sky. Antic promotes a series of troubling views.

Federal Liberal MPs Sarah Henderson and Claire Chandler attended the pro-Deeming event.

Victorian MP Bev McArthur was there in full support of Deeming’s ostensibly pro-woman position. She told people at the event that she would have been at the anti-trans rally that attracted Nazi support if she had not been out of state. McArthur has recently been reprimanded by Liberal leader John Pesutto for saying that Indigenous people should be grateful for the “wonderful things” brought by colonialism and that the word “thank-you” is missing from the debate.

This dismissive attitude to the debate underpinning the Voice referendum was an integral part of the Deeming event. Federal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price was present, as was Warren Mundine, former Labor president and politician, then Liberal Party candidate. Anthony Dillon is another Indigenous activist who attended. He is connected to Australian Catholic University, the IPA and other culture warrior “think tanks. He writes for the “pro Trump propaganda machine,” Epoch Times. Dillon has also been accused of inappropriate behaviour towards other Indigenous Australians on social media. The use of the Voice as a facet of the culture wars is firmly embedded in this political sphere.

Also present amongst the supportive politicians was Liberal state MP, Chris Crewther who represents Mornington, Pentecostal church-connected MP Renee Heath who represents the Eastern Victorian Region and Joe McCracken MP, who represents the Western Victorian Region.

While climate science was predictably on the agenda, the listing of “parents’ rights” too is a concerning development. This is an American campaign wherein usually white and “conservative” parents demand the right to control what is done in schools. This is a factor in driving teachers out of the profession in the US, having turned schools into battlegrounds. The parents’ rights activist groups in the US are drawing in conservative members of minority groups to assist in their attack on contemporary schooling. In that light, it was interesting to note the emphasis on Muslim, Croatian, Macedonian and Greek representatives at the Deeming event.

The anti-trans campaign that is associated with Deeming was represented by the presence of the LGB Alliance, an Australian offshoot of a noted UK biological-determinist group.

The variety of causes and identities united in support of Deeming, and determined to shape the Liberal Party, are indicative of the movement’s ability to ignore differences to unite against a society they describe as “woke.” We can’t ignore the energy that Credlin celebrated in her account of the night, motivated to take us back to an old Australia the majority doesn’t want.

The ultra conservative figures threatening to drag the Liberal Party and the country back to a monotone place are not wizened old men. Alex Antic is younger and driven. Moira Deeming is both a “conservative” martyr and an inspiration in demand at a variety of events.

As well as headlining the Liberal fundraiser in Caroline Springs, she has recently appeared at the Frankston State Electorate Conference as well as being invited to speak to the South Australian Liberal Women’s Council.

Deeming is also speaking at Australia’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Sydney later this month. This is Australia’s offshoot of the main Trumpist political gathering. She will be appearing on a panel alongside Rachel Wong who recently achieved notoriety for leading an attack on a parenting book at Big W. Wong represents Women’s Forum Australia, a group with ultra conservative religious and culture warrior connections. Also appearing are Tony Abbott – from the Orban network, Pauline Hanson and the Co-founders of the Christian Nationalist funding platform GiveSendGo. That platform has been fundraising for Australia’s Neo Nazis.

Alex Antic is also set to feature at an event importing MAGA-Republican and Brexit-Brit culture war battles in September. The delayed Trump Live tour is operated by another Australian offshoot of a Trump-Republican organisation: Turning Point USA. Crikey revealed that Turning Point Australia is spreading misinformation on the Voice that is also being shared by Warren Mundine.

Antic is not new to the Trump circuit. He “ranted” about the outrage of being subject to public health measures during a pandemic to one of the dirtiest strategists behind Trump, Steve Bannon, on his War Room show.

In his recent interview with Peta Credlin, Antic also spoke about how he was looking forward to appearing at the forthcoming event with Nigel Farage to discuss culture war battles over banks. More concerning, he also expressed his excitement over hearing from Donald Trump Jr about the “persecution” of Donald Trump. This characterisation of legal repercussions for the attempt to overthrow the results of America’s most secure election in history illustrates worrying attitudes towards the democratic project.

Antic, on his social media and in his podcast, continues to spread covid “vaccine injury” misinformation. He spreads discredited climate information. He depicts people who support reproductive justice, ludicrously, as arguing for “termination at 39 weeks.” He describes a fact-based and modern education as one where “kids are going to school and getting indoctrinated by woke teachers.”

One key connection between Deeming and Antic is his politicisation of the healthcare of young people in his attack on gender dysphoria diagnosis, a key battle in the theocratic takeover in Republican states in the US. The focus on a mythical threat to children helps radicalise manufactured parent panics into hate groups.

Antic has, together with Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, recently imported another Trumpist culture war battle in the Babies Born Alive Bill. He appeared to discuss it on the Lyle Shelton Show on the Alex Jones-backed ADH TV network. Lyle Shelton is now the National Director of the Family First political party. ADH TV has been described as “Australia’s Newsmax” and an “outrage network.”

Antic’s adjournment speech to the South Australian Senate in June 2021 railed against the “systematic persecution of Christians in the political arena.” Bills allowing abortion and euthanasia, and banning the toxic and discredited “conversion” therapy were listed as something akin to “organised Roman persecution.”

Antic also listed the South Australian Liberal Party’s efforts to stall a fundamentalist Christian takeover of the party as another attack. Antic was described as spearheading a 2021 “Believe in Blue” recruitment drive to fill the South Australian Liberal Party with Pentecostal Christians. The plan was to drive the Liberal Party away from “anti-life legislation.” Now SA Liberal leader David Speirs in 2021 allegedly told a congregation: “This idea of the separation of church and state – forget it.” In Trumpian mode, it was declared these repressive values would “make the Liberal Party great again.” Antic celebrated that right faction’s victory in May 2023. That campaign bore fruit with distress in the party and a Pentecostal pastor and wife taking on the leadership of South Australia’s State Electoral Convention. This body not only helps preselect candidate but also shapes the party’s State Council.

Antic also speaks passionately about defending our traditional culture, in echo of Orbanist western chauvinism.

Antic recently published a manifesto in Australia’s radicalising wrap to Britain’s The Spectator. There he depicts the framing of him as “far right” to be lazy-left demonising. He frames himself instead as a true inheritor of the Liberal tradition established by Menzies. He elsewhere describes the Deeming event in Melbourne as a “new brand of center [sic] right politics.”

Instead he, like Deeming, seems to be keen to channel international culture war gambits intended to divide society and win a distracted but enraged base for an ultraconservative vote. The Tories are a destructive embarrassment. The Republican Party is a grim farce. The attempt to impose plutocrats’ neoliberalism combined with ultraconservative social policy is proving an existential threat.

These connections are made at ticketed events and behind paywalls. The ideas are fostered in church congregations and corners of the internet. They filter in from foreign movements through speaking tours, YouTube and podcasts. They are given authority by figures in positions of power and powered by a deep grievance. The Christian Nationalist and ultraconservative right believe this battle is existential: the authoritarian society they demand is the only model possible. We must all live within their rules.

We cannot dismiss this movement as fringe, or dismiss America’s growing Christian Nationalist “conservatism” as irrelevant in Australia. The copycat politicians and strategists here are working to make it your problem.


This was first published in Pearls and Irritations as Federal Liberals continue to back Victorian ultra-conservative Deeming despite expulsion

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“Political lynching”: Scott Morrison and Trumpian tactics

We have seen various flood metaphors used to describe ways to distort and destroy the democratic project in the Trump era. Scott Morrison’s accusation that he is the subject of a “political lynching” in the Robodebt inquiry fits neatly into the paradigm.

One of the strategists at the centre of creating President Donald Trump is Steve Bannon. He encouraged Trump to escalate his firehose of lies. The concept of a “firehose of falsehood” is a form of propaganda exploited by Putin constantly. The Rand corporation identified it and gave the device that label. The strategy involves a figure or regime lying hard and long enough, echoed through various platforms, to confuse the public.

Not only does the strategy escalate way beyond the ability to fact-check, but the public’s entire sense of faith in the institution of government is destroyed. This promotes helplessness and apathy.

Bannon encouraged the mendacious Trump to flood the zone with shit” to neutralise the impact of a media that could not be controlled and intimidated in quite the way that Putin’s media could. The Democrats did not concern Bannon as antagonists: removing the ability of the media to expose Trump’s hollow venality and vindictiveness in any powerful way served the team better.

Flooding the zone with shit involved maximising the use of Trump as an outrage generator. The more totally unprecedented and unhinged actions and quotes he spewed, the harder it has been for any media outlet or individual to maintain horror at a single instance. The new “normal” becomes something that would have been unthinkable a single presidential term back.

The Dark Money funded “think tanks” and strategists had spent decades creating an alternative reality for the “conservative” voter. With the aid of social media, Trump’s presidency took that basis and forged an epistemic crisis. There is no longer a shared knowledge base or ethical framework for making decisions about what a society needs to accomplish.

Trump and team’s lies about the 2020 election theft have led to the shattering of faith in the electoral process amongst Republicans. It is a dire development. The irony is that Republicans have been working for decades to tilt the electoral playing field even further in their favour than even the original structure had leaned. It is the Republicans who consistently “steal” elections.

All these lies have created a divorce between realities that it is fostering a second American civil war. The MAGA world believes that demonic forces of “woke” are an existential threat to themselves and the nation. The fact-based world fears the cultish MAGA Right will bring their guns to destroy what they fear.

One outcome of the firehose of lies and flooding the zone with shit is the discovery that breaking norms and the law are more tolerable if heaped up. A single wrong held to account is something society understands. When many wrongdoings are held to account, the situation can look like a “witch-hunt” by the opposition. One impeachment is comprehensible: two must mean the Democrats are anti-democratic.

The reward lies in doing as much wrong as can be managed.

The MAGA Right believes that old-school Republicans and the Democrats are lying about Trump’s crimes. The more repercussions he faces for the many norm-shattering acts and crimes that he has committed, the more certain they become that Biden leads an authoritarian state that works to try to destroy its opposition rather than contest it fairly.

So at every stage, Trump messages to that MAGA base that he is the target of a witch-hunt, or subject to the kind of horror perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Not only does he feed the grievance that enrages the crowd, but he also fundraises off it. It’s a lucrative con.

Australia is somewhat protected by compulsory voting, preferential voting and our independent electoral commissions from the perversions of democratic process that so mar the American system. The Albanese government is slowly deciding whether and how to tackle money and lies in politics to help arm us against America’s fate.

We have much to undo. The Coalition had taken us far down the competitive authoritarian pathway to illiberalism, echoing the Republican Party’s strategies. Corruption was so widespread in the Coalition decade that the National Anti-Corruption Commission is set to struggle to select the most pressing of the high number of referrals it has received.

Like the MAGA Republicans, Right wing figures here have begun to discredit the integrity of our elections.

Scott Morrison’s government used enough misleading material to warrant the publication of a book on the topic.

The US culture war “idiot balls,” like gas cooktops, keep bobbing up to distract from the monumental challenges that our era is facing. Even more shocking is the decision to use the benign Voice to Parliament both as a weapon against Albanese and to enrage their base with lies.

We must not allow our politicians to copy the MAGA Republicans’ despicable strategy that dictates a single wrongdoing is a mistake, but multiple wrongdoings can become the weapon to achieve victory. This is so even if politicians are only trying to save their reputations.

A firehose of wrongdoing must not become good political strategy here too.


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Australia’s Right is importing Orbanism: we can’t ignore it

Senior Australian “conservative” figures continue to attend conferences backed by illiberal Hungarian leader Viktor Orban. The Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) hosted its 2023 London Summit in late June, featuring Alexander Downer and Greg Sheridan as two of the five speakers. Australians must focus on connections between our Right with Hungarian fascistic politics.

Peter Browne of Inside Story recounted in early June that Greg Sheridan had just spent a week in Budapest again as a visiting fellow to the Orban-backed Danube Institute. This stay was followed by an effusive celebration of Orban’s illiberal Hungary in The Australian (3/6). Sheridan has previously appeared on the Orban speaking circuit, and was a notable part of its first appearance in Melbourne in 2016.

The MCC is superficially an educational institution that fosters conservative students and thinkers.

In fact it functions as a key part of Orban’s efforts to establish a Western and Christian bulwark that proclaims itself a staunch defender of “traditional” values. These nouns are dogwhistle codes meaning white, anti-Muslim and staunchly anti-LGBTQIA+. It is also antisemitic. George Soros, Hungarian expat and Jewish Holocaust survivor is demonised as public enemy No.1.

The MCC is part “think tank” aiming to push anti-EU and far right positions in Brussels. A Hungarian opposition party member described it as a key part of Orban’s “alt-right intellectual universe.” It is also part indoctrinator of conservative youth.

Frank Furedi, director of the institution, described a goal in 2022 to be the publication of an annual “Fear Barometer” measuring “What European people fear.” Orban’s Political Director chairs the MCC’s Board of Trustees.

In 2021, while Hungary’s health system struggled to cope with Covid19, Orban gifted USD1.7 billion worth of funds and assets or the equivalent of 1% of the nation’s GDP to the MCC. This act was described as part of his “unfettered kleptocratic corruption.” He is replacing an open tertiary education sector with one that fosters only the ultra-conservative values he endorses. The 11 public universities in Hungary are overseen by his “political confederates.” The grant ensured that MCC now “controls assets worth more than the annual budget of the country’s entire higher education system.”

The London MCC event was a celebration of the power of nationalism. The Hungarian account of Downer’s private speech translates to say that he asserts migration policy is used “against” nations. Migration that does not endorse the culturally dominant population brings electoral defeat, threatens political stability and gives way to extremism. In a previous Budapest speech, Downer slammed immigrant “Bantustans.”

Downer decried the Left’s divisiveness. His derisive use here of the term “identity politics” is another Right canard that aims to silence once again those who were erased from our public square in the past. The voices of women, Queer people, non-white and non-Christian people were not welcome in the shaping of our society; the Right fears the joyous vitality of polyvocality.

Downer depicts the refusal of the Other to accept dictates from a Christian rump about our lives as silencing Christians because their views are not “politically correct.” (In fact, most are delighted for Christians to practise their faith as long as they cease to grant their beliefs the status of divine mandate over us.)

In words that would delight Orban, Greg Sheridan celebrated the power of the strong nation, apparently describing national weakness as “provocative.” He located that strength in Christianity with Western Civilisation its treasured child. Liberalism, he apparently observed, “goes ‘crazy’ without its roots.”

Presumably that craziness is manifest in another of his targets at the event: the “green madness” which is the “new religion” taught in schools.

The account of the event has Sheridan criticise the EU’s ability to restrict whether “idea a or b” is more sympathetic to a nation. This account of Sheridan’s contribution does not mention which Orban-style authoritarian oppression objected to by the EU ought to have been allowed.

Former Israeli general Yosef Kuperwasser appeared to summarise the event’s theme in describing the nation state as a political entity that serves the “common good.” He characterises that as a people united by a “common land, a common culture and a common language.” He depicts the enemies of this “national idea” as both “globalization, but also Islamism.” In a warning that is core to Orbanism, he describes the threat of Islamisation of Europe, with those who aim to Islamise the world treating people who reject nationalism as “useful idiots.” Kuperwasser’s sentiments echo the violent ultranationalists in Netanyahu’s government in Israel.

Ron De Santis, presidential hopeful and Florida governor has made importing Orban’s fascistic politics into America his modus operandi. The broader influence of the European “traditionalists” has been intermingling with the American Christian Nationalist Right for years.

Nostalgia for past greatness and a mythical racial monoculture are imposing challenges on national and global politics. Australia is less damaged by this culture war so far: the US and UK are savaged by the impact.

We need to be watching the Australian names that embrace the Orban illiberal war on modernity: Quadrant, the Australian conservative journal, has been firmly entrenched within the Orban circuit. Former Quadrant editor and contributor, Brit John O’Sullivan is also the president of the Danube Institute. Reverend Peter Kurti from the Centre for Independent Studies and Notre Dame university is one who speaks in Hungary, listed with a who’s who of the Radical Right. He depicts “tolerance” as a tyrannous threat to religious liberty. Andrew Cooper also pays homage in Budapest. He co-founded Australia’s offshoot of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a body at the heart of Trumpist politics. Scott Morrison is connected through the IDU. Alexander Downer, Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Brian Loughnane (Peta Credlin’s husband), Mark Higgie and Greg Sheridan are there.

The fact that our emeritus politicians, Trumpist activists and strategists are joined by one of our most senior Murdoch journalists in this circuit ought to be deeply concerning. Surely this should be high on the list of points to be tackled by a Murdoch Royal Commission.


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Prison hulks and river blades: fortress building in the climate-catastrophe era

Britain has commissioned a prison hulk to house immigrants, in a cruel re-enactment of history. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has implemented two strategies to stop immigrants crossing the Rio Grande into America: one is a floating barrier with razor wire and rolling motion that pulls people under the water; the other is an apparent order to push people into the river, including mothers holding small children.

One horrifying aspect for an Australian audience reading these developments is that we have been part of the inspiration for their increasingly horrifying treatment of the displaced.

Tony Abbott and Alexander Downer have both been consulting with the British about the best way to “deter” asylum seekers arriving by boat. The UK parliament has enough grotesque bigoted figures of its own to blame for the new Illegal Migration bill and ship “solution” to deterrence for us to blame Abbott and Downer for this idea. Both Abbott and Downer have also been participating in Western chauvinist Orban’s speaking circuit which fosters anti-immigrant extremism.

Our approach to migration is complex. Big Business supports it and wants high migration. Australia’s Coalition immigration regime barely fought slave labour conditions for temporary workers while turning all aggression against asylum seekers as political theatre.

America has always counted on a transitory population from over its southern border to keep labour and food prices low. The decision to aim to make the border impenetrable has had the predictable effect of causing people to try to stay on the American side of the border to send money home to family struggling to survive. Numbers approaching the border for safety have also been increasing with violence – much caused by American policy – and climate crisis desperation forcing people from Central America out of their home countries.

President Trump’s early telephone call with then PM Malcolm Turnbull was a shameful one. Trump exclaimed with admiration that “You are worse than I am,” when it came to treatment of those legally claiming asylum. Trump’s administration, led on this front by the white supremacist figure of Steven Miller, took our example and intensified the misery. Children around America remain lost to their parents after the brutal years when babies were literally snatched from their mothers’ arms to punish them for the “crime” of seeking safe haven. Now a Trump advisor on strategy is working for the Texas Governor, implementing cruelties that the federal administrative state blocked him from deploying.

Australia’s persecution of the few of the world’s displaced who reach us by irregular means continues in a less overt fashion. The nightmare we created in PNG continues. Our immigration department is stripped of institutional knowledge because the nation-building public servants left during the grim reign of the customs official incompetents and bullies. The new appointments under Minister Andrew Giles are slow to acquire expertise and perhaps still harnessed by a departmental leadership that shared the Coalition’s Western chauvinism. The reunion with vulnerable families will move at glacial pace for that percentage eventually being granted visas.

The surge in Middle Eastern and African displacement reached crescendo in 2015. Part of this was created by Western and allegedly Russian military interventions, recent and past. This was also the year that Trump announced his presidential campaign, launching it with demonisation of immigrants.

Part of the surge in numbers was the beginning of the climate crisis’s mass displacement. Syria’s internal crisis, for example, was in part fuelled by young people flooding to the city for opportunity after crippling climatic conditions killed the crops.

The resultant paranoia in Western nations drove a surge in white supremacist and Neo Nazi support. Disinformation made people in distant villages of Wales who’d not seen a refugee themselves believe they were about to be flooded with new and unfamiliar people. The same disinformation, allegedly promoted by Russian propaganda, led people to believe that these asylum seekers were a threat to Western safety, as terrorists or rapists.

Former conservative governments were already being radicalised by “think tanks” and a new generation of politician who had been honed by Dark Money’s strategies into an anti-democratic force.

Some Right-Wing politicians still genuinely believe that the climate catastrophe is a hoax, just as asylum seekers must be country shopping grifters and that our nations must be White. Others believe that both problems are insoluble, particularly by a party that doesn’t believe in government.

This problem is compounded by the fact that those displaced by the climate catastrophe are still denied refugee status.

Our Centrist parties speak the language of climate action, but as we see in Australia and America, their will to make functional change does not match the rhetoric. This defeatism is paired with state Labor governments joining in the war against protesters rather than polluters.

The prison hulks for asylum seekers in Britain together with Texas at the vanguard of American cruelty are the other face of that defeatism.

Any data-based government knows that millions will be displaced by the climate crisis in the coming decades. Beyond that, the numbers seeking safety will be far greater. Most will be internally displaced or move into their poor neighbour states. Some will make it to the wealthier world for rescue.

Rather than act in unity to work to cap the temperature rise and limit the catastrophes of famine, drought, floods, war and disease, governments are turning their states into fortresses at monumental expense. India and Eastern Europe are building literal fences against threatened regions. Australia has coast guard and naval vessels poised to chase off any making the attempt.

Britain and Texas are modelling the next grotesque step as the numbers rise: the cruelty shatters every claim we have to be ethical nations. We fail in the duty to stop our overwhelming contribution to the world’s carbon overload, and we turn brutal in our efforts to punish those displaced, substantially, by our acts.

Australia forged the cruel path of refugee torture combined with laughter at the fate of our climate-threatened neighbours. We must decide now if that is who we continue to be.

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations


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Racism, the ‘No’ campaign and the Americanisation of Australian politics

There may be some Coalition politicians and Murdoch employees who are motivated by genuine racism to oppose the Voice to Parliament. Some might believe First Nations Australians are unworthy. Some probably believe in “reverse racism.” That, of course, is the belief that there is a correct direction for racism to travel.

Some undoubtedly believe in a myopic fashion that there is no inherent disadvantage to being indigenous in settler-colonial nations. There is endless research to establish how historical decisions and policy entrench disadvantage and foster social ills; it is not, as some Coalition politicians might argue, the result of a “bad” nature.

For many more Coalition politicians, however, one presumes the decision to oppose the Voice is strategic. They don’t care who is hurt in the process, just as they didn’t care about the escalated persecution that accompanied the plebiscite on marriage equality.

The Coalition and media friends are using the Voice (just as they used refugees) as an implicitly racist tool to galvanise their own vote, but more importantly to divide the electorate. It is part of our conscious echoing of the CRT argument that is burning through America, fighting acknowledgement of systemic disadvantage in that country.

CRT is “critical race theory.” This is a university law school discipline that examines the elements of the racist past that continue in current institutional structures. A Right-wing agitator, Christopher Rufo, stole this term for school studies to allow “conservative” parents to fight any attempt to teach a less bowdlerised view of history and society.

As is standard practice, Sky Australia, The Spectator and other radicalising organs borrowed the American CRT gambit for use in Australia. It can be deeply uncomfortable for Australians brought up on comforting patriotic myths to have their offspring bring home age-appropriate stories of the Killing Times and Blackbirding (sugar slavery). It is shocking to read the ghastly story of cold-blooded massacres of our First Nations people: it is estimated that we killed in various ways around 90% of the Aboriginal people here when colonisation began. It is chilling to envision Australians dropping kidnapped and enslaved Pacific Islanders in the ocean rather than bothering to return them home. Their unmarked graves are strewn across our sugar plantations, with 30% killed by the brutal conditions.

Forgetting can be even more crucial than remembering in the forging of a patriotic narrative.

Deploying race divisions has been crucial to American politics. White southerners were reconciled to the appalling conditions they were granted by the plantation-owning class by the certainty that the worst of them was better than the best Black man. The workers have been divided and disempowered by the resentment fostered between White and “Coloured” workers.

Such was the disgust for Black people that when legal changes forced the desegregation of public swimming pools built during the public works era of the New Deal, communities shut them down for years. They denied themselves the use of these communal facilities rather than share them with Black townsfolk. This dynamic continues in Republican state logic. Most Republican states refused federal money to grant the poorest Whites medical cover because it would aid Black people too.

America’s winner-takes-all capitalism fosters a “myth of scarcity.” This in turn promotes a resentful, zero-sum psychology where another group’s progress is “our loss.”

Australia’s economic model was not one driven by this model of capitalism. Our labour shortages made for a strong class of worker who achieved notable rights. We were considered a labour model in the early decades of the 20th century to the distress of capitalists who planned fascist revolutions. Our neoliberalism saw a less toxic negotiation between capital, state and worker.

In 1975, however, Milton Friedman brought his American winner-takes-all neoliberalism to Australia. His acolytes, like Peter Costello, founded “think tanks” including the HR Nicholls Society to destroy the strength of the Australian worker. The IPA followed them, turning from promoting Australian neoliberalism – Economic Rationalism – to the ultra-free market neoliberalism that so excited America’s richest.

Our society now displays the damage caused by decades of cynical “trickle down” economics and the crippling of worker strength. Just as in America, our chasm between rich and poor is at historic levels. Wealth is now generational, with the American model and our copycat version having almost destroyed aspirational dreams.

While the Labor Party continues to govern more for the nation, it has still embraced the truisms of this debunked economic model. The Coalition, by contrast, governs for the richest. This is the reason that it also copies the Republicans’ culture war battles, aiming to win a majority and government with grievance rather than sound policy.

Dahlia Lithwick described America’s Republican voters thus recently: the “majority of White Americans continue to vote against interest for parties and ideologies that directly contribute to their economic decline.” This is the position for most Coalition voters in Australia. As in America, the strategists are activating racism to promote this grievance.

The Voice to Parliament is not, as they lie, a “third chamber” of parliament or any other such threat to equality. It is literally nothing more than an advisory body to try to ensure that the best policy is deployed to reverse the deep disadvantage faced by First Nations people. It is placed in the constitution to ensure that cynical governments in the future cannot abandon it. The design of the body itself will be built by parliamentary consultation with First Nation representatives.

Some who reject the Voice do so because they believe it to be a sop. The depiction of it as a threat to land ownership is a pathetic and dangerous slander: it is, however, a handy distraction from the prospect of a wealth tax that could raise $29 billion a year.

The idea that society is a zero-sum enterprise where anything gained by anyone else is stolen from you is a distortion of fact and a miserable basis for community. We must not let a wealthy, self-interested elite divide us with racist lies to ensure their own continued grasp on our common wealth.

This essay was first published in Pearls and Irritations.


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Lazy language damages our present and risks our future

Labels have power. They shape the way we know the world. They allow people to see actions with greater clarity or distort our understanding to make things unrecognisable.

When war involves “collateral damage,” the label strips the incident of shredded flesh and wailing orphans. By labelling the near elimination of abortion access a Pro Life position, conservatives elide the dramatic and deadly impact on lives caused by the denial of reproductive justice. Calling it a “state sanctioned forced birth” position recasts the nature of women’s experience in Republican America.

When Scott Morrison demanded that refugees exercising their legal right to seek asylum were relabelled “illegal maritime arrivals,” it became easier to persecute people fleeing hell without public horror.

By depicting welfare recipients as fraudsters, Alan Tudge escalated the war on those who experience periods of struggle. And Robodebt showed how labels can even hide things from us. The Saturday Paper’s special podcast series “Inside Robodebt” illustrates that one of the key factors delayed recognition of the scandal emerging is that the illegal debt averaging process didn’t have a name.

“Inside Robodebt” also highlights that it was not journalists, by and large, who detected the program’s criminal disgrace. It was a loose group including a lecturer and Twitter commentators. No wonder the Coalition’s friends love to apply disparaging labels to their Twitter critics, conflating commentators’ valid critiques of a scandalous decade with the troll army’s vile bullying.

Right wing politicians and commentators have an additional label in their arsenal at the moment to discredit every person or idea that doesn’t suit their agenda. By calling something “woke,” it ceases to be a matter of morality or compassion or sound policy or good manners. It becomes something – or someone – to be derided and despised.

We deny ourselves the ability to choose our present circumstances and shape our future if we allow the lazy application of labels.

Mainstream journalists were supine in their acceptance and repetition of the politicians’ disgraceful mislabelling of vulnerable people during the Coalition decade. The public absorbed the idea that people could be “illegal,” that fake debts made ordinary Australians into criminals. Sometimes journalists were rushed and forced to fill pages with tweaked press releases. Sometimes, however, journalists were cynics ensuring access and front page leaks by playing the politicians’ games.

The most likely news source to counter the government’s narrative was the ABC, but that has been abused largely into complicity. Any ABC efforts to challenge and expose malfeasance continues to be discredited by the wholesale framing of the organisation as “woke” or “socialist” by the Coalition and the corporate media. Any exposé coming from it is thus made irrelevant.

Some on the Labor side had accepted the Coalition’s labels as valid and echoed the framing. Others gave up trying to frame the debate more accurately and tried to fight the battle along lines drawn up by the power players of the narrative.

Journalists have been the gatekeepers by which we understand the civic space. Their lazy acceptance of labels helps perpetuate distortions that damage individuals and society. We need journalists who understand that they share the blame with politicians and public servants for making the Coalition’s decade of shame possible. Without critical thinking skills, journalists betray the muckraking and investigative stars of their profession’s history; otherwise they can be much better paid as the spin doctors many seem content to ape.

The news media has struggled to describe the events of this era. Part of the problem is that they fail to appreciate the degree to which the Right is radicalising, bogged down in normalcy bias. Part is that the news sector bends excessively towards being balanced between positions: when the Right’s position is so extreme that to describe it aptly sounds like a judgement, the decision-makers struggle to cope with the new reality.

We need to understand our political labels at a moment when the Right is embracing ever more oppressive political ploys internationally. Robert Reich noted that American newspapers are finally beginning to label presidential contender Trump’s messaging as “authoritarian.” He spells out clearly, however, that it is technically better understood as “fascist.” Trump’s Republican Party is a ghoulish parody of its grand old past.

None of this is accidental. The cynical Americanised ultra free market Right does not believe in government’s role. It is funded and galvanised by the needs of the plutocrats: low tax and ever fewer protections – labelled “regulation”- to stifle their ultimate freedom to exploit. The same kind of cynicism has driven the Right in America to fight, since the Civil Rights era, to reverse the progress that withdrew the barriers to equality for persecuted and disempowered groups. The strategies to undo America’s democratic structures have been in construction at least as long.

Much of the plutocrats’ Dark Money has gone to strategists and spin doctors. The same ethics-free intent to achieve their goals at any cost pervades their political representatives. Robodebt’s egregious fraud perpetrated against citizens is the most striking Australian example; media advisor Rachelle Miller has revealed Alan Tudge’s spin strategies. When Scott Morrison took over immigration, he employed 66 spin doctors compared to PM Tony Abbott’s 39: “on water” secrecy and propaganda was costing us $8 million a year.

Journalists have been far too ready not to question their role in spreading this strategic toxic spin. In fact, they use that spread as the basis for further stories about artificial “controversies.”

Structural politics is illustrative of these orchestrated drifts. It only takes a brief look at the names of Australia’s two major parties to see how political labels can ossify, representing the history rather than the ideology of a party. Labor does not represent the labour movement that was its original constituency. The Liberal Party is not liberal, but neither is it conservative. The Liberal politicians who merited those labels have largely left in disgust at what the party has become. The rump is a radicalised Right mimicking the extremists dominating the Republican Party.

Parties represent a loose coalition of ideologies and goals aiming to contain personalities, priorities and the tactical decisions that might achieve them. Since John Howard’s era, Australians have seen how much these can change a party. Dragging the label “conservative” with them, the Right now depicts centrist policy as “woke” and “socialist” in a long Americanisation of the more worker-friendly Australian social contract.

The linear continuum by which we have attempted to understand our politics – from Left to Right – has always been an artificial construct too.

The rightly contested horseshoe theory shallowly suggests that the political extremes of communism and fascism are closer to each other than to liberalism. Kathleen Belew replaces that with the metaphor of a circle. She described the “crunchy to alt-right pipeline” where, since the 1970s, hippies and white supremacists bonded over such anti-government fights as the fluoridation of water.

The Red Brown alliance is a late soviet description of a much older phenomenon – the rough cooperation of communists and fascists in joint, nationalist loathing of liberal elites. Third Reich Nazis were often both “green” and yoga lovers.

These connections do not reflect true sympathies, but they do underscore the fact that we all have different concerns activated at key moments.

In the era of permacrisis, however, even the old approximations are crumbling.

Over covid, the far right exercised its usual cunning in coopting the conspiracy theorists emerging around an internet joke: QAnon. It also drew on the deep resentment that came from policies poorly explained or executed that harmed the precariat while the billionaires reaped massive profit. Belew’s “crunchies” (hippies) were absorbed over again into the White supremacist sphere in their antagonism to Big Pharma and a fear of government’s oppressive tendencies. In Australia, our Pastel QAnon yoga influencers and antivaxx mums joined the far right in their Convoy to Canberra in a complicated conspiracy smoothie.

QAnon has now seeped into the radicalised right space intermingled with Pentecostal cultish beliefs. These underly the application of the term “groomer” to anyone defending LGBTQIA+ existence on social media as a side note to the exterminationist rhetoric.

Online, influential men considered to be of the Left drifted towards the Right, often driven by resentment towards the age of consequences, more commonly labelled Cancel Culture. Their preeminence as mostly White men has been challenged by the demands that they share the microphone with minority voices. Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, for example, suddenly started finding a better home on Fox News than subversive left-leaning platforms. The dirtbag Left and the Alt-Right (a label meant to elide the movement’s white supremacist core) share an ironic and provocative aesthetic that has helped draw these figures together in shared disdain for the prissy judgement of the bougie “woke.”

Younger American “conservatives” – many of them on the lucrative gravy train where Dark Money donations fund their early career – have turned old Soviet Nazbol politics into the new Nat Con movement. National Conservatism feigns support for the battler in a way that looks vaguely leftist while continuing the persecution of the most vulnerable combined with a “traditionalist” persecution of minorities for “patriotic” redemption. These elite youth frame an anti-American “elite” as an existential threat: their prestigious university education is not the same as the university education that they define as “woke” poison.

Presidential contender Robert Kennedy uses similar faux-egalitarian talking points to signal himself as meriting the destiny of a “Kennedy” while actively working with his tech bro plutocrat funders and spreading disinformation, labelling it “free speech.” He has now said that the Covid19 virus was ethnically targeted to protect Jewish and Chinese people.

These shifts in allegiance make pinning down “Left” or “Right,” “centrist” or “conservative” outrageously challenging. Journalists of integrity can be forgiven for missing the seriousness of the trajectory.

Such mislabelling normalises the dragging of “conservative” politics ever further towards fascist politics; it serves the far right by presenting their grotesque policies as a facet of business as usual rather than a radical change. Ignoring the trajectory outside their information bubble meant that most Americans missed the indicators leading to insurrectionist attack on the Capitol on 6 Jan 2021. Normalcy bias means journalists continued to quote Republican politicians reframing it as a normal tourist visit.

Climate scientists have struggled for decades to frame their messaging of the looming – potentially existential – crisis. Scientific communication that always conveys the possibility of new discoveries has been exaggerated to imply doubt about predictions. The profession of creating doubt to prevent regulation of industry was deployed by tobacco sector: the same strategies, and even the same people, translated into the fossil fuel sector’s destruction of our sense of a shared knowledge base.

At the end of the Obama era, those watching knew how fragile America’s democratic structure was, but few imagined the brink towards which the Republican Party could drive their nation in a single presidential term. It took one shameless conman to achieve it.

Australia’s Coalition is similarly disdainful of their opposition’s right to govern. They too showed that they had ceased to believe in the validity of the democratic contest over the last decade.

Australia is at risk of the Coalition finding that charismatic conman who will allow it to destroy the reign of the despised “woke” urban electorates. Just as so much of their agenda and strategy is defined by the Republican machine, their policy will likely come after the rights and freedoms that their mentors are destroying in the USA.

If journalists can’t label the moment in its true seriousness, we can’t expect the distracted public to recognise it.


A much shorter version of this was published in Pearls and Irritations as An American system of “state sanctioned forced births”?


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Panti Bliss and the war on drag and trans existence

One of the highlights of recent travel was seeing the Queen of Ireland, Panti Bliss, perform at the Soho Theatre. This esteemed drag performer was pushed to the fore of Ireland’s 2015 marriage equality campaign and came to lead it to its successful vote.

Rory O’Neill, her creator, describes her as a “giant cartoon woman,” but her most recent performance is less “transgressive, punk underground” Jessica Rabbit and more Grande Dame. Panti is the glamorous aunt you wish you had.

The story that unfolds over the “If these wigs could talk” show is brilliantly crafted. It is a stand-up routine and monologue that makes the audience fall in love with Panti before sharing what it was like to grow up illegally gay in Ireland, and so much more that you must experience without spoilers.

O’Neill began his adult life in art school, but Panti became his living, breathing, evolving work of art. Far more influenced by the vaudeville spirit of British drag and the oral tradition of Irish drag than the glamorous and polished version commonly seen from the USA, Panti has a long history of outrageousness. O’Neill’s creation has also done more than most of her compatriots to foster the embrace of LGBTQAI+ existence in Ireland. Her Noble Call at the Abbey Theatre is one of her most, and justly, famous contributions.

In the documentary about Panti, Queen of Ireland, O’Neill describes the marriage equality campaign as the final battle for equality even though, at the time, he felt uncertain that the Queer world needed this badge of bourgeois normality. What O’Neill knew is that the worst brute could marry, but somehow Queer people were not considered worthy.

It is deeply frustrating that this recent achievement of legal equality in 2015 in Ireland and the USA, and 2017 in Australia, is not the final battle after all. Queer people are once more at the barricades – if they are paying attention – as the Christofascists emanating out of America and Europe lead the battle to erase LGBTQIA+ existence.

The ultraconservatives made it clear at the time that the sky would fall if access to marriage was broadened to same-sex couples. In fact, the sky remained in place, but the billionaire-funded groups that mobilised against extending access to marriage then are now funding the fight to ensure only “traditional” gender and sexuality are legal.

Their initial targets are an intentional conflation of two different categories of people: drag performers and trans people.

Trans people are their gender. Drag, by contrast, is a performance art. In mainstream representation it is largely carried out by cis gay men, but many drag performers and traditions are trans. Performative gender such as drag is at least as old as the theatre itself. And trans existence pervades history and societies; scientific research is illustrating that gender is much more complex than conservative faux-science likes to pretend.

Drag, however, can be outrageous and sexy. Trans people are a tiny minority and can be very visible making them an easy target for cowards. Fewer people know a trans person than know lesbian and gay people. All of these factors enable propaganda manipulating confusion to find fertile soil. Cis people, firmly embedded in their birth-allocated sex, can find it impossible to understand gender dysphoria.

This makes it easy for Christofascists to combine these two categories with all the lies and myths that were told to keep gay men persecuted. None of these categories are dangerous to women or children. Groomers and pedophiles are found in churches, scouts and youth groups, not at drag story hour. The primary threat to women, children – and trans people – remains bad cis men.

Australia has not fully descended into the US attack on LGBTQIA+ people broadly and the UK’s persecution of trans people. The fact that Neo Nazis have joined the women pretending to support women by demonising another vulnerable group alienates most Australians from this toxic bigotry. We cannot, however, be complacent: both Media Watch and 4 Corners recently platformed people of suspect reputation.

The right is more cunning than the centre and left. It sees that history is bending towards diversity and inclusion; it’s determined to fight that development with every word, act and dollar. It coopts the language of rights while aiming to rob everyone except themselves of rights. It exploits the media’s attempts to play fair and balanced by promoting disinformation-heavy bigotry and exterminationism as just another perspective.

Organisations in Australia illustrate the international blurring of goals in their efforts to drive us towards ultra-conservative social positions. The Australian Marriage Alliance body converted its pre 2017 focus on defeating marriage equality to its new manifestation – Binary Australia – which campaigns against any blurring of strict male and female categories.

Citizen Go has recently begun to include Australia in its global far right campaigns. It is a Spanish ultra-conservative Christian platform designed to counter progressive petition sites like Avaaz, or Get Up. Its funding and board boast a grim roster of figures. Its site shows that it is combining campaigns against the “UN’s LGBT agenda” with fighting against the Voice to Parliament (alongside other ultra-conservative Christian bodies).

Far right groups are eager to use unsuspecting women as gateways to their brutally patriarchist ideology to broaden support. We saw women drawn into the space over covid, combining concern about pandemic health measures with conspiracy stories of tunnels full of abducted children being farmed for hormones. These issues have been subsumed into a campaign based on disinformation about trans healthcare. These women often do not realise that their own human equality and independence is threatened by these far-right fellow travellers.

In looking back at the Irish marriage equality debate, Rory O’Neill joked that he hoped Queer people “don’t end up becoming as boring as everybody else.” The frightening developments that dominate the discussion now make that moment seem a golden age of acceptance. Panti Bliss is asking you not to allow these forces to win, driving us back into the dark ages of persecution of LGBTQIA+ people.

It’s now up to the rest of us to become radical, resistant and irritating. Don’t let the Christofascists drive Queer people back towards the disdained fringe, to exile, to suicide. Whether you are standing up for people’s right to live their gender or embrace their art, you need to be out there standing against the threat alongside those under attack.


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New coal mines and protests crushed: is Labor resigned to doom?

It is more shocking watching Labor governments implement draconian anti-protest measures than it is the right wing parties. The latter are by definition opposed to labour’s efforts to achieve a less-exploited life for the average citizen.

The workers that the labour parties nominally represent won a fairer life by the protests that the leaders are now banning. No wage labourer would have a 40 hour week, or a weekend, if the workers’ interventions had been forced to avoid “intentionally or recklessly” obstructing the “free passage of a public place.”

This wording from South Australian Premier Malinauskas’s rushed anti-protest bill is consonant with the work of governments around the anglosphere. In the hours leading up to the coronation in London for example, republican protesters were rounded up and arrested to avoid the spectacle of people in yellow t-shirts peacefully holding yellow signs along the procession route. The new measures were described as unnecessary and “deeply troubling” by the UN. King Charles III signed the anti-protest bill into law in the days before his coronation.

In America, Republican politicians are promoting the ability to shoot or drive into protesters.

For us, it is more often climate protests that promote this kind of overweening law that would hide protesters in dark alleyways where their message will not be seen.

Protests must disrupt.

The most important rights and protections are usually gained by highly inconvenient measures to disturb the thinking of those who accept the status quo. Women’s right to vote was won only after a number of troublesome and painful protests forced male politicians to cease withholding that civic engagement from half the population.

Conservative governments are by definition less likely to accede to change or to civil rights protests. Right wing politics that have supplanted the old conservatism are more authoritarian: reminders of the suffering of the masses are an inconvenience to executing the wishes of the powerful. It is only the bravest who continue to protest Putin’s invasion of Ukraine after the brutal crackdown on early protesters. Alexei Navalny’s fate shows what awaits those who contest kleptocrats’ extreme corruption.

Governments that represent the more progressive or labour movements seem at the surface level to be less compatible with protest-crushing legislation or draconian police intervention. They also mouth their acceptance of the fact that climate change is a dire threat to our continued survival.

It was a climate protest that provoked the South Australian rushed change to the law. This came just after an obsequious statement from the South Australian Labor minister for energy and mining made the rounds: “We are thankful you are here. We are happy to a be recipient of APPEA’s [Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association] largesse in the form of coming here more often…The South Australian government is at your disposal, we are here to help and we are here to offer you a pathway to the future,” Tony Koutsantonis said.

Why relatively progressive governments continue to introduce new coal mines, or waste time and money with the carbon capture and storage distraction is difficult to know for sure. There is certainly the pressure from donors to consider. Whether they also feel pressure from unions to slow the shift from fossil fuel extraction is worth asking. Australia’s Labor parties have no doubt learnt, if not over-learnt, the lesson from the mining sector which spent $22 million on antagonistic advertising to punish PM Kevin Rudd for his attempt to introduce a mining tax.

It is also possible to argue that Australia’s government remains an outreach division of the fossil fuel sector. All the tens of billions of profit made by fossil fuel companies netted Australia almost no tax. In one example, they paid $30 dollars in tax in 2020-21 on $164 billion in profits. In return, the taxpayer gifts these same companies, currently, $11 billion a year in subsidies. And the Albanese government’s continuation of the carbon credit program, barely changed from the Coalition’s scam model, is the only way that these companies are promising to cut emissions. The carbon trading program is, as Nick Feik describes it, a “frictionless profit machine” pervaded with senior fossil fuel figures, based on “phantom” credits as well as dubious-quality offset actions. The program is “state-sponsored greenwashing.”

It is possible that centrist political parties have also foreclosed the possibility that humanity can check the race to our destruction. It is easy to see why. The idea that Russian silovarchs and Saudi princes can work together with the corporatocracy of the (dis)United States seems a slim hope sinking into the rising seas. Competition for resources threatens climate-harming war. India and Pakistan, for example, depend on the meltwater of Himalayan glaciers for the survival of a billion people; the droughts that will supersede floods portend further conflict. Those battles, like the Ukraine invasion, will cost tonnes of carbon as well as human misery.

Our government might feel trapped in a politics shaped by short-term problems and solutions, and that economies and energy supplies secured in old-school ways are the price to be paid for reelection. Despair at the prospect of a world that looks to be fracturing rather than uniting to limit the crisis might reinforce this short-term thinking.

If that is a factor driving the centre/left parties, we are in deep trouble.

We expect the radicalising right to have abandoned the well-being of the masses now, let alone into the future. Their military-industrial complex will sell nations and individuals weapons to protect resources from those desperate for survival. Late stage capitalism’s winners are buying their bolt-holes and calculating which people they’ll take to their luxury escape or doomsday bunker.

If the parties that claim to represent the people have given up in despair at the thought of doing better than mouthing platitudes and performative gestures, we have no chance of limiting the climb of temperatures in the decades to come. This matters: it is increasingly clear that every fraction of a degree we can prevent the temperature rising is a whole swathe of crises prevented.

Already our children are suffering. Black Summer babies were born premature, some with blackened placentas. Young children who breathed the worst that summer have damaged lungs and require constant medication. Children from flood and bushfire zones continue to live in emergency accommodation, with the all the disturbance that means. Trauma impacts are expected to require help for five years.

This abdication of ambition would make a likely motivation for Labor governments to join right wing parties in cracking down on protest. As the crisis worsens, so will public distress. Failure to act on pain over months of bushfire smoke in city air or rising food prices will push people onto the streets as the Black Summer bushfires did. Catastrophe-driven demands on our nations’ budgets will eat away at the services that governments provide.

Police are ill-equipped to manage the stresses they already face: increasingly we leave them to deal with the misery, distress and violence that is the end result of inadequate infrastructure and services. Police are militarising making them even less appropriate to deal with social crises and the public’s distress. These problems raise the threat from forces that have had little tolerance for those who dissent in an inconvenient fashion.

Labor parties must remember that the threat of community independent candidates will increase for ALP candidates if they continue to stonewall the majority of their voters. We voters need to be on the streets – and inconveniently so – to make sure the government knows this.

It is your children and grandchildren who will face the full catastrophe – and the crackdown if they protest the nightmare that looms.


A briefer version of this was first published in Pearls and Irritations as Centrist parties crush dissent, foreclose on race to avoid extinction


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Dan Andrews – and Murdoch crying wolf

Rupert Murdoch has done incalculable harm to the democratic experiment throughout the AUKUS nations and beyond. In Victoria, his propaganda campaigns have made him the magnate who cried wolf. The state’s integrity infrastructure is in perilous condition but Newscorp’s constant invective against Labor governments, and Premier Dan Andrew’s government in particular, has made it more difficult to fix.

In the recent spate of Australian elections, it appears that extravagant campaigns by Murdoch media were having diminished impact on the centre/left vote. Scott Morrison’s government received the thumping it had earned. Dan Andrews’ resounding win and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s loss were the opposite of the outcomes Murdoch’s tools had fought to achieve.

Since, News Corp editors have not steered their platforms away from the hysteria that pervades their framing of news stories and opinion pages. The Voice to Parliament, for example, continues to receive breathless, distorted coverage aiming to deny Prime Minister Albanese the “win.”

For Victoria, the Murdoch news has become particularly toxic. The constant demonising of the Andrews’ government pandemic management was out of step with majority opinion and Murdoch’s fanning up of dissent made Victorians’ lives harder over those long months of lockdowns. The attacks on Dan Andrews in the lead-up to the November election reminded the radicalised right base of how much they loathed Andrews, but reinforced the majority’s utter disdain for Murdoch and his Dog Line of brimstone-breathing pundits.

The Victorian Liberal Party – the local political arm of the Murdoch project – has collapsed into chaos. Their echoes of News Corp messaging are treated with equal disdain. Radical right figures spouting Murdoch-ready messaging seem unelectable in this relatively progressive state; the more moderate old guard is struggling to keep them from destroying the edifice.

The media hysteria that has distorted every act by the Andrews government over the 2020s has now had the unexpected effect of inoculating that government from effective condemnation for genuine problems.

Despite mounting pressure over the first quarter of 2023 over integrity questions, Labor’s lead only appears to be growing, and Andrews’ personal approval has been barely touched. It remains to be seen whether IBAC’s special Daintree Report will have more of an impact. Victoria’s government integrity framework is in dire need of reform, but too many centre/left voters believe the news on the topic is just another Murdoch hit job.

The original strong design of the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) was nobbled by the Liberal government that implemented an anodyne version in 2011. The body was effectively designed to fail.

The model was improved in 2015 by the Andrews government broadening the definition of corruption to include misconduct in public office. Those reforms, however, were inadequate to allow it to do its job effectively. The situation has worsened since.

There are three main crises for IBAC. One is that it, like the Ombudsman, remains dramatically underfunded: this is a method that governments’ use to shackle bodies that monitor their performance.

The second is that its jurisdiction requires a criminal offence to be involved. This means that “grey corruption” of the kind discussed in the Daintree Report is not covered. The majority of Australians have come to believe that pork-barrelling and other ways of using taxpayer funds to achieve electoral advantage are indeed a form of corruption that must be addressed. This is in line with Transparency International’s benchmark definition of corruption.

The third is the secrecy with which IBAC is forced to operate. The purpose of an integrity body is to discover, investigate and expose corruption. Without public hearings and reports, its work is crippled.

IBAC can only conduct public hearings in “exceptional circumstances.” Integrity experts argue that the test should be that public hearings take place when it is in the public interest. It is crucial that politicians and public servants know that they are being scrutinised and will be held to account. Hearings are not begun lightly: they are instituted after lengthy, in-camera investigation.

The definition of “exceptional circumstances” is vague and invites well-funded subjects of inquiry to contest the designation through repeated court hearings. That process then gives the well-funded an advantage, seeing the details of the investigation being conducted.

Victorians were unable to know the findings of several secret IBAC investigations before the November election because of another defect in the body’s legislation: the process granting a form of natural justice to those who will have adverse findings from the investigation. Contrasted to the streamlined version in NSW, the Victorian process is much more onerous and can end in the courts, already bogged down by Covid19 pressures.

Problematic also are the centralisation of power in the Andrews government and the army of ministerial aides whose allegiance is to Andrews and the party rather than the public interest. The public service is discouraged from giving frank and fearless advice, experiencing harassment from ministerial aides.

We saw in the May 2022 federal election that the rule of law is important to Australians. The processes of government must be pressured towards integrity by appropriate adherence to norms, systems and by scrutiny. Not only is there the likelihood of poor decision-making and the waste of taxpayer money in the short-term, but also the risk of the degradation of democracy itself in a government antagonistic to the inherent competition. We must strengthen our systems to protect against future governments’ wrongdoing as much as current risks.

Pesutto’s Liberal opposition is a threadbare bunch. The fact that Pesutto was unable to distance the party from Moira Deeming’s extremism when announcing her ouster – including having been an office-bearer in an organisation fighting for complete abortion bans – reinforces that his relatively moderate faction is under siege. As such, they pose little threat to Labor in the medium term.

Both Murdoch and the Victorian Liberal opposition supported the extremist conspiracy networks emerging on Melbourne’s streets to brawl with police over the pandemic. The politicians’ and media’s overblown critiques of the Andrews’ government and its pandemic handling became blurred with frightening figures bringing gallows to “freedom” rallies.

A discredited media and opposition are a problem for Victoria’s democracy if they cannot hold the government to account when necessary. Dan Andrews and his government must not scoff at calls to strengthen integrity measures just because the opposition is weak. The state deserves a great deal better.


This was first published at Pearls and Irritations


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Dark Money funding Weaponised Unreality

Billionaires fund bodies with excellent PR strategies to ensure they achieve their goals. Amongst the strategies, “astroturf” organisations use good-sounding names to confuse us in a chaotic information moment. We need help to know which organisations are reliable and which aim to deceive and distort the debate.

The weaponised unreality – or alternative reality – in which the right finds itself immersed has not developed by chance. It is the project of decades of constant work, and billions of dollars. Social media sprays it around the globe, now out of the control of the people who funded and designed the strategies.

The concept of “marketing doubt” was honed by the tobacco lobby from the late 1960s, deferring action on the science that had proved smoking was a deadly risk. Muddying the debate was enough to prevent legislators setting restrictions and courts imposing damages. It is estimated that, in America alone, 16 million people died from tobacco use over that period.

The fossil fuel sector initially pursued research into diversifying energy sources once the threat from excess carbon in the atmosphere became reasonably clear in the late 70s. In the 80s, when the sector decided this was too costly, they adopted the tobacco sector’s propaganda plan. Many of the same people transferred and refined the skills to delay action, forging what is now the climate emergency.

Now institutions like Fox News and Sky, together with their trashier and more radical imitators, fan up outrage about M&M spokescandies or an attack on apparently-beloved gas cooktops. Anyone arguing anything other than the current radicalised right orthodoxy is a “woke” and existential threat. More dangerously, any behaviour that doesn’t reconcile with patriarchal “traditional” sexuality is framed not merely as woke but as an existential threat to the nation.

In between effectively banning abortion and making it possible to take trans youth from supportive families, Florida governor Ron DeSantis has declared war on the Disney corporation threatening to build a prison on its doorstep to punish it for the mildest of resistance to his persecution of LGBTQI+ people.

Realist donors and strategists in America have begun to baulk at the culture war battles* that are alienating the majority of voters – not to mention impinging on the free market. Over decades they fought to have tax and regulations cut, knowing it would harm the mass of voters. Distractions were devised to immerse voters’ identities in cultural campaigns in order to wield enough votes to pursue the goals. For instance, conservatives learnt to believe utterly in their God-given duty to burn fossil fuels.

Now the clear-eyed see the chaos that is the result.

The disinformation strategies began to develop in force with Anthony Fisher’s “think” tanks that drove the harsh neoliberal ideologies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. These propagandist bodies devised plans to spread the plutocrats’ wish-list as though it was an orthodox and widespread academic argument. The most direct offshoot of his project is now the Atlas Network with over 500 interlinked bodies worldwide, including the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

The billionaire-enabled “think” tanks funded chairs and departments in universities that would give credibility to their ideology. They provided a gush of money to young “conservatives” who would pursue the goal of turning the law and politics towards free market goals, with schools and associations designed to mentor their progress in the professions. Their conservative social ideas became entangled in this ultra free market political economy.

The “think” tanks’ lobbyists directly targeted politicians. Conferences and speaking tours brought the acolytes together. The tanks and donors funded journals and “news” organisations. They organised the flooding of newspapers and journals with columns to have the message emerge from many voices.

One strategy that has been particularly powerful in confusing the media and politicians is the founding of a metastasising cohort of front organisations. These spread the messages that serve the donors’ interests, making it sound like there is a broad call for their policies.

The groups have different models. Some are offshoots of the original “think” tanks. Others are directed at the average punter, faking “grass roots” support for policies ultimately aimed to benefit the wealthy: thus the name “astroturfing” – fake grass roots. And they have, to borrow satirist’s Bird and Fortune’s 2008 financial sector joke, “good names.”

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) sounds like a “good” institution at first blush. In fact, it is a source of virulent anti-immigrant propaganda founded by eugenicist John Tanton. One would sound reasonable quoting The National Policy Institute if the audience was not aware it was a white supremacist organisation. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sounds reputable. Instead it is a factory churning out boilerplate oppressive laws for state Congresses’ radical right Republicans to table. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the real deal. The fossil fuel lobby created the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) to confuse audiences encountering their disinformation.

Other bodies have transformed in recent years. The Claremont Institute was a standard very conservative body funding research. In the last few years it has become a home of white supremacist talking points, with one of its senior members devising Trump’s election stealing playbook.

This disinformation is being promoted in an age suffering from a depleted news media. Its rushed and often inexperienced reporters cannot tell the difference between, say, Jewish peak bodies such as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and an aspirant with a name designed to mimic their status. The Australian Jewish Association, which sounds reputable, is rather described as a “far-right, unrepresentative group” which has limited standing. It is a private advocacy group “on the margins” and should be noted as such by any journalist quoting it. Instead both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian quoted [paywalled] it as if it was a peak body.

Also copying the “think” tanks’ strategies, a number of groups quoted on the fabricated “moral” panic about trans people’s existence are collections of ideologues who have adopted an impressive name – or several. The American College of Pediatricians is a group devised to disseminate anti-trans messaging. The American Academy of Pediatrics is in fact that largest body actually representing American pediatricians. The good-sounding name of the former leads news organisations – and politicians – to quote them without understanding the skewed and unscientific nature of the group’s messaging. Gensect and the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine (SEGM) are two more of a collection of ideologically-driven organisations that overlap with the same four activist members.

The agenda of these bodies and operatives is to create disinformation, easy in a world of fostered “radical ignorance.” It is hard to detect the truth when agents of chaos are “flooding the zone with shit.”

It should be basic practice that every journalist has a list of credible and discredited organisations by their workstation to aid them in discerning which groups have good names and which only “good names.”

Wikipedia and Sourcewatch can enlighten on many of the ideologues disguising their radical agenda as centrist and empirical organisations, but not all.

We must take every assertion by good-sounding representatives of good-sounding bodies with a grain of salt. Even Australia’s (depleted) best news organisations can’t tell the difference between masters of disinformation and real peak bodies. This is just how the money likes it.


*Almost certainly only the trivial ones. There may also be some pushback against the Religious Right Republican Party’s war on abortion, but Trump has made an attack on trans people central to his next campaign. There is little resistance on the Right to the attacks on LGBTQI+ people.


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Are Nazis running Victoria?

Currently the Neo Nazis who performed their Hitler salutes on Parliament House steps in Melbourne six weeks ago are effectively instructing Victoria Police which events the self-declared fascists will allow to take place in the state.

Premier Dan Andrews spoke out in horror on social media about the death threats made to councillors and others by the Neo Nazis. It is, however, the legal system and the police’s tolerance, at the very least, of these hateful figures that has led us to this point.

At the beginning of this year, the Neo Nazi making these threats avoided a jail term, instead being sentenced to 18-month community service after a disgraceful attack on a Black security guard outside Channel Nine in Melbourne. The attack was “brutal in its force, speed and repetition” on an unsuspecting victim. If the skin colour of the actors in this assault had been reversed, would the judge have left the assailant to walk free?

On the 18 March, the same man led a posse of threatening buffoons to join him in support of an English grifter’s anti-trans speech at Parliament House. The police kept the Nazis and the disinformation purveyors on the safe side of their activity, effectively protecting them while the fascists performed their Holocaust-linked signal. Meanwhile the small pro-trans justice crowd, emotional at this display of trans-exterminationism, were aggressively pushed around and teargassed by those same police.

These same far right figures infiltrated the conspiracy-world’s “freedom” rallies over the worst of the pandemic. The groups are loosely allied now in infiltrating this American campaign onto Victoria’s streets.

The new “crisis”?

A performance called a “rainbow story hour.” This is the grandchild of Dame Edna and the Panto Dame. Theatre has a heritage of “drag” performances as old and esteemed as the western tradition and beyond: Antigone and Juliet were both drag performances. A rainbow story hour is a glittery drag performance, where a child-friendly story is read at a ticketed event. It is no different to the clowns and fairies who perform for children too.

In America, however, the right has decided that these performances are the perfect event to turn into a grift and a culture war. It is an aspect of the war on trans existence that has brought into state congresses across America hundreds of bills aimed at persecuting a tiny, visible minority as the first step in erasing acceptance of LGBTQI+ rights. It is perpetrated by the same forces stripping reproductive rights and threatening to remove access to contraceptives and women’s right to no-fault divorce.

The attack on trans people is an unalloyed win for these groups in America. The evangelical/Pentecostal perversion of Christianity that has coopted the Republican Party is absolutely committed to “traditional” male and female roles. Complementarian marriage is the only choice: man will be masculine and dominant. Women will be feminine and submissive. Heterosexuality and breeding are compulsory. Any other action by anyone acts to prevent End Times and the return of Christ to rule for a Millennium. Climate change’s disasters tell them this event should be imminent if only humanity would be pure.

Their white supremacist colleagues are delighted to join the fight. They too loathe gender or sexual blurring as much as they hate “racial” blurring. The pink triangles that the Nazis affixed to the clothing of the homosexuals they sent to concentration camps are back in fashion as a symbol of resistance to this resurgence of fascist homophobia.

Over the last year there have been a number of events where rainbow story hours were targeted by militia and thugs and conspiracy theorists in America. The most dramatic vision emerged from Columbus Ohio last week, where a group dressed in red and black chanted, “There will be blood” outside one such event, while waving a swastika flag.

Donald Trump is using the attack on trans existence as a prominent part of his presidential campaign of retribution.

The attack on trans existence is America is very clearly the first wave of a campaign on LGBTQI+ existence. Acceptance of LGBTQI+ rights and existence is repeatedly targeted in the bills being introduced. There is talk of the death penalty for being gay.

The same nonsense talking point that led to so much violence in the past is being indiscriminately applied to LGBQTI+ people again now: they are wrongly accused of being a pedophile threat. One of the more unpleasant drongos attached to Australia’s conspiracy-right movement labelled Andrews a “groomer” as a result of his condemnation of the fascist threats to councillors.

The campaign coincides with attacks on women’s rights and on people of colour.

So Melbourne’s Neo Nazis are threatening the lives of people associated with LGBTQI+ events now. What will be the next form of event that these men – or their conspiracist associates – decide is intolerable?

Victoria Police have repeatedly “advised” councils that they cannot protect them from the Neo Nazi or conspiracist threat and that the event should be cancelled.

One Monash councillor fairly suggested the Neo Nazis’ actions could “reasonably be understood as terrorism.” Dan Andrews stated that “This Americanisation of our politics has no place here,” and nor do the bigots’ “hateful views.” The vast majority are in agreement, as the Coalition parties are finding.

That leaves Anthony Carbine, Victorian Police Minister, to work with his government colleagues and police leadership to decide how long the small group of Neo Nazis will be allowed to decide what Victorians can do. It won’t end with rainbow story hour.


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