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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.

Australians must not ignore the Religious Right’s global warnings

Australians have begun to see the new face of extreme religion in our “conservative” politics. The international influences are varied and interconnected. These radical forces are not a private feature in politicians’ lives, but threaten the freedoms we value. It is only through better understanding the global impacts that we can protect our democracy.

There was jubilation around Australia at the defeat of the Morrison government in May. Some rejoiced at ousting the man himself. For others the relief was inspired by the majority uniting against a government signifying climate inaction or corruption or misogyny. Scott Morrison’s insertion of American-style religion into the Australian civic space contributed to his loss. If Australians had understood how alien this ideology is, it would have been much more central. The defeat of Morrison, however, is not the end of that religious intrusion into Australian “conservative” politics; it is part of the global phenomenon of reactionary Religious Right authoritarianism. In the month Morrison left the Lodge, the American majority was reeling at the implications of the leaked Supreme Court decision on Roe v Wade. In Europe, Queer Ukrainians were finding themselves pincered between the deep sexual stigma that pervades the culture of the invading Russians as well as the countries like Poland and Hungary where many are finding refuge. The Australian Religious Right draws on the power of the global movement’s successes like the Dobbs decision. It becomes more dangerous in its merging with secular bigotries and reactionary forces. Reflecting global political trends, it works not for “the next election, but the next generation.” It, and the culture wars that harness its votes, will not be backbenched with Morrison.

It is not only the faith-driven that make Religious Right politics a threat. These forces are bolstered by marriages of convenience between apparently incompatible forces. Secular libertarian members of the Republican Party embrace social conservatism and even perform devotion to faith to draw in the energised Religious Right voting bloc. British Tories are a dominant model for the Australian secular Right politicians with their boisterous “war on woke” which carries out overlapping attacks without the religious foundation. LGBTQI people and reproductive rights are the crucial targets for the interlinked movements. Trans people’s existence provides the wedge towards driving all LGBTQI people back into the closet. Britain has fallen from first to 14th place in LGBTQI rights rankings in only seven years, concurrent with the Tories’s Brexit debacle. Attacks on feminism from the traditional sex-role obsession of the Religious Right and defensive traditionalism of the secular Right are underpinning attacks on access to abortion. Driving women back out of the civic space and into the home is a shared passion. These campaigns are expanded in daily retail politics through disingenuous Right Wing media outlets in their culture war battles against the Left.

For less faith-driven “conservative” politicians, religion can also be deployed as a core characteristic of an embattled – mythical – national culture. Throughout the West this manifests as denoting Christianity as an integral component of Western Civilisation, also coded as White.(1) Any attention granted to First Nations or non-White people within the Right’s self-defined White nations is defined as divisive rather than reparatory. Reversing the various gains of the civil rights era is the goal. The blending of misogyny and various bigotries into the “conservative” supporter base draws misogynist Men’s Rights activists and White Supremacists into the cohort. There is a strong thread of this in Australian “conservative” politics with Tony Abbott (alongside his Budapest posse) as the most obvious warrior in defence of “Western Civilisation.” In Australia, we recently saw Bob Katter and Pauline Hanson touting their sudden interest in our Christian roots, with Katter even emulating Trump holding a bible aloft. This was posed as a rebuttal to Labor discussing a First Nations Voice to Parliament as well as the question of the relevance of Christian prayer in a secular Parliament. Inclusion is depicted as a destruction of all the glories of tradition. Diversity is an existential threat.

Pentecostal implacability

Given that the Australian “conservatism” has modelled itself particularly on its American partners for decades now, the US provides us with a critical warning. In America, the electoral contest is no longer a tussle between competing political platforms and styles; Religious Right dominance of the “conservative” party has made democracy literally impossible. Ezra Klein has analysed the current polarisation of their politics and noted that the overlap of many aspects of social identity has made political ideology far more tribal than it was historically. More problematic than that, however, is the certainty in Religious Right politics that the Left is an existential threat with no right to form government. While conservative Catholics and other faiths buttress the causes of the Religious Right in America, its dicta are dominated by Evangelical/Pentecostal tenets.(2) In this version of Christianity, Dominionism is central. This is the idea that Evangelical versions of Christianity must dominate the Seven Mountains of the civic space including government. The purity of the nation must be legislated and enforced. Within this cosmology, a secular state is a Satanic obstacle. Perhaps worse is the fact that natural disasters are seen as harbingers of End Times, so the more dramatic the impacts of the climate emergency, the more rapidly purified the nation must be.

The degree to which the growing Pentecostal movement is a poor fit with democracy requires understanding. Most institutions preach “spiritual warfare” where “literal demons” are present in people and events. Trump’s neo-charismatic “personal pastor,” Paula White, preached that Trump was fighting “a worldwide demonic conspiracy.” In this fringe world, LGBTQI people smell of demons and African and Asian sorcerers are a threat. Catholics and Mormons are said to practise dark magic. They argue that places and institutions such as bureaucracies, universities and journalism itself can be taken over by demonic forces. Spiritual warriors saw the Republican red of the map illustrating Trump’s victory as showing the “blood of Jesus” cleansing America’s sins. His election signified the looming overthrow of “Jezebel,” the literal demonic spirit behind reproductive and LGBTQI rights. The fantastical ideas that are compulsory parts of faith in these churches ready its adherents to accept other fantasies. In the pandemic era, the rapid growth of QAnon pervaded the evangelical churches, evident in Pentecostal Scott Morrison’s apology for “ritual” child abuse in Australia. QAnon’s focus on evil progressive elites stealing children was a comfortable fit for a faith that sees progressive political parties as evil. Much of the Trump support has taken on a religious devotional tone where he is the new saviour from the demonic Left.

Most Pentecostal/Evangelical traditions furthermore believe in a Rapture or Millennial Kingdom which destroys any impetus to tackle the climate crisis. Looming “End Times” create enormous anxiety about current moral status, but not about the future of the planet. This majority believes that storms and plagues are further signs of the imminence of the desired Premillennial moment. Geopolitical tensions arising from climate pressures will only be interpreted as more apocalyptic signs. Global action involves working with global political entities. Global entities, however, are depicted as aligned with the Antichrist. This is compounded by strategists within the fossil fuel sector driving Evangelicals to embrace these mineral resources as God’s gift which it would be ungrateful to leave in the ground. Rational debate is scotched in the face of divine mandate.

In this worldview, progressives are “godless.” Secularism is still linked to Communism. The freedom they demand is not “freedom from” but “freedom to.” The freedom to “force others to be free” only possible by “obedience to one narrow understanding of God’s plan.” Secular freedom, by contrast, leads to “chaos” and authoritarianism because tolerance is an imposition. The Evangelical movement’s pressure on American politics is such that no movement to protect equal rights is safe. The purity mission drives illogical policy making as well as being harmful to individuals within the churches. The attack on LGBTQI rights is such that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled a number of these lobby groups and churches as hate groups. The Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade and the resultant extremity of several states’ abortion laws illustrates the degree to which reproductive-aged women and AFAB people will be constrained and surveilled. Removing access to contraceptives has been raised too. The implication is that women’s access to the civic space will be revoked by uncontrolled fertility, and LGBTQI existence will be erased either visibly or actually.

This is not a movement that thinks in election cycles. It has taken almost a century for American businessmen and preachers appalled by atheist communism to make over the Republican Party as a Christian Libertarian force. Civic programs and civil rights were seen as the work of the enemy, crushing liberty. The government had no place in replacing elective charity with state programs. Instead of the sexual tolerance of libertarianism, however, this ideology is controlling. Socially, reactionary White Christians wanted their wives obedient, Segregation in place and their youth docile and chaste. Racism was inherent in White Evangelical churches, and a toxic emphasis on women’s purity and submission accompanied this. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority took the decision to unify the movement over the issue of abortion and it became a powerful force against political liberalism through the 1980s. Together with Billy Graham they brought Christian Libertarianism and the Evangelical bloc ever closer to the levers of power.

Pentecostal/Evangelicals are now central to Republican power. Donald Trump received 80% of the white Evangelical vote in 2016 and 75% in 2020. They form 35% of the Republican coalition. Trump’s personal sins are dismissed in the pursuit of the rewards he could grant for their loyalty. In 2022 his demographic offers even more fervent support for his Big Lie with the convergence between Evangelicals and Qanon followers. The labels Christian Nationalist and even Christian Fascist are being embraced by the MAGA Right now. Trump surrounded himself with Evangelical and conservative Catholic figures. He achieved the primary goal of this coalition when he handed them control of the Supreme Court, one of America’s primary law-making institutions. The Federalist Society which gave Trump the names to place on the court is led by Opus Dei-linked Leonard Leo who has packed the court with “radical schismatic Catholics.”

#TradCaths and Rad Trads

Support for Evangelical positions comes from besieged “Rad Trad” Catholics in the Religious Right coalition who believe the Catholic church has been subverted from within. For some, Pope Francis’s institution is an “an antichristic church.” Others believe that he represents “the replacement of Catholicism with a globalist, multicultural “eco-theology,” grounded in socialism.” It is out of this fear and anger that Archbishop Viganò wrote to Donald Trump in 2020 supporting a Qanon-infused crusade against the liberal elite. This crusade is intricately intertwined with a European defence of “Judeo-Christian values” and of Western Civilization. These are coded messages in the White Supremacist perception that that old Europe is being overwhelmed by an Islamogauche (progressives aligned with Muslims) takeover.

Bill Barr, Trump’s last Attorney General, delivered an address at Notre Dame university in 2019 that illustrated the anxieties in ultra conservative Catholic circles. The “militant secularists” were executing a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.” All kinds of “social pathology” were undermining America as a result of this progressive war on the “traditional Judeo-Christian moral system.” Groups like Church Militant present a crusader model of Catholicism which fights alongside Evangelical Christians for an end to abortion and a return to “traditional” sex roles. Church Militant is also fighting alongside Groypers – the White Supremacist trolls and thugs that threaten anyone depicted as Other, who are becoming more overtly religious in their rhetoric.

The Christian Libertarian ideology is present in this Catholicism too. Steven Bannon, Trump ally, represents the most extreme libertarian position as well as ultra conservative Catholicism. His economic position was captured in his fostering what he described as Trump’s “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Bannon embraced this as part of his anarcho-capitalist project to destroy the system. He was posited as the antithesis to the Pope in the battle for Catholic allegiance and was at the forefront of the resistance to a diverse and inclusive church, as well as America. Bannon actively worked to spread Neo Nazi messaging in his time as Breitbart executive.

European Nativist/Religious fascism

This trend coincides with a worldwide resurgence of authoritarian regimes. In classic fascist mode, a central feature is intolerance and bigotry associated with the defence of a mythical past of national glory. Religion is a key component of the culture defended, of a homogenous nation these movements believe can be recreated if only its defenders are ruthless enough. It not only excludes those who are of different “race” and religio-cultural traditions, but also the liberal and inclusive blocs within the state. The coercive push to dictate how private lives are lived, and what life choices become criminalised, is central to these populist authoritarian forces. The defence of “family values” or “traditional culture” is used to justify persecution of the targeted “out groups” in typical fascist identity politics style. These regimes depict theoretically traditional roles for women and the exclusion of LGBTQI people as critical for public safety, community, and even national security. This is true in Russia, Republican America, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil. This trend is not limited to Christian nations. Modi’s “Hindu India” vision, for instance, embraces the same “tradition” justifications for oppression.

Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant traditions all become part of a Christian fight for a West they believe to be at risk of destruction. Last year in his state of the nation address, Russian Orthodox Putin declared the “Spiritual and moral values which some countries have started to forget have made us stronger, and we will always defend them.” Both ultra conservative Catholics and American Evangelicals have seen Putin – and his Hungarian Reformed Church echo, Orban – as a hero fighting back against the marauding non-whites, liberals, perverts and feminists of the modern world. Bannon factions in Catholicism revive the belief in Moscow as the Third Rome, believing that Putin’s Russia can be a bulwark against secular modernism. Pat Buchanan speculated that Putin might give the keynote speech at the World Congress of Families a few years back, summarising the perception: Putin’s stalwart fight for the “family values” campaign contrasted shamefully with an America that had capitulated to “a sexual revolution of easy divorce, rampant promiscuity, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, assisted suicide – the displacement of Christian values by Hollywood values.” Russian and American Evangelical “family values” groups have been working together since the 1990s. Having fought back their own godless totalitarian regime, nationalist Orthodox Christians tell their fellow “family value” activists that the Russians have the ability to help the Westerners defeat the new liberal totalitarianism. (This extreme end of the Republican Party also supports his invasion of Ukraine which is characterized as a defence of Christian Russia from Western weakness and homosexual dissolution.)

These prejudices permeate society in the former USSR. The Tokyo Olympic coverage in Russia featured derogatory talk about the taint of “perverts” and “psychopaths” at the games. Commentators complained in horror at LGBTQI athletes, who should be segregated into their own games away from wholesome athletes. Parliamentarians joined in expressing their disgust. In Russia’s neighbour Georgia, the 2013 “pogrom” against the LGBTQI rights parade is celebrated in these circles. Levan Vasadze, Georgia’s “family-values superhero” described it as the day Georgians “pushed back against the agents of the Western ‘totalitarian dictatorship of liberalism.’” The totalitarianism these former Iron Curtain dwellers – and their Western allies – imagine is characterised as the “total exclusion of religion and religious thought.” Within this international “family values” army there is absolutely no space to allow LGBTQI existence. In their essay on this united movement in 2015, journalist and author Masha Gessen interviewed the man about to lead the World Congress of Families. This took place two years after Gessen moved from Russia to America to protect their rainbow family. They asked him if they gave up some of the rights and freedoms that, effectively, marked them as equal, could they live alongside his Christian family in amity. He said starkly: “No.”

The accelerated changes of the modernising world have been particularly challenging for the countries long kept isolated by the Iron Curtain. Modern nations in the West embracing diversity in changes such as the legalising of same-sex marriage is only part of the challenge. The exodus from the Middle East and Africa of those displaced by climate and geopolitical crises (often created or exacerbated by Western interventions – regime change, military incursions, World Bank strictures) has added to the tensions in Eastern and Western Europe. Manipulated by Right-Wing movements and parties, “offering visions of a simpler, better society: a return to a romanticised vision of the nation,” the discomfort with rapid change is funnelled into virulent bigotry. This draws on 19th century quasi-religious conceptions of the nation with moral qualities implicit: the “cultural nation” was seen as rooted in religion, the most important of the “cultural goods.”(3) The “third wave” of radical Right activity in Europe brought religion back onto its agenda. Religion has become part of distinct version of ultra-nationalism and, to some degree, a cause of it. This is the identity politics that is invisible to the mainstream, linking conservatives and the radical Right.

While the radical Right’s identity politics is distinctly national, it is international too. Orban’s ideological influence is visible in Australian “conservative” circles. On the weekend of Morrison’s defeat in Australia, the hard right American “conservative” conference CPAC was hosted in Budapest. The attendees represent the most radical and Trumpian end of their political movement, gathered in the country that overtly represents their goal for home. Orban models virulent defence of Christian and Western civilisation in his overt focus on ethnic homogeneity. Elected originally as the cool leader of the youth party, he now instead boasts of making Hungary an “illiberal democracy.” Western liberalism represents weakness, miscegeny and immorality. CPAC’s organiser described Hungary as “one of the bastions of the conservative resistance to the ultraprogressive ‘woke’ revolution.” Orban opened the conference calling for the assembled to unite. “We need to find friends, and we need to find allies. We need to coordinate the movement of our troops, because we have a big challenge ahead of us.” They share the sense that the Great Replacement is a real threat: Jewish forces are importing Third World immigrants to replace the White Christian patriots. At home in America, the New York Times reports that the Murdochs are complacent about their chief pundit regularly promoting the theory. They also report that Australian News Corp editors are taking their instructions from Carlson’s show. Carlson made the CPAC visit possible when he broadcast for a week from Budapest in 2021, celebrating authoritarian order. Orban appeared at the Dallas CPAC event in August, repeating these toxic sentiments but will leave that to his acolytes in the Sydney CPAC to take place in October.

Australia

This decade of Coalition government in Australia has been deeply shaped by the international radical Right. The influence comes from the top through opulently-funded thinktanks to the mass’s conspiracy wild-lands, connected by internet platforms. The demographics are entwined by the Right’s media ecosphere fomenting panics across the socio-economic and educational strata. They infuse a mixture of deep belief and shared strategy. The manifestation of the battle and its constant effort to radicalise are focused in “culture wars” about distortions of trivial examples of liberal speech. Its bigotry has been on display from decades of abuse of refugees exercising their right to seek safe haven through to the cynical deployment of transphobia in the 2022 election. These bigotries reflect cultural anxieties amongst conservative groups but are justified and cleansed by an association with religious doctrine and superiority.

In Australia, the combined ethnonationalist and religious fearmongering has been domesticated into the Coalition’s own policies and messaging. The growth of the Religious Right faction in the parties has come to the fore over Morrison’s tenure. Its most divisive manifestation in this last term was the attempt to pass a religious discrimination bill. The core aim of the bill was to allow religious groups, dissatisfied by the passing of marriage equality legislation, the ability to discriminate according to the tenets of their faith. In the final week of the campaign, Morrison not only reignited talk of the bill, but allegedly had transphobe Katherine Deves’s campaign out of his office. Niki Savva described moderate Liberals as believing Morrison was aiming to purge the party of the figures described as “bedwetters.” Labor stepped carefully through the landmine of the religious discrimination debate. It had traditionally been a home of a working-class Catholic vote in Australia and retains politicians from that socially conservative demographic. Apparently, Anthony Albanese worked constantly communicating with progressive and faith-driven parliamentarians to unite to negotiate a path created to wedge them. Their goal was a version that would protect faith communities of all kinds without the harmful aspects of the bill.(4) Now fringe “conservative” politicians to the right of the main parties are working with conspiracy groups such as the “freedom” network, where Pentecostal religion is evident too.

In Australia, conservative religious movements have been recorded as branch-stacking LNP branches. Candidates are selected that do not reflect the values of the party or of the region to be represented. The result is that to vote “conservative” can mean to vote Religious Right. The campaign to co-opt the Victorian Liberal Party in particular has been documented in the press. In 2017 and 2018 journalists recorded factional opposition to Mormons, conservative Catholics and Pentecostal groups targeting branches. The current campaign sees a number of very conservative preselections in the face of an attempt by the party to present itself as a progressive choice. The most notable is Moira Deeming who represents anti-trans and anti-abortion politics and was considered too extreme by Scott Morrison’s federal bloc. Last week, a new report emerged of stacking and attempts to take positions in the party’s internal state assembly.

An Existential Threat

The combined forces of religious extremism with religion as a central cultural attribute of a mythical national identity makes it a deeply dangerous force, with any groups in the community marked as a threat to the imagined homogeneity of the traditional nation targeted for increasingly ugly retribution. This perilous bigotry is used to garner support for hollowing out democracy in the interests of controlling diversity. The divisions and resulting democratic recession are disastrous in the face of the climate emergency. As the mainstream political Right becomes more colonised by these interconnected radical forces, it cripples the national and international ability to act on crises that threaten even human civilisation. As governments fail us, people in their desperation and anxiety turn to counterproductive “solutions.” The disasters and pressures inherent in the climate emergency serve to pour energy into the movements that most cripple our ability to minimise or respond to the challenges. Pentecostal religion in particular is tied to authoritarian movements around the world.

Progressives in Australia as elsewhere tend to focus on shorter term goals and risk much by ignoring the long-term strategising of the Right. The origins of the American radical Right’s production of the current moment’s crises can be sited in the Cold War, or even the Civil Rights era, depending on the narrative. Justice Samuel Alito’s majority decision in the Dodd case that overthrew Roe is only one of the cataclysms. Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence illustrates that he sees parallel precedents that made homosexuality legal and access to contraceptives possible should be overthrown too. Leading Republicans are now discussing making abortion illegal nationwide when they next hold power and moves to reverse LGBTQI equality have also been mooted. These impositions of extreme religious morality on a majority that does not support them are a culmination of years of work by political entrepreneurs of the Evangelical minority, bolstered by conservative Catholics. Legislating minority morality is only possible by undermining democracy. These same forces are at work in Australia, their enthusiasm to strip rights from Others within the nation galvanised by their peers’ success in America. The Coalition’s disdain for women in the civic space was a key factor in their May defeat. Their attacks on the nature of our democracy were legion. They continue to focus on American-style culture war battles to gin up the base even in the clear evidence of the disaster it has caused there. In concert with radicalised ethno-nationalist figures who see Christianity as a core marker of White Australian nationalism, the parties of the Australian Right are utterly infused with a toxic international Right’s concerns and strategies.

It is not just the rights of individuals but the (flawed) democracies that have gradually made room for civil rights for more groups than just property-owning White men that is at stake in the rise of the authoritarian Religious Right. These democracies are more likely than authoritarian regimes to protect the equality of Others, preventing the persecution and even the atrocities that religion-infused extremism can foster. Without data-driven secular governments, our capacity to tackle the climate emergency is crippled. It is critical that we perceive the risk that is reflected in the speeches of Scott Morrison to his Pentecostal audiences. It is not merely a foreign faith movement uncomfortably shoe-horned into our secular state; it is a threat of incalculable scope. We must work together to keep authoritarian religious radicalism out of our government.

(1) This is not limited to the West. Nor is Christianity the only faith drawn into the nativist nationalist trend. In India, the Hindutva movement aims to subdue all Indians within a Hindu nation with one faith and language. Shinto is central to a Japanese nationalist movement. Buddhism is key to Myanmar and Sri Lanka’s nationalist movements. Israel is self defining as a Jewish nation and imposing second class status on non-Jews within its borders.

(2) The overlaps and distinctions between Pentecostal and Evangelical protestant Christianity can be hard to delineate. The Pentecostal movement is the heart of the democratic crisis, with many churches infused with the Pentecostal ideas. It is the Pentecostal movement that is at the heart of the idea of Spiritual Warfare, Seven Mountains and Dominionism. Some Evangelical churches eschew these trends, but the overlap is strong particularly in the White Evangelical sphere. In the Trump and pandemic era, the American fashion has become strongly interwoven with QAnon and a deep devotion to Donald Trump. Elle Hardy’s account of the rapid growth of Pentecostalism around the world is important reading. Some institutions that are clearly Pentecostal deny the label because of the weight it has accrued. The most important unifying feature is the individual’s direct experience of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism is non-denominational and outside the traditional hierarchical Christian churches. Hardy estimates that globally 30% of Christians are now belong to the aberrant Pentecostal form of the faith and that by 2050, 1 in 10 people will belong to the movement.

(3) German historian Friedrich Meinecke writing in 1908 quoted in Michael Minkenberg’s chapter “Religion and the Radical Right” in the Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right. Minkenberg explores the complexity of religion as part of nationalism in increasingly secular societies.

(4) This was gleaned from a lengthy off-the-record conversation with a – then – Shadow ministerial staffer.

 

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Asylum seekers languish through the job summit

In the week of the Albanese government’s job summit, the immigration department again sent out a raft of letters to bridging visa holders in Queensland advising them it was time to reapply to rollover their permission to stay in Australia. While politicians and sector representatives debated whether we needed skilled and unskilled migrants to tackle the workforce shortfall, a substantial group remain in the country in limbo and barely tapped.

This round of letters does not have the attachment containing the phrase that Labor added post-election victory: “The Australian Government’s policies have not changed and unauthorised maritime arrivals will not be settled permanently in Australia.” There remains crippling fear and powerlessness, however, in a group of people who have waited a decade to know if we will grant them safety.

In the years since most arrived, the world has only become more desperate. The Taliban have taken back Afghanistan, and the account of the women’s soccer team given safe haven in Australia illustrates how nightmarish conditions are for ethnic and religious minorities like the Hazara, or city dwellers who had embraced the opportunities protected by the western presence. Pakistan, whence many refugees from Afghanistan embark, has currently lost one third of its land to epochal floods. The rapid glacial melt augmenting the deluge promises future drought and worsening tensions with India as both nations depend on glacial melt for much of their water supply.

Sri Lanka is a shambles, with starvation and medical shortages hitting the Tamil population even worse than the rest of the country. The Rajapaksa clan’s corruption, ignored by friendly Coalition governments, is only one of the reasons the economy crashed. Like similar nations, they face a range of threats to their people’s survival, with IMF loan conditions being a substantial part of the problem.

We can’t be certain why the Albanese government has been so slow to flag what will happen to the processing backlog, and those trapped by Rudd’s desperate promise that maritime arrivals would never settle here. (Not to mention the few hundred unlucky souls abandoned on Manus and Nauru.)

It is clear Labor has overlearnt the lessons that brought Rudd down. Not only do they fear the might of the mining lobby’s PR campaigns, but the myth-making of the Murdoch organs that refugees are an existential threat. There are many factors that caused the arrival of more boats after Rudd ended the Pacific Solution in 2007, push factors large among them. It is clear, however, that the ethically dubious boat turnbacks make maritime arrivals almost impossible. Persecuting individuals as a “deterrent” is a vile reflection on one of the founding nations of the Refugee Convention.

Both Richard Marles and Kristina Keneally echoed a number of harsh talking points belonging to the Coalition in their time in the Shadow ministry. Labor kept Mike Pezzullo as secretary of Home Affairs, a role he’d held since 2018, after he turned on Scott Morrison over the election day text messaging scandal. Pezzullo assumed that role from his previous leadership of the immigration department from 2014. Under his leadership, the nation-building role of immigration was stripped, and Pezzullo’s experience in Customs colonised the department. Asylum seekers were treated like a potential pest outbreak to be extinguished with malice. The system functions to deny refuge to genuine refugees, careless of our treaty obligations. It is uncertain whether Clare O’Neil has the strength or desire to counter Pezzullo or to rebuild a department gutted of quality.

Australia’s humanitarian intake over the last decade has been shamefully low in times of record global displacement. Andrew Giles, immigration minister, has been spruiking a refugee sponsorship program. Labor has reduced the Coalition’s prohibitive costs for the design, but it remains a hollow echo of the exceptional Canadian program that continues to build a warm and welcoming nation with extensive support networks around sponsored arrivals. The 1,500 places that the Australian program plans to allow over three years remains within the current humanitarian allowance – set at a pitiful 13,750 humanitarian visas per year. (Even this small number has largely not been granted since the pandemic took hold.)

Our treatment of our allies in Afghanistan over the last year has been mortifying. Australia has proven to future local allies that we have no honour and will not stand by them when their value to us has ceased. The imminence of their death has no impact on that equation. Valiant efforts by veterans to counter this dishonour had little impact on a Coalition government where the colour of skin or faith of the applicant is more significant than their need. We found many more places for Ukrainian refugees with a rapidity that highlighted the bigotry at the heart of our failures elsewhere. The small additional commitment to those at risk from the Taliban (that the Morrison government was forced to make to keep church support) was spread over four years. This is no doubt convenient because most of those who wish to come will probably have been murdered by the Taliban.

The Albanese government needs to lead Australians in a discussion about the nation we are to be. Will we allow the Great Replacement fears underpinning Coalition government policy to continue to shape the nation we are building? This myth that (Jewish) elite forces are importing immigrants to replace the white population appears to be one that the Murdochs allow to be promoted. Are we planning to accept their propaganda, allowing it to mainstream the white supremacist radicalisation taking place on social media?

Instead we should echo the Canadian experiment much more wholeheartedly. There, generous allocations of places have been made to countries in crisis. In addition to those numbers, community groups such as religious organisations can back small groups sponsoring individuals and families to come to Canada. The money required for the process is paid into a bank account to support the sponsored for a year while they find their feet. It is fast, fair and inclusive. Part of the effect has been to foster welcome amongst the broader Canadian community as they engage personally with the new arrivals’ story and settling. We need an amnesty with support for the current caseload and people on temporary visas, to incorporate them into the community and workforce.

It is heartwarming to watch the stories of people embracing the Canadian nation which has worked so efficiently to grant them safe haven, to reunite them with their family, to make them part of community. As an Australian, it hurts to see our failures thrown into stark relief by the contrast.

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations.

 

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CPAC Australia and Murdoch

One of the most unsavoury events on the Trumpist-right is CPAC. This is an organisation that stages Conservative Political Action Conferences in America, as well as internationally. CPAC Australia has been operating since 2019 and the 2022 event is due to take place in Sydney this October.

CPAC is the heart of the tribal “war on woke” of the populist right. It’s where the Fox radicalisers combine with other culture warriors to inflame the base into utter implacable loathing of the centre. For this worldview, the centre is indistinguishable from the “socialist” left, entwined with the reviled Black Lives Matter, the fantasy of Antifa, and elite traitors to the American cause.

The previously annual event was created by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom. The first conference took place in 1974, where Ronald Reagan gave the keynote speech during his presidential campaign. Trump’s speech at CPAC 2011 is credited with birthing his political career.

In 2017, Richard Spencer was ejected from the conference for his “repugnant” views. Under Matt Schlapp’s chairmanship, however, it has veered ever further into the ugly right currently unmaking America.

Nick Fuentes, leader of the Proud Boys (labeled a terrorist group in Canada) hosted the even more extreme America First Political Action Conference concurrently in Orlando in February, 2022. Trump-Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Green and Paul Gosar were able to appear at both the neo-Nazi AFPAC and the marginally less unhinged CPAC.

A lurch even further into authoritarian territory was marked in May, 2022 when CPAC was hosted in Budapest. There Orban illustrated to the wildly-supportive American audience the glories of illiberal democracy. According to the worldview touted, the progressive or liberal world is the existential enemy and must be destroyed by seizing all the structures of power.

News Corp was instrumental in uniting the American MAGA right with Orban’s authoritarian ethnonationalism. He has a fraught relationship with the extremist right around the CPAC world: in 2021, Fox News was targeted at CPAC for insufficient support for Trump’s seditionist lies. It was Fox, however, that brought Orban into the mainstream as a Trumpist-right hero.

Tucker Carlson is asserted in a New York Times investigation to work directly with the Murdoch father and son rather than his nominal bosses at Fox News. That same investigation alleges that Carlson’s show is watched by Australian News Corp editors for guidance on the Murdoch line.

It was Carlson who took his top-rating nightly Fox show to broadcast from Budapest for a week in 2021, with an Orban interview as a highlight. (Rod Dreher is believed to have been the connection. This ultra-conservative American intellectual has a number of Budapest-based and visiting peers from Britain and Australia.) Orban’s rabid defence of ethnic purity in Budapest and Christian western civilisation (depicted as dying) is a comfortable fit with Carlson’s messaging. The latter constantly reiterates the Great Replacement idea that (Jewish) elites are replacing white Christians with non-white and non-Christian immigrants in order to destroy western nations.

Fox News names are high profile attendees at American CPAC events, alongside the dolts of congress and the circus around Trump. Marjorie Taylor-Greene appeared in a grotesque tableaux at the August Dallas event mimicking maternal consolation of a performer weeping in a model jail cell over his Jan 6 insurrection “martyrdom.” Orban spoke at this CPAC too, a week after he asserted that Europeans “do not want to become peoples of mixed race.” CPACs are very much Trump’s Republican Party at play. Players test culture war ideas, and attacks on schools are a current hit; the base was responding well to the nonsense accusation that teachers are “sexualising” children.

The Australian version was founded by self-declared libertarian and president of LibertyWorks thinktank, Andrew Cooper. It is currently chaired by Abbott-conservative, Warren Mundine and features a less colourful cast than its American model. The 2022 line-up features many Murdoch employees, particularly from Sky. Domestic veterans of culture war nonsense and fabricators of climate denial “facts” are also listed.

Unsurprisingly, Matt Canavan and Amanda Stoker are amongst the speakers. The latter may continue her efforts to place the winding back of abortion access on the Australian agenda. Tony Abbott was revealed by Crikey to be the likely keynote speaker. Nigel Farage and a couple of Trump’s worse appointments are amongst the dubious attractions.

Farage has tweeted his determination this week that Britain should listen when “the great” Tony Abbott speaks. Abbott’s declaration that Britain must let the world know that “the way is closed” for migrants suits Farage’s continual fear-mongering about immigrant numbers. This fits the pair well for an Australia CPAC that advertised cheap tickets for students using the term “jugend.”

 

 

It is easy to mock the Australian CPAC, a tawdry echo of its toxic American model. What is crucial to note, however, is that the lies and distortions inherent in culture wars are the tool that Dutton hopes to use to turn his 17% approval rating into electoral success. The damage done to the US and UK by culture war wielding “conservatives” is inestimable and should not be underestimated. Above all, they foster bigotry and division, creating chasms in the civic space that cannot be bridged by civil discourse. Without an overlapping reality, democracy must fail.

The Australia Institute recently announced that it has found most Australians see being “woke” as a positive or neutral, despite the constant derision from frothing Sky News hosts. CPACs depict themselves as the suppository of wisdom, rather than flailing failures to cope with change. We can hope that CPACs remain sad fringe events in Australia rather than driving us towards chaos too.

This essay was first published in “Pearls and Irritations“.

 

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Australia’s Orban Sycophants

Australians welcoming the defeat of our nascent religious right in the May election need to pay attention to the echoes of the American right-wing strategies looming ahead of their 2024 election, and the faction in Australia that shares those goals.

The religious right has looked to Putin for leadership for years now. More quietly, the ideas and strategies of Hungary’s Viktor Orban have pervaded the sphere.

In America, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been an outlier speculated as a post-Trump Republican candidate. Florida’s Ron DeSantis looks much more likely to win the nomination at this stage. Both men have worked to promote Hungary’s Viktor Orban’s ideas in America.

Rod Dreher, ultra-conservative American intellectual, persuaded Carlson to broadcast for a week from Budapest in 2021, celebrating Orban’s achievements and his proudly illiberal democracy to the Fox base. This year Carlson released a documentary promoting Orban’s strategies as the ideal Republican model. These apparently led into the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), America’s key radical “conservative” event, being hosted in Budapest in May 2022, where Orban told the crowd that the right must have its own media and that it should broadcast the Murdochs’ favoured performer, Carlson, to the nation 24/7.

Orban continued that his latest election had “completely healed” Hungary of its “progressive dominance” and that the authoritarian right factions of the world should unite and coordinate to “take back” all the key institutions of the West.

It has just been announced that Orban is to return to speak to the CPAC audience again in Dallas in August.

DeSantis does not so much promote Orban as create what has been described as “American Orbanism.” His people admit, behind the scenes to following and echoing Orban’s strategies. Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill which depicted any mention of anything to do with LGBTQI identity in schools as “grooming” echoed Orban’s 2021 bill focused on the same issue. DeSantis’s press secretary told Dreher that, “Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.”

Orban targets minorities as a supposed threat to Hungarians and then devises laws that push Hungary further into authoritarianism to address the non-existent threat. LGBTQI people are the latest target after bigoted attacks on refugees, Romani, and non-Christians. Florida punishing Disney for its tepid pushback against anti-LGBTQI legislation echoes Orban’s strategies for punishing opponents. The primary institutional enemies are educational, media and social media. Control of the message is central.

The key appeal of Orban’s ideology, as well as Putin’s, is that they posit a white Christian – Western – Civilisation as the world’s great treasure and one that is under attack. Progressive “elites” or globalists – usually embodied in Jewish figures like the loathed George Soros – are depicted as executing a “Great Replacement” of the white embodiments of the west with black and brown non-Christians. The key appeal of his strategy is that he rejects liberalism in the existential battle to preserve the mythologised heritage.

This alliance of culture warriors is apparent in the Australian right. Morrison’s defeated government contained both the traditionalist defenders of a beleaguered Western Civilisation that Tony Abbott drew to prominence, alongside the American-style Evangelicals who are more theocratic in goal, aiming to impose national purity through government action.

Tony Abbott’s international advisor from 2010 to 2014 was Mark Higgie. His years as Australian ambassador to Hungary from 1998-2001 (before becoming our “senior spy” in London) seem to have made Orban’s career a focus for the ideologue. He echoes the same “Hungarians are free” line as Rod Dreher, but the latter when asked about the dark underbelly of living in an illiberal democracy tends to reply, I dont know much, to be honest. Like Dreher, in 2019 Higgie moved to Budapest. He writes for The Australian Spectator.

The main intellectual conduit of Orban’s ideas to the West is the Danube Institute. Brian Loughnane, Peta Credlin’s husband and former Liberal Party federal director is on its international advisory board. Tony Abbott appeared with Higgie there before the pandemic conversing about immigrants “swarming” over the borders. Alexander Downer spoke in Budapest about immigrant Bantustans. Kevin Andrews spoke about reversing declining birth rates in the west at the Budapest Demographic Summit, a “biennial gathering of ultra-conservative and highly influential decision-makers, politicians and individuals actively working to curb the rights of sexual minorities and women.”

John O’Sullivan is the president of the Orban-funded Danube Institute. He has edited Quadrant and serves as its international editor with Keith Windshuttle. O’Sullivan too has written about how the left exaggerates the discomforts of living in an illiberal democracy.

One early event that aimed to foster Danube Institute immigration phobia for a broader Australian audience was a Conversazione in Melbourne in 2016. In fact, it fostered Great Replacement fears in a local audience of the rich and powerful albeit without using the term. Orchestrated by a Quadrant writing LaTrobe academic, with O’Sullivan as a speaker and featuring a Windshuttle essay on Quadrant in the program, it highlighted the connection between that publication and the Orban-booster spirit.

Loughnane also spoke at the event, although Credlin was not present. One of the nations leading News Corp journalists appeared, presenting a speech that expressed lurid objection to Muslim immigration. (That journalist has been a guest of the Orban-funded Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Hungary, which hosted another migration talkfest in 2019.)

Fresh from the January Islamic Radicalism and the Westconference held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Brits Daniel Pryce-Jones and Daniel Johnson also spoke at the Melbourne Club that day alongside Geza Jeszensky, former Hungarian foreign minister and noted eugenicist.

Tucker Carlson is now watched by Murdoch’s Australian print editors as a guide to the beliefs of Rupert and Lachlan. Carlson’s show is pervaded with incitement to violence over the existential attacks on white Christian civilisation by the elites and their immigrant hordes; over the threat to (white) American children posed by progressive groomers particularly their teachers; over the existential threat posed by any liberal who embraces diversity and acceptance.

Dutton and News Corp’s new focus of a war on teachers in Australia has been picked up by the IPA in its “Class Action” program to stop teachers “dominating our children’s schools” with “woke ideology.” There they aim to gather “concerned parents and teachers” in a reproduction of American Christopher Rufo’s cynical moral panic about Critical Race Theory. In America, teachers are leaving the profession, exhausted partly by poor funding and the pandemic, but also by being barraged with conspiracy-fuelled hate by parents and outside groups attending school board meetings in threatening mode.

We saw Morrison fighting hard for his religious discrimination bill while neglecting crucial work, aiming to provide a tool of backlash for marriage equality. The trans sports issue was deployed in the election as an echo of the bitter American attacks on trans youth and LGBTQI people in general. The religious right here has begun to echo the fight against reproductive rights.

After the recent release of census data noted the decline in Christianity, Peta Credlin wrote in The Australian (paywalled) in full Orban mode warning of “the centrality of Christian inspiration to Western civilization.” She defined an Indigenous Voice to parliament as “anathema to the fundamentals of Christian faith” and obliquely blamed Chinese and Indian immigration for the crisis.

The combined forces of the radical right – whether Christian Nationalist in intent, or in bigoted fear of a Great Replacement, or cynically deploying culture wars – all have the capacity to distort our civic debates as they are doing at all levels of government in America. The outcome in America is catastrophic.

It is critical for Australians to watch the international right forces filtered through to our democratic project, directly from the opponents of democracy, or filtered through the American role models so central to our “conservatives.” They are not defeated here, but regrouping.

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations.

 

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Calling on the Straights

The overthrow of Roe v Wade in America is just the start. And Australia’s Right, from the political figures connected by think tanks to the conspiracy-radicalised internet subculture, draws its ideas and strategies from the American Right.

It is incumbent upon us to watch that nation’s collapse as a warning, not just as a prequel to a dystopian blockbuster trilogy.

It is critical to avoid dismissing shocking concepts as fringe. What begins as an outlier idea moves to the centre of mainstream discussion in America and beyond. The “norm cascade” that Trump enabled has meant that it is not just, say, the creep in the office uttering something previously unutterable. People with great cultural capital are making unthinkable ideas “normal.” State politicians are beginning to ask for the death penalty for women who access abortions, and senior Republicans have begun discussing making abortion illegal nationwide when they next hold power.

The Texas attorney general has signalled his willingness to take a law making homosexuality illegal through to the Supreme Court should he have the chance. A Republican candidate in South Carolina’s primaries recently called for LGBTQI Americans to be pursued for treason, and executed. He received a quarter of the vote.

The Texas Republican Party platform, launched this Pride Month, named LGBTQI lives “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Approximately 340 bills targeting LGBTQI existence have been introduced across America this year. The leader of the Christian Fascist organisation Protect Texas Kids tweeted, “Let’s start rounding up people who participate in Pride events,” and other figures on the Right have begun imagining a world where it is legal to hunt LGBTQI people.

Blue states are reacting by offering safe haven for safe reproductive healthcare. California is in the process of passing a sanctuary bill to allow families of trans youth sanctuary. Should the bill be signed, their own deeply Republican state will be blocked from extraditing the parents to face life sentence felony charges. These sanctuaries would also block Republican states’ custody orders to remove children of trans families from their parents.

Vigilante activity and abuse of LGBTQI individuals have surged. People have begun working out how to leave their lives behind to move state or are making sure to keep passports current.

The grotesque Westboro “Baptist Church” used to protest gleefully at dead soldier’s funerals because the degeneracy of America meant that they deserved to die. Now Jordan Peterson, one of the “thought” leaders of the Right, has said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is justified by Ukraine’s connection with the degenerate US. Echoing Putin’s own bigoted justification is shocking enough; the fringe, this shows too, has become mainstream.

The patriarchal and “traditional role” passions of the radical Right make women and children lightening rods to channel “moral” panic. They generate disinformation to suggest cis women are endangered by having trans women in their spaces. They abhor trans men for making women unavailable to them. Above all, they depict LGBTQI existence as a threat to children, since “won’t someone think of the children” is the most primal emotive persuasive strategy.

For this reason, schools have been the focus of much of the legislation and protest. Teachers are depicted as “groomers” and “perverts” for accepting a non-binary student’s pronouns or mentioning the existence of people who aren’t vanilla.

Christopher Rufo, the American who invented the CRT panic, where he depicted schools as teaching Critical Race Theory, found a wellspring of emotional energy into which to tap. Critical Race Theory is a law school concept where academics study the impact of laws that were designed to disadvantage Black people. It was never a school study. Labelling any study of history that aims to represent the balanced truth – rather than bowdlerised pap – as CRT, however, has given the Right a tool to make teachers’ lives a nightmare.

One Texas committee recommended teaching slavery in elementary school as “involuntary relocation.” Now Ohio is introducing a law to require teaching “both sides” of the Holocaust.

Groups of disinformation-radicalised parents and outsiders appear at school board meetings in threatening fashion to intimidate staff. Issues about sexuality and gender are Rufo’s new target. This whips up further the Trump base’s QAnon radicalisation; they believe children are being abducted, raped, murdered and/or farmed for youth-extending hormones. Now they are targeting their teachers as the key threat. Tucker Carlson, for example, asked why fathers aren’t beating up teachers for discussing anything connected with LGBTQI existence.

State school teachers, already exhausted by the pandemic and extreme underfunding, are leaving the profession. This suits the Republicans fine because the dismantling of public education is a key project of a number of their main funders. Often emerging from fossil fuel wealth, they want a tame Christian education that does not teach critical thinking or any curriculum that isn’t a mythologised version of life that reinforces “tradition.”

Any curriculum that includes the hard facts about our settler colonial nations’ histories is anathema to the Right, as is acknowledgment of diversity. Any curriculum that includes recognition that people who are not straight exist is debauched. Any curriculum that includes the scientific facts of the unfolding climate emergency is, unsurprisingly given the money behind this campaign, disgracefully woke.

Schools that emerge beyond the campaigns will teach a curriculum that celebrates White Christian Patriarchal Civilisation. Christian charter schools, home schools and private schools will suffice. If children from disadvantaged areas miss out, the Republicans don’t care. Augmented by outlawing abortion, they will create a homegrown underclass to do the worst jobs for the worst wages without the need for migrant workforces.

America’s problems are not the same as our problems. These escalating campaigns that are right now stripping millions of Americans of equality and bodily autonomy are minority positions inflicted upon the majority after decades of strategising to break the flawed democratic processes underpinning the American republic.

In Australia, the Right faces different challenges to impose minority rule. It sees its best chance to regain power and reinstate the steps it had been taking to break our democracy in culture wars. These “moral” panics are distractions meant to disguise the fact that the Right can’t win on a platform of tax cuts for the rich and deregulation.

The new campaign to attack schools for being “woke” as signalled by Dutton, Sky News and the IPA’s Class Action campaign signal their intent to replicate the American crippling of schools and silencing of teachers. The IPA, like the American equivalents, is largely funded by fossil fuel figures who naturally do not want students taught to understand climate science. The harnessing of traditionalists scared of change, combined with radical Religious Right Christian Nationalist bodies, offers the LNP a new base that might offer electoral success.

Australian women and our allies have already marched on Australian streets to decry the Dobbs decision in the US Supreme Court. We must all be ready, particularly the straight majority, to stand up to any efforts to expand the attacks on our reproductive autonomy into the broader range of bodily autonomy.

Trans identity, weaponised by Morrison, is a wedge to expand into an extensive attack on LGBTQI Australians. Dutton has signalled his readiness to follow culture war politics as far as it will take him.

We must stand up alongside our targeted compatriots. We unite and defend, or we will all be trapped in the Right’s patriarchal nostalgia, and stripped of our equality.

 

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Australia needs a Bill of Rights

Australia is at a crossroads. The decade of Coalition government showed how vulnerable our rights and freedoms could be in the face of a political party radicalised by anti-democratic and illiberal ideas. The Republican Party in America is displaying how quickly rights can be destroyed, even after it was removed from government; we need to protect vulnerable groups within our nation from copycat attacks.

After the Albanese government fulfils its campaign promises to institute a collection of federal integrity measures, it should tackle drafting a Bill of Rights for Australia. The protections such legislation would afford are crucial.

The measures taken over the nine years of Coalition rule were such that Andrew Wilkie MP described the country as moving towards being a “pre-police state” in 2015 and “becoming a police state” in 2018. When courts objected to illegal steps by the Coalition, the government changed the law. We need to have stronger protections in place and even treaty obligations, before another government that shows such cynical disregard for Australian norms is elected into power.

There are a number of actions by the Liberal governments of the 21st century that must never be repeated. The indefinite administrative detention of refugees and the endless cruelties perpetrated upon them by Home Affairs and their contractors are a stain upon our reputation. We returned refugees to their persecutors, despite non-refoulment being at the heart of the Refugee Convention. Australia has sunk a long way since we stood as one of the original signatories in 1951.

The growing crisis of state capture over the last decade led to a government that was intent on keeping its secrets. The persecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery, his lawyer, are only two of the star chamber trials of whistleblowers in an egregious and secretive abrogation of citizens’ rights. The Coalition’s dedication to unpopular policy, echoed in state governments, has led to laws aiming to suppress peaceful protest. Without protest, democracy is crippled.

Scared of its voters, the government stepped up surveillance. The police need a warrant to inspect people’s electronic devices. Border Force, by contrast, has taken 40,000 electronic devices from people entering Australia over the last five years in a fishing exercise surrounded in secrecy.

The overturning of Roe v Wade last week in America pointed out that rights not encoded in laws are vulnerable. Now reproductive rights groups are preparing for cases where women who have miscarriages are arrested, their phone and internet history searched. Adversarial partners could be asked to testify to the criminality of the loss of a pregnancy, and the bounty system would reward them financially for the accusation.

Pregnancy tests in small towns are being put behind the counter to block privacy. Doctors are dangerously refusing to treat women miscarrying until they contract an infection, and pharmacists are refusing to issue the prescribed medication to hurry a miscarriage safely to its conclusion. Women’s bodies have ceased to be their own in Republican states, the very states where the maternal death rate is by far the worst in the industrialised world. Pregnancy is being criminalised.

The former Vice President has repeated the proposal that the abortion ban should be implemented nationally when the Republicans next take the other two arms of government.

This is not a decision supported by many Americans. Roughly 80% support abortion in some cases. Approximately 60-70% support abortion in the first trimester. The unpopularity of state bills allowing women or doctors to be charged with homicide for any intervention from the moment of conception does not prevent their passing. America’s democratic processes at all levels are compromised to enable this minority rule.

It is not just unwillingly pregnant people that stand to suffer. Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion outlined the fact that he saw all privacy protection precedents as “demonstrably erroneous” and that none could stand. Not only is marriage equality likely to be reduced to a state matter in America, but also the re-criminalisation of homosexuality. Some Republican figures have begun discussing banning contraceptive access in their state.

The Supreme Court’s attack on rights took place because three increasingly radical figures were named to the court under one President. It was not an armed coup that is depriving Americans of their freedom and equality but judicial appointments by a single elected leader. He functioned as the key to implementing decades of unscrupulous strategising by those using him.

There are two main cultural forces at work in America shaping these minority decisions being imposed on the public. One is the growth of the Religious Right, expressing extremist Christian positions on sexual morality that must be universally enforced to allow Christ to return. The other is a “social conservatism” deployed by Republican strategists and their media allies in “culture war” campaigns. The two overlap: the former depicts homosexuality as a grotesque sin, the latter depicts it as a grotesque and unmanly aberration.

Both forces are at work in the Right in Australia. Under the Morrison government, Australians saw the Religious Right come to the fore. The long Coalition procrastination on marriage equality made the debate bitter and harmful. After the passing of the marriage amendment, the backlash from religious conservatives was embraced by Morrison who worked to pass a parallel bill legalising religious discrimination.

Morrison accompanied this with attacks on trans youth and sportspeople, an echo of a key Republican strategy in America. The embrace of Katherine Deves, whose campaign was apparently run out of his office, illustrates the inclusiveness of the strategy. Right-wing feminists who have been encouraged to deploy white supremacist talking points are brought into the fold to broaden the appeal. In America, hundreds of laws have been implemented to limit both teachers’ ability to talk about the existence of LGBTQI+ people and the actions of trans people.

This Religious Right pressure on government hasn’t disappeared with Morrison. Extreme religious groups are stacking Liberal and National Party branches. In South Australia, the leader of the Liberal opposition David Speirs, three of his shadow ministry, and Labor MP Clare Scriven are attending an anti-choice training day on the same weekend as rallies against anti-choice legislation take place around the country.

The same (substantially fossil-fuel funded) culture war battles are being fought in Australia as in America. We have echoes of their Critical Race Theory battles in our “history wars.” Senator Hollie Hughes just reported to the Sydney Institute that “Marxist teachers” were to blame for the Morrison government’s defeat. This parrots lines in America where Republicans are trying to break the public school system in favour of religious education. Sky News both echoes and prompts the culture war battles that swirl in the internet sewers. The Religious Right has shown it is as unscrupulous as the socially conservative Right in the tools being used to reverse the achievements of the civil rights era.

Already, a Bill of Right’s protections is going to be difficult to define in Australia. Disinformation makes a fact-based discussion challenging. Anti-vaxxers would argue that the community’s need for mass vaccination to keep hospital systems functioning is a plot meant to poison them. Shaping a line for the protection of protest in regular times as opposed to pandemic eras is fraught. The Deves position and its “alternative facts” are being filtered out through women’s chats and gender-critical feminist journals disseminating illusory threats and breeding a demand for the persecution of a minority.

This debate will be complicated and require a delicate hand so that the provisions are clear enough to prevent excessive judicial license to interpret. They must be comprehensive enough to prevent a group from being harmed by its interests’ omission.

America is showing us that the combination of religious extremism and disinformation-based culture war radicalisation can create a dangerous voter bloc. A disengaged majority can be overwhelmed before it knows what hit it.

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The transphobia “moral” panic

People contributing to anti trans rhetoric are playing a much more dangerous game than they realise.

The current wave of anti-trans sentiment will lead to more violence and victimisation. Initially the attacks will hit people who are visibly trans women. Eventually, it will spread to anyone who is LGBTQI+. The same forces promoting this violence are those aiming to limit women’s rights, and ultimately purge their countries of unwelcome categories of people.

Be very sure you know what you are doing if you join in.

In America over one weekend in Pride Month alone, extremism monitors tracked “seven in-person extremist activities targeting LGBTQ people.” In the most dramatic event, 31 uniformed men in balaclavas were dragged from a U-Haul vehicle before they could create a “riot” at a Pride event in Idaho.

American political aspirants and preachers demanded death penalties for homosexuality in a year when 250 anti LGBTQI+ bills were introduced around that nation. In Ohio laws were passed that would allow the genital inspection of secondary and tertiary female student athletes. In Idaho, the law would make it a life-sentence felony for parents or doctors to help trans youth gain puberty delaying treatment, including making it a trafficking offence to take them out of the state in pursuit of medical care.

This hysteria feels much more extreme than in Australia, but as we saw on our streets over the pandemic, the violence of the turbulent world of American politics is brought here through internet swamps. Trump flags and nooses appeared in our street protests. Australians unknowingly appealed to American constitutional amendments for protection from health measures. Most Australians were shocked to see violent brawls with the police on our streets apparently emerging out of nowhere.

And in the global sewers of the internet, the reasons for the panic are clear. Of all the manifold bigotries that pervade the space, the one with the most convergence is that gay or trans people are pedophiles. That facts dismiss this as nonsense is no help; facts long since ceased having traction in this sphere.

This iteration of social contagion is not surprising. It is easier to absorb a “moral” panic when it confirms feelings of discomfort or incomprehension. Again, when it builds on earlier waves of “moral” panic, the new variant can confirm previous prejudice.

The “save our children” hysteria of the QAnon movement crescendoed in the worst of the pandemic. Lonely and frightened people sat at home on their computers absorbing a fantasy built on earlier waves of child stealing (and sacrificing) panics. Some of the people caught up in the QAnon cult would have been immersed in the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s where childcare operators were persecuted over baseless accusations of mass child abuse. QAnon proved they hadn’t been fools to believe.

The trans panic of this moment calls upon earlier fear and horror at the existence of Queer people in general. It was only in 1994 that mainland Australia legalised homosexuality, with Tasmania following three years later. The religious campaign against marriage equality during the postal vote in 2017 harnessed all the risks and threats that conservative Australians might dread.

The success of the equality vote brought change. Queer people in Australia described feeling accepted and finally welcome as part of the community. People felt newly safe to hold hands with their partner in the street.

These changes are recent and fragile. The Religious Right is fighting hard to limit equality, then ultimately to reverse it. This is most clearly apparent in the United States, but Australia saw Scott Morrison’s faction echoing its strategies. His religious discrimination bill aimed to grant religious groups the right to practise discrimination. In the election, Morrison’s decision to harness Katherine Deves’s feminist transphobia aimed to draw in a fresh base for his religious bigotry.

*And this feminist support for transphobia needs to be seen for what it is. “How the far right is turning feminists into fascists” traces the trajectory from some early radical feminist movements to the new anti-trans “feminism.” It is as likely to celebrate women for their child-bearing capacity as it is to echo ethnonationalist ideas. While feminisms are a broad range of beliefs, this kind seems grim.

The American Religious Right which Scott Morrison aimed to inject into Australian politics is infused with the theocratic belief in the absolute necessity for Evangelical/Pentecostal Christians to purify society. Christian Nationalism demands that all sexual activity in the state is procreative and within marriage. All men must be strong patriarchs. All women must be submissive wives. The Religious Right has not, however, placed itself at the centre of American “conservative” politics by being clumsy. It has deployed any strategy to achieve its aims, and encouraging women outside the churches to define their value in their reproductive capacity has been useful. It both works to aid the Religious Right’s war on women’s reproductive freedom as well as gaining allies against the LGBTQI+ people who would blur the boundaries.

They have convinced a sizeable proportion of America that progressives demand abortion up to the point of birth. The ludicrous parallel distortion is the depiction of trans women as a threat to other women. Both nightmare boogeymen prevent rational discussion of the issue, but rational discussion was never the goal.

The issue in America is driven from the top by well-funded Christian Libertarian thinktanks, and from the ground in the post-QAnon MAGA base. Republican politicians believe they have the key to minority rule in juggling these interest groups. In Australia, the nascent Religious Right is regrouping after Scott Morrison’s defeat. The secular version of their talking points is being amplified on Sky News, funnelled free-to-air into the regions.

When decent Australians allow themselves to be carried along by the wave of this moral panic, they are not defending women. What they are doing is becoming caught up on the rational-sounding fringes of a hysteria that will lead to violence.

The overlapping groups attacking LGBTQI+ people in America include Christian fascists and post QAnon conspiracy theorists alongside a range of other extremist factions. Anti-LGBTQI action has overtaken all the other “cross-pollination opportunities” like CRT, pandemic health measures and abortion access.

The violence in Australia is unlikely to look like militia in U-Hauls, but how many bashings or murders would be acceptable? The attack on trans people – or abortion – are not ends in themselves but trojan horse missions with the aim to replace our democratic projects with theocracy, and our freedoms to shape our lives with stringent rules of chaste behaviour.

We need to work together, just like the overlapping groups that despise us.

 

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What is the “mad left”?

Even before the Albanese government was certain that it would have a clear majority, the Sky News chorus had begun baying about the “mad left” taking power. What the madness constitutes is never quite made clear. It is “vibe” rather than diagnosis.

It is not to be dismissed because of that inexactitude. This is another echo of the games deriving from the American right where the so-called left is essentially unfit to hold office; only the right can form a legitimate government. The fear-mongering underpins the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, as well as the continuing efforts to “stop the steal.”

It is further developed in the US. The intertwining of the religious right with the Republican Party has given an Evangelical (Pentecostal) infusion to the mix. In the Spiritual Warfare battle between good and evil that must be won for Jesus to return, Jesus votes Republican and the “left” is a demonic force obstructing him.

Depicting the largely centrist Democrats as a wild left is quite an achievement. Two Democrat senators owned by the right prevent most legislation being passed, let alone progressive bills. Depicting the party as the face of evil in America makes democracy impossible.

The “conservative” parties of the UK and Australia are playing a less extreme version of the same game as part of their efforts to entrench minority rule. Their policies are not in the interests of the voters they need in (approximate) democracies: culture war battles inherent to “conservative” identity must replace policy platforms to attract the majority vote.

The GOP is aided by a deeply distorted democratic structure underpinning the republic. The Tories have just passed legislation that undermines the independence of their electoral commission in a substantial blow to British democracy. The Australian “conservative” parties struggle to surmount a hurdle not faced by their UK and US brothers: compulsory and preferential voting. Disillusionment and despair are strong motives not to bother voting if it is optional. These egalitarian measures force the Australian Coalition partners to work harder to convince their bloc to vote against their own interests.

The process of undermining Australians’ faith in our strong electoral processes is underway. Clive Palmer and his conspiracy voters are overtly echoing American talking points. Ballot boxes were hidden and shady companies provided electoral management, if you loiter in this underbelly of the internet.

The fact that the Labor Party achieved a majority government at all could be considered a miracle given the barrage of propaganda and nonsense that a lacklustre press gallery churned out as election coverage. That farce crested its years of echoing Coalition talking points; the members of Scott Morrison’s inner circle of reporters to whom inside information was granted were keen to maintain this access. Only a handful still merit the professional label of journalist.

This propagandist spin continues to seethe for the more mainstream “conservative” voter. News Corp has deployed the Dog Line to howl the weakness of Labor’s victory. Sky’s Gemma Tognini wrote in The Australian that Labor’s vote was “staggeringly low” and that the idea that Labor voters “abandoned it” robbed the new government of a “firm mandate.” Somehow “sliding into power via preferences” is a sign of shoddy victory rather than a canny electorate. The Australian’s National Editor, Dennis Shanahan, wrote to remind his peers that “tears, recriminations, claims of a lack of mandate, the lowest primary vote on record or that Labor is only a hybrid government tinged irrevocably teal and green from its independent allies” are “pointless.”

They are not, however, pointless. The point is to undermine faith in our voting system, as well as Labor’s right to form government. Through the Howard years, conservatives argued that voting should no longer be compulsory. In the controversial 2020 parliamentary committee report on electoral matters, conservative voices had pushed for the voter ID laws and optional preferential voting. Happily for the Coalition, optional preferential voting would “devastate Labor.”

Unlike the UK, Australia has so far seen off these Republican-style attacks on our electoral process, but we need to remain aware of the risks. The formerly conservative side of politics is entrenching a more radical right trajectory and undermining the numbers voting combined with enraging their base are the only ways they can bring a hard right government into being.

NSW moderate Matt Kean observed that none of the lost Liberal vote went to more conservative candidates. Nonetheless, Sky’s Peta Credlin celebrated the chance to go more radical right now the so-called moderates have been flushed. Sky’s Rowan Dean berated the moderate “bedwetters” betraying the base with their Labor-lite impotence. The toxic chorus demands the Liberals embrace more radical positions.

Sky News is funnelled free-to-air into the regions drumming in this message that Australia faces “three years of hard-core left-wing government that will destroy the fabric of this nation.” It unifies the conspiracy spheres that underly the UAP vote with a resentful base. Peter Dutton’s initial speeches as Leader of the Opposition have been loaded with disdain for the capacity of the ALP to govern. This has provided amusement for the many “safe Liberal” electorate voters who turned against the Morrison government’s malign incompetence, but it is to the base that he speaks. The mythical “socialist left” embodied by the Labor Party will destroy everything.

By depicting Dutton as a “pragmatic conservative” rather than a radical right figure, Greg Sheridan aims to normalise the leader’s authoritarian political leaning. Dutton has said he thinks parliament is a disadvantage for sitting governments. He combined Australia’s enforcement and surveillance arms in one body in the mega-department of Home Affairs, and deployed them in a highly illiberal way. He victimised an out-group for the vengeful pleasure of his in-group. His pitch is to lead this so-called party of the worker against the educated elite of the left.

Like America, we can celebrate the victory of the centre left over manifestly incompetent and malevolent radical right governments. Like America, though, we should be very careful not to believe the radical right is defeated.

This was originally published in Pearls and Irritations.

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Dutton and Trump politics

The mainstream media in Australia is currently whitewashing fascist politics. It is not just sycophantic, or lazy, journalism. It is dangerous.

When Peter Dutton was named the leader of the LNP opposition last week, a number of poor pieces emerged about giving the “hard man a go” to prove who he is. One of the most supine was from Jacqueline Maley at Fairfax.

These soft columns mention some of the ugly acts of Dutton’s past, such as walking out of the apology to the Stolen Generation. He has apologised for that, blaming his background, presumably as a Queensland cop. Dutton has also apologised this week for joking about the existential threat that climate change poses to our island neighbours. He described this bigoted quip as “in poor taste.”

What these articles have not detailed is Dutton’s appalling record as head of Immigration. In 2017, the government paid out $70 million to refugees and asylum seekers to avoid having the lawyers’ meticulously documented trail of abuse of innocent people laid out in court. The solicitors described it as the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian history.

The life of refugees on Manus and Nauru is indeed well documented in its horror. Women coerced by guards to provide sexual favours to have enough water to wash out their shampoo or clean their children in the overwhelming heat. Women forced to queue for each issue of a sanitary item. People abused for taking a piece of fruit for later from the nursery-hour dinner. Tents smeared in black mould found to be “highly toxic,” with only a small fan to make the heat less intolerable. Utterly inadequate medical care.

The point of this treatment, under Morrison as well as Dutton, was to make the Taliban or the genocidal Sri Lankan army or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard less horrific than Australia. During Labor’s last term, detention was a process. Under the nine years of LNP government, it became an intolerable dead end. Guards travelled with Hoffman knives as standard issue to cut down suicide attempts. People lay through the stifling days, depression-drugged, in dank tents without home to return to or hope for the future.

Eventually the children on Nauru declined into resignation syndrome. They were literally dying of despair, but Dutton wasted taxpayer money in the courts to avoid evacuating them from Nauru.

When he was eventually forced by Medevac legislation to bring the most ill adults to Australia, their treatment can only be described as vengeful. Those closest to death received medical care; the rest continued barely helped. They were imprisoned in Alternative Places of Detention, robbed of the ability to walk the streets or choose a meal. After they communicated with people outside their windows, or for fear of more suicides, some were even robbed of fresh air. These men with damaged health were made more anxious by utterly inadequate pandemic provisions. It was only the spotlight shone on their treatment by Novak Djokovic being locked in one of the hotel prisons that provoked outrage and eventual freedom. This extraordinary waste of money took place while their families and friends in the community could have housed them at minimal cost to the country.

The Murugappan family illustrated the treatment of the refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, not much better than the abuse offshore. Fleeing a genocidal army must have made being dragged from their house by uniformed men at dawn even more terrifying. (Dogs often accompanied this kind of night raid perpetrated on vulnerable people as they were moved around at the whim of the department.) YouTube still holds the video of the sound of the girls’ screams as armed guards kept them from their mother. The children have long slept with their parents, scared of what might happen next, or the procession of guards inspecting them at night, torches glaring over their beds. They had teeth pulled because of rot from a lack of vitamin D. In Melbourne, these little girls did not have time in the sun to produce the vitamin.

These stories are not isolated and they happened in our suburbs and small towns to so many other people Australians don’t know about. This was possible because the victims, ordinary people fleeing our nightmares, were dehumanised and hidden from our sight.

Dutton repeatedly misled the public about the conditions under which people lived, the quality of healthcare to which they had access, or suggested that the people living in harsh conditions were of criminal character and deserved it. And none of this was necessary. Labor’s boat turnbacks had made the extortionate price of this last-resort path unviable. Daily cruelties to make Australia intolerable were not truly perpetrated to “send a message” that people smugglers must stop. They were attempts to make Australia’s reputation cruel and ugly, so that nobody would ever want to come here that Peter Dutton didn’t invite. White African farmers, white Ukrainians or au pairs might receive mercy. No mercy is granted the non-white or the Muslim outside our pitifully small humanitarian visa program.

Fascist is a term thrown around loosely; fascist politics is a more useful concept. Yale philosopher Jason Stanley defines it as identifying enemies and appealing to “an in-group (usually the majority), and smashing the truth and replacing it with power.” Dutton and his party defined people who arrived by boat as our enemies, as likely to be radicalised and to harm us. More recently, Scott Morrison seemed keen to echo our AUKUS allies in adding the tiny cohort of trans youth to the list of enemy threats. These culture war battles are divorced from fact but aim to deploy rage to distract a resentful voter base. These trumped-up panics are accompanied in Australia, Britain and the USA by a rapid decline in our democratic standing.

Dutton has signalled that his leadership is to be about culture war battles and division. After Albanese included the three Australian flags in his press briefings, Dutton made the ostentatious step of appearing in front of the Red Ensign alone. First Nations Australians are to be invisible. After 9 years in government, Dutton has discovered the “forgotten people” of the suburbs. This dogwhistle is to announce the fact that Morrison’s “quiet Australians” remain the target of culture war divisiveness.

Biden defeated Trump in the US. Boris Johnson’s career remains precarious, but his party’s hold is not. Our May election gave the Liberal Party the thumping it had earned. None of these countries is safe. It has taken decades for the radical right in America to suppress the votes of those not caught up in its culture war campaigns. It may be that there are not enough to fight back against the Republican’s authoritarian trajectory in 2022 and 2024.

Without a strong news media, Australia faces a clouded future. Albanese’s government may be able to repair our Rule of Law protections adequately to protect us into the future from the international right’s authoritarian games. The radical right might lose their hold on the Liberal and National parties. We have seen in America, however, that this form of the right is prepared to play the long game. Journalists that help them whitewash their cruellest actions aid them in this plan.

 

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

 

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The Coalition’s man problem

It is becoming a cliché to say the Coalition government has a ‘woman problem’. This is nonsense: it has a man problem. From the ‘big swinging dicks’ posse in parliament to the silence on the disproportionate suffering by women in the pandemic, Australian conservatism is a deeply masculine sphere. The stream of female colleagues lining up to accuse Scott Morrison and his enablers of bullying is shocking, but not a new phenomenon. Women in Australian politics have recorded for years the sexualising, sidelining and offensive ‘banter’ they face, not only from the conservatives in politics. More specifically, however, the political character of the Coalition reflects the degree to which the Australian Right is no longer merely conservative, but part of the worldwide resurgence of patriarchal authoritarian politics.

The latest Jenkins report found 51 per cent of people employed in federal parliamentary workplaces experienced at least one incident of bullying or sexual harassment. One participant in the investigation into Canberra said: ‘It is a man’s world and you are reminded of it every day thanks to the looks up and down you get, to the representation in the parliamentary chambers, to the preferential treatment politicians give senior male journalists.’ The ABC television series Ms Represented recounted an appalling work culture in the first-hand accounts of a range of women who have left politics. Only 31 per cent of MPs are women, and women constitute a mere 19.5 per cent of the ranks of the Coalition. Women are leaving, including possible leader, Julie Bishop, who described the ‘appalling’ behaviour that is taken as the norm. Australia has slid to 50th in world rankings of female representation in parliament.

The Coalition parties seem to have contracted a more serious variant of the misogyny. Most of us recall the Julia Gillard speech recounting her treatment in parliament but some may have missed the appalling trail of abuse, gendered and sexualised, she was constantly subjected to by conservatives. Remember Tony Abbott standing in front of the banner to ‘Ditch the Witch’? Remember the 2013 Coalition fundraising dinner where the menu boasted ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail: Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Huge Red Box’? Dr Anne Summer’s ‘Her Rights at Work’ speech detailed the pervasive nature of the sexist abuse.

Over the last decade, this reactionary, often brutal, style of politics has had a significant impact. The treatment of every class of people requiring support has been cruel, with empathy portrayed as a weakness, most especially towards refugees. Women trapped on Nauru were made to line up for each sanitary product one by one, forced to consider exposing themselves in exchange for adequate water to wash, and treated appallingly when they needed an abortion, and worst of all assaulted and raped. The recent scandal over the partisan nature of critical support for those devastated by the NSW and Queensland floods has led to additional stress for family violence survivors, with support workers fearing women would turn to suicide. The 2022 budget was only superficially generous, while actively working to funnel much greater quantities of money to fossil fuel donors than to the emergency response that so many new carbon emitting projects will effectively demand. Tax cuts bent towards the wealthy were cemented, while the end to temporary tax cuts for the Lamington set was masked ahead of the election. Cynical small cheques to tempt voters could in no way address the cuts to Medicare coverage challenging pensioners and the minimal lift in Jobseeker payments still left it disastrously below the poverty line. As always, women are disproportionally affected by this Chicago School-approach to economics.

The lack of empathy inherent in these funding decisions is matched by the inability to express fellow feeling for suffering, despite the expensive hiring of ‘empathy consultants’. The overtly ‘manly’ inability to deal with emotions other than rage is not just a reflection of toxic personalities—male and female—rising to leadership roles: the blokey larrikin manner explored recently by Lech Blaine is a strategy design to project ordinary, supposedly working class values.

A similar performative masculinity is at the forefront of the Republican movement in the US, so often a role model for Australian conservatives. This has given us the routine spectacles of Ivy League graduates adopting the condescending image of a labouring ‘real man.’ In one recent instance, Rep. Josh Hawley, who waved a fisted salute to the 6 January mob ready to ransack the Capitol, spoke about the Leftist project being the ‘deconstruction of American men’ which would lead to the deconstruction of the United States itself. Extreme misogyny is a central ingredient of the Far Right movement that is devouring the Republican Party. The subset of the Right concerned with performative faux masculinity has been referred to as the ‘manosphere’. It combines the patriarchal ideas of Rad Trad Catholics, Evangelicals and Eastern Orthodox Christians with the violent white supremacist ideas of the neo nazi militias. Keeping women in their place unites all of these strands, well represented in Australia’s anti-health policy protests.

The regressive attitude towards women, with additional contempt for women who are queer and/or BIPOC, is prevalent through the American Right. One speaker at a MAGA rally recently pointed to a group of Proud Boys and declared them to be ‘single real men over there looking for housewives.’ This ‘family values’ push to destroy feminism’s impact on women’s choices is part of an international surge in fascist politics that celebrates nostalgic patriarchal roles. Authoritarian nations where far-right nationalism is overtaking democracy celebrate masculinity as strength, and femininity as weakness. This is perhaps most distinct in Putin’s Russia where Orthodox leaders are central to his glorying of a primal, proudly Russian machismo. By contrast, as Yevgenia Albats explains, ‘women have a single role: that of a subservient and silent subordinate who knows her place.’ Putin’s disgust at the ‘infertile and genderless’ West, has been part of the rhetoric about his invasion of Ukraine which, as Emil Edenborg argues, has been presented as a war on homosexuality as much as a war on purported Nazism.

The manufacturing of an existential threat to a normative in-group such as ‘legacy Americans‘ is a classic strategy of fascist politics: in nations where this form of nativist authoritarianism is ascendant, perceived threats to white, straight, male identity are suppressed. In Hungary, the recently re-elected Orban has led a frontal attack on abortion and rights for LGBTQI people. The founder of the Italian League, Umberto Bossi characterised members of his movement as having a perpetual hard-on (the so-called ‘celodurismo’). Britain’s Tories are deploying anti-Trans fears for political purposes. In Brazil, Bolsonaro said he would rather a son die than be gay, as well as characterising the birth of his daughter as a moment of weakness. In the USA, alongside a raft of legislative measures, the language used by Republican politicians and pundits threatens the very existence of trans people and reeks of the propaganda that precedes racial violence. Thought leaders like Joe Rogan push the line that the Woke are silencing men while paid $100 million from Spotify alone to produce around 9 hours a week of podcasts, often fostering male grievance in his worldwide audience of eleven million.

Women, of whichever intersecting identity, share the pain in concrete ways. In Russia, domestic violence was decriminalised, despite the substantial crisis of abuse. Masha Gessen left Russia when a threat to remove the children of her rainbow family was used to silence her. It also manifests in laws such as Texas’s S.B.8 which imposes a bounty on anyone who assists a woman to obtain an abortion after eight weeks’ gestation. These misogynist trends deploy a deeply nostalgic form of (mostly) Christian religion to dictate that the only acceptable societal structure should be traditional patriarchy, and that feminism, and the marginalised identities it seeks to protect, poses nothing but threat to the family, the status quo and the nation itself. Now Amanda Stoker, Assistant Minister for Women in the Morrison government, is doing her best to draw the anti-choice movement into Australian government.

In the 2022 election there have been attempts to bring a new female presence to Canberra. Echoing the Indi experiment with a truly representative community candidate, several climate and integrity-driven independent candidates are standing, mostly women. They have been greeted by the Coalition and media mates with misogynistic dismissal: professional women with a range of accomplishments were derided as ‘doctors’ wives,’ and David Sharma described his independent opponent as on a ‘mid-life frolic’ or campaigning ‘as a hobby.’ Alexander Downer disdained them as ephemeral even in victory, robbing Frydenberg and Sharma of their right to become “truly great men.” This is emblematic of the Coalition’s conception of politics as a male game, which helps explain why it is much less likely to preselect women for safe seats.

Australia needs dramatic change in our politics to make women’s experience as much part of the shaping of the nation as men’s. It will take a thorough overhaul of our political structures to flush this fashionable authoritarian sexism from our government. Watching so many former democracies embrace misogynist authoritarianism shows us that it’s not only the climate at stake. The outcome of this election is critical in every way.

This article was originally published on Overland.

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

 

 

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Democracy in decline: Australia’s slide into ‘competitive authoritarianism’

Australia is at a critical point. A government that would cling to power to impose unpopular policy threatens the very nature of our democracy.

It is common to refer to countries that were “consolidated democracies” as corroding to “illiberal democracies”. Hungary is the most notable example. If, however, the term “competitive authoritarianism” is employed to describe regimes instead, it becomes clear that the danger for Australia is just as strong as it is for the USA and the UK, as well as for Hungary.

Levitsky and Way coined the term in 2002 to describe states where the democratic process still appeared to function but where the incumbents had nearly insuperable advantages. The main strategies described are the misuse of government funds to swing elections, disinformation, the distorting complicity of the most prominent media and the placing of partisans in key “referee” roles.

Levitsky and Way chose to use this term, because they felt that “illiberal democracy” placed these regimes within the array of democratic nations. “Competitive authoritarianism” by contrast shows that these governments no longer seek to honour the democratic tradition for which our societies have aimed.

The misuse of federal government money to distort electoral outcomes has been documented in startling detail in Morrison’s Coalition government. Professor Anne Twomey recently described the growth in money wasted this way as “exponential”. From sports rorts to car parks, the “pork barreling” is estimated to amount to billions of dollars so far.

Scott Morrison’s “miracle” victory in 2019 was as much about the misuse of taxpayer money, amplified by Clive Palmer’s $83 million disinformation campaign, as any divine intervention.

It is hardly surprising, in light of this, that the Coalition is adamantly opposed to a functioning federal anti-corruption commission. Unlike Labor’s preferred model, the government’s “Commonwealth Integrity Commission” actively shields politicians and public servants making it almost impossible to begin investigations and shrouding the results in secrecy.

The shameless lies and empty announcements that make up much of the Coalition government’s activity have been partially documented in Crikey’s “A dossier of lies and falsehoods”. Crikey believes itself driven to act because of the regularity of Morrison’s lies, the brazenness and the lack of accountability.

Morrison’s ministers have also been tracked over the years misleading the public regularly over climate issues, human rights and their own integrity.

The lack of transparency and accountability in the government is in part possible because Australia has the least diversity in its media ownership of any ostensibly “developed” nation. While the government has not confiscated opposing news outlets like Orban in Hungary, the ability for Australians to hear contrasting interpretations of government action is limited. News Corp owns approximately 100 physical and digital newspapers. Former prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd have been speaking urgently in recent times about the toxic impact that Rupert Murdoch’s interventions have on Australian democracy.

Add to News Corp the shift in former Fairfax outlets’ reporting since it joined the Nine group. Former Liberal treasurer and Nine chairman Peter Costello has reportedly “assumed a greater role in the day-to-day running” of the media corporation this year and Nine never signed the Fairfax charter of editorial independence. Kerry Stokes at Seven West Media is reportedly happy to run sections of his media empire at a loss in exchange for political power.

Murdoch has long stated that the internet allows enough diversity of voices to counter his extensive control over traditional media platforms in Australia – including Sky’s expansion into country Australia with its recent free-to-air deals – but the pandemic era has made very clear the limitations of the internet in privileging reliable information over radicalising conspiracy theories.

Between the continued threat of further funding cuts, political pressure, legal action and politicised board appointments, the ABC is experiencing constant intimidation and crippling undermining of its independence. Schwartz Media’s The Saturday Paper and other online outlets have limited capacity to counter the narrative carried by the corporate platforms.

These distortions are amplified by the horrifying impacts on reporting that Australia’s secretive national security state is enforcing. In a report released this week by Get Up, academics Hardy, Ananian-Welsh and McGarrity document in chilling detail the “5000 pages of powers, rules and offences” that have been imposed on the nation since 9/11, markedly more than our Five Eyes partners.

The most startling public manifestations of these laws took place in Australian Federal Polic raids on reporters homes and work places, as well as the secret trials taking place of whistleblowers witnesses K and J, and lawyer Bernard Collaery. The government’s counter terrorism powers and “a growing culture of government secrecy” strike at the ability of journalists to report and the public to understand the nature of the government for which we vote.

It was under Peter Dutton and Mike Pezzullo’s super department Home Affairs that the most troubling repressive regulations escalated. In 2019, the Civicus Monitor downgraded Australia’s civic space and its “respect for fundamental freedoms” from “open” to “narrowed”.

Now the Coalition is imposing regulations to prevent charities from speaking out too, in a move reminiscent of Putin.

A key strategy in a “competitive authoritarian” regime is placing partisan figures in key roles. In public service, the courts, statutory bodies. Professor Glyn Davis in his 2021 Jim Carlton Lecture documented the crucial work needed to restore senior public servants to the role of respected independent authorities in developing policy. Jack Waterford detailed the fact that even on critical pandemic decisions, Morrison has steered decision making to achieve his own goals rather than recognising epidemiological best practice.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has stacked the bodies in charge of transforming Australia to a post fossil fuel economy with sector lobbyists and executives. The Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO are both compromised by lobbyist appointments. The various “pork barrelling” scandals have further revealed the poor state of our statutory bodies’ independence. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which has power over 400 Commonwealth acts and legislative functions in a vast array of fields, has been stacked over the decade with “failed Liberal candidates, unemployed political staffers, and party donors”. The new human rights commissioner is another IPA figure, appointed without a transparent selection process, threatening our standing with the UN.

In 2020 comments, Levitsky and Way observed their shock that the oppressive regimes the West fought to bring into the “free world” had infected us with their oppressions rather than bringing our “freedom” to their borders. They also expressed their surprise that so many voters in democratic nations were calling for an end to the contest of platforms that elections are supposed to represent.

The Coalition government is clearly not interested in implementing their own rotten model of a federal anti-corruption commission. Change is going to take a Labor election victory with a commitment to overhauling the ways that Australia has slid so far down the path towards a “competitive authoritarian” regime.

Labor’s ICAC model is an excellent one and must be implemented in full on an ALP government taking power. It must be accompanied by a stronger code of conduct that shuts down the revolving door between the private sector, lobbyists and government. We need a thorough overhaul of our political donations arrangement: they should be limited to $3000 with backdoors like the parties’ “corporate memberships” and grandfathered exemptions closed.

We need the findings of the Thodey report into restructuring the public service implemented.

Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill also works to limit the degree to which the fossil fuel sector overrides the voters’ will in Australia’s critical energy decision-making.

Home Affairs’ steps towards a police state with increasing surveillance powers, attacks on transparency and efforts towards limiting public protest mean that citizens can no longer trust that our “rights” will be protected without an explicit bill to codify and defend them.

While it is undoubtedly too difficult to reinstate media diversity restrictions, we must debate the ways the nation strengthens balancing voices to the overwhelmingly dominant duopoly of News Corp and Nine.

Australia’s future hangs in the balance: the struggles facing us over climate crisis directions in particular endanger our ability to vote out a government determined to crush transparency and protest. It is by recognising the concept of “competitive authoritarianism” that we can truly see the breadth of the risk we face and the urgency of addressing the threat.

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

 

 

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The LNP exists to serve the rich. Everyone else gets “thoughts and prayers”

The recent budget has underscored that the Coalition government has abandoned the needy, and the nation’s future. Whether an Australian is hunting for a job or displaced from a disaster-wrecked town, they should expect almost nothing from our leaders.

The budget’s lessons should remind us that “conservatives” see themselves as representing the self-sufficient. Anyone unable to fend for him or herself is acceptable wastage. The tin boat heroes of Lismore are perhaps the model. Lismore largely took care of itself as underfunded emergency services struggled to cope. Without those brave rescuers in their tinnies, many more would have died. Future deaths will be met with hollow “thoughts and prayers” and a shrug by “conservative” politicians.

This is the implicit message from the government. The unreckonable harm of their policies – including the funding of new and bigger fossil fuel projects – will be communities’ to bear.

Instead of looking at the systemic crises facing the precariat, the splashy election budget threw it spare change in the hope that voters might be dazzled enough to reelect the incumbents.

Ultimately Australia’s battlers are on their own. JobSeeker payments have gone from 43.9% to 43.1% below the poverty line. A $420 tax break for a single year hides a tax increase for low and middle income earners. A gift of $250 to pensioners will do little to cover even the additional bills as Medicare’s coverage shrinks. Meanwhile the tax strike of the rich continues
unchecked.

As rent challenges those battling to make ends meet, Scott Morrison’s only solution was that renters should buy property, the price of which has been inflated out of reach by government policy that benefits the wealthy investor. The government program he referred to there will be another announceable that ends up helping only a handful. His flippant statement was little more than cover for a party that panders to donors at the expense of the rest of us.

Low unemployment rates mean little when a single hour of paid work places the individual in the employed category, and too many are under-employed. That’s with the backpackers and foreign labour who do so much of our low-paid work yet to return in force.

This makes even more nauseating Scott Morrison’s constant disingenuous roleplay as tradesman and labourer. It reflects, however, the inversion that has taken place in right wing politics. The Coalition no longer portrays itself as the party representing its investors. Instead it enacts a shadow play pretending to be the party of the working man, even while it strips back the services it provides him and his family.

Wendy Lovell, Victorian Liberal former Housing Minister displayed the superficiality of this clash of interests when she spoke of there being no use placing low-income families in “the best street in Brighton where the children cannot mix with others or go to the school with other children…” There is no questioning of the policies that create the gulf between rich and poor in the current Coalition.

Meanwhile “highly regressive” tax cuts for mainly rich men continue unchallenged. Combined with no interest in preventing the siphoning of wealth offshore, this strips the treasury of the funds the nation needs to address our challenges. Largesse for fossil fuel projects and military spending was promised by Frydenberg without any sense that it needs justifying. The spin that complements this generosity has convinced us, however, that spending on the community must be begrudged and scraped and costed at length.

The endorsement of the self-sufficient and the abandonment of the needy is not limited to Australian right wing politics. The increasingly extreme politics of the Coalition, echoing their role models in the Republican Party, trumpets an allegiance to free market libertarianism. Richard Denniss has pointed out with great clarity that they actually have willingness aplenty to tilt the market in favour of their donors and favoured economic interests. Their libertarian credentials are as shallow as their working man tableaux.

This government is authoritarian in tendency rather than pursuing freedom. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’s expose of the highhanded treatment of NSW preselection procedures is only a fraction of the problem. The persecution of whistleblowers, secrecy, surveillance and suppression of protest are deeply concerning.

And part of an authoritarian trajectory is the dehumanising of a group of “outsiders.” By uniting the community of the nation against a common enemy, “culture war” battles can be used to distract from the diminution of living standards of the percentage of population needed to hold power.

For much of the last 20 years, it has been the refugee that came by boat who has served as the Coalition’s threatening “outsider” for this gambit. It is reprehensible enough. How much more disturbing might it be if the Coalition is to continue its demonisation of Australia’s “needy” until they are seen as more troublesome than they are worth.

Part of that dismissal conflates them with loathed progressives or greenies. Barnaby Joyce illustrated these ideas when he dismissed two bushfire deaths in his electorate as likely Greens voters. The Liberal Party functionary, Shane Stone, who now acts as the coordinator general of our National Recovery and Resilience Agency dismissed those who lived in flood-destroyed areas as people who wanted to “live among the gum trees.” Republican rhetoric is much further down the path of depicting progressives not just as a nuisance but as a literal threat to the lives of conservatives. This gambit is named “accusation in a mirror” and is part of the process of creating the fear to foster awful acts of violence.

Stone’s claim that “the taxpayer and ratepayer cannot continue to pick up the bill for these huge catastrophic, damage events” is not true unless we make it true. Richard Denniss’s Big is a challenge to us to confront the accepted mantra on where national income can be gleaned and how it can be spent. The climate crisis will be an area where unthinkable amounts will need to be spent, and those decisions need making now.

In one term of a government, Australia has begun to see the death, destruction and financial cost of the climate emergency in stark relief. Frydenberg’s budget has promised a combined $3 billion to both renewables and disaster preparedness but the spending on climate change measures is intended to decline every year in the coming term. Meanwhile more than ten times that amount has been promised to fossil fuel corporations.

The government not only plans to exacerbate the impact of the climate emergency, but continues to play games with the impact it will have on Australians. Every degree the climate increases in heat, for example, adds an extra 7% of water to the flood that follows.

One can only judge that the Coalition perceives the poor who are more likely to live in climate disaster zones because these are more affordable (and the progressives who often live in threatened areas) as disposable. In an era when we no longer need mass labour in industry and the military, are these plutocrats to some degree shrugging their shoulders about the inevitable losses?

Whenever opposing politicians draw attention to the deep injustices at the core of modern right wing politics, they are shut down with cries of spruiking, ”The politics of envy. The politics of the class war”. Warren Buffett admitted, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.

We must decide now, before the crises become more overwhelming, whether we are going to accept the abandonment of those most wracked by rising costs and catastrophes. Right wing pretence of being the working man’s party will not address the fact that they are happily allied with the aspiring oligarchs, and plan to leave us to our fate.

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations as Scott Morrison’s constant disingenuous role play as tradesman and labourer

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

 

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The Risk of the Religious Right: Christian Libertarianism

It arguably took one presidential term in America for the nation to move from a modern nation with a loud Religious Right, to one where in 9 states a woman enduring a miscarriage will fear arrest for the charge that she caused it.

She is also likely to lack a swift end to her tragedy because doctors will be too frightened (or lack the training) to proceed with a D&C (dilation and curettage). This grieving woman will then be susceptible to septicaemia as the pregnancy ends, potentially over the course of weeks. Across 42 states, 536 pieces of legislation have limited access to abortion.

At the same time, LGBTQI Americans are suffering a concerted attack on their rights and safety. Idaho, for example, is threatening life sentence felony charges to parents or doctors who prescribe puberty delaying treatment, even if they leave the state.

It is hard to imagine Hillary Clinton allowing this Religious Right minority takeover without a monumental battle. Not least because up to 84% of Americans still support some access to abortion, and 67% of Democrats actively support trans rights.

Australia is a little further behind in the political power of our Religious Right, but it is growing. It is not regular religious faith that is troubling, but the political intentions of an immoderate faction. The philosophy underlying their agenda is “Christian Libertarianism,” even if many will not have heard the term. It explains this minority imposing its harsh definition of Christian morality on their nation at the same as the cruelty of Religious Right politicians’ policies towards the poor and vulnerable.

As our nation has embraced progressive positions, such as legislating to enable marriage equality, conservative religious groups are putting more pressure on the Coalition government to be their voice. With roughly 9 American-style Evangelicals (Pentecostal) and conservative Catholics in the federal cabinet, there is only limited resistance to the lobbying.

The trajectory looks likely to become entrenched as galvanized Christian groups branch-stack traditionally “conservative” seats. A recent article suggested that the Coalition might be willing to abandon progressive seats like Kooyong, hoping to hold power in the more conservative outer suburbs and rural areas. The National Party candidate for Richmond, Kimberly Hone, is such an Evangelical, with a social media history that echoes Katherine Deves’ controversial opinions.

A 2018 investigation exposed the Mormon and conservative Christian campaign shaping the Victorian Liberal Party. As the authors note, their impact outweighs their – as yet – minority numbers: “they are well-organised, they turn out to vote, and they are coalescing against rapid social change.” They compound that impact by targeting secular candidates such as the IPA’s James Paterson; his defence of his seat drives him to promote their religious agenda.

Deriving from the American Religious Right is the sense that conservative Christians are beleaguered. Progressives, they believe, have conquered education, entertainment and much of government. Rainbow flags on logos on social media suggest to this group that they have also lost commerce to the Left.

Perceiving themselves as embattled underdogs, rather than the fringe of the establishment with all the associated protections, they are fighting hard to keep their belief systems central to conservative government.

Rather than the conservative private religion of the Australian tradition, however, these new branch members and their selected candidates are introducing American religious Right tenets to the mainstream of Australian “conservatism.” With that pressure, it is becoming ever less conservative and more extreme.

The Religious Right in America has moved from the fringes of Republican thought after the Great Depression to being its driving force in 2022. Government programs were the province of communist Iron Curtain countries and welfare was socialism. Man should have the freedom to be poor. Vast sums from enthusiastic businessmen funded the Evangelical propaganda units tying freedom and God to American identity. It created the philosophy that has pervaded the Religious Right, Christian Libertarianism.

Libertarian political ideology demands freedom from government, tax, and regulation. It also asserts individuals’ right to determine their private morality provided they do not harm others. “Christian Libertarianism” by contrast, rejects the individual’s freedom of conscience and demands government impose their particular religious morality on the nation. This is partly because the dominant Evangelical majority in the Religious Right believe in Millennial prophecies where the nation must be moral under God’s law to ensure Christ’s return. Christian Nationalism – where the religious elect must control the nation – is a belief held by 20% of Americans.

This theocratic thinking is represented in Evangelicals here too. One example is National Party candidate Hone’s description of her mission: “I want to bring God’s kingdom to the political arena. And I want God’s kingdom to penetrate the political mountain.” David Hardaker, in his series investigating the growing religious impact on Australian politics, suggests part of Scott Morrison’s rejection of accountability might lie in his sense of himself as a divine agent “truly accountable only to God.”

 

Image from newprophecymovement.com.au

 

Outgoing NSW Liberal MP Catherine Cusack has endorsed the federal Greens candidate for the region, in outright rejection of the “wrecking ball” these Religious Right candidates are “putting through the Liberal and National parties.” She despaired: “They destroy moderates who cross the floor, they destroy trans people, and they do it in the name of God. It’s so destructive. It’s not liberal values, but it’s also not Australian values.”

The seeping of Republican ideas and strategies into our own conservative politics means the underlying Christian Libertarian philosophy is increasingly powerful here. On one hand the ideology is utterly committed to the freedom of individuals and businesses to operate without interference, as well as the intrusive public programs that might limit the suffering of the poor. Scott Morrison’s prosperity theology faith where wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and poverty a sign of his condemnation is emblematic. Intervention for the poor is against God’s will, and the Morrison government’s harshness to the needy is obvious. Paradoxically though, this freedom stops at the bedroom. Morrison’s support for Katherine Deves in her attacks on trans rights bows to this strict morality. Dominic Perrottet may not claim the label Christian Libertarian, but it describes his expressed beliefs with precision.

Part of the strength of this small demographic is the forging of a broader “conservative” identity against the progressive ideas represented by the Greens and the teal indies which they label socialist and an existential threat. The Coalition faces competition for these votes from the United Australia Party and PHON. They share the “freedom” rally anti-vaxx sentiment, and opposition to Covid health measures; the online Qanon/conspiracy network responsible has been absorbed into the Evangelical worldview. The Religious Right is also deeply sceptical of climate science. Coalition politicians around Australia have worked to avoid alienating Clive Palmer’s ralliers. Labor is treading a cautious path aiming to continue supporting both their traditional centrist religious vote as well as the progressive social vote.

Australia is echoing the American attack on trans people with other campaigns yet to follow the predictable American models. Amanda Stoker, Assistant Minister for Women, has been beginning to mainstream anti-choice arguments, and George Christensen introduced an anti-abortion bill to parliament last year. The Australian Christian Lobby is not only attacking Liberal candidates who crossed the floor to demand amendments to the religious discrimination bill, but is also campaigning against candidates who support late-term abortions (which are basically an emergency medical procedure).

These are the steps towards the cliff over which the US is now, suddenly, tumbling. Australians need to approach this election with full understanding of what a Coalition under siege from religious extremism means for us. The American model should scare us.

 

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

 

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Don’t expect much – with climate disasters you will largely be on your own

When Scott Morrison chides inundated Australians about expecting too much from the government or the ADF during a crisis, he is not just speaking about the nightmare scale of these catastrophic floods. He is setting expectations for the climate emergency’s cascading disasters. You’re on your own.

Through most of the 20th century, the Australian way was to balance government and private enterprise. We had many more state-run utilities than in the free market US, but it worked for us, reflecting and shaping a character that believed even the poorest among us deserved effective healthcare, clean water and education.

With the visit of Milton Friedman in the 80s, luminaries of the Economic Rationalist right such as Peter Costello were galvanised to transform Australia into America. Despite the chaos that America has become, captured starkly over the pandemic in its much higher death toll than comparable nations, this mission continues.

This week, at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit, Peter Costello urged the government to slash spending – no doubt to pay for the tax cuts this group commands. Morgan Stanley’s head, James Gorman, urged the attendees to “get greedy when everybody else is scared,” at the time that their home neighbourhoods were awash and Australians remained desperate for clean water.

Naomi Klein and Anthony Loewenstein have commended us to be alert to disaster capitalism. There is always money to be made in upheaval. For those who have the wealth to buffer themselves from undue suffering, the equation can be simple. Petrostates and coal nations capitalise while the market remains. Oligarchs welcome the warming climate for the opportunities opening up around the arctic. The rest of us are disposable.

Brooke Harrington, the sociologist who carried out an immersive study in the world of the Ultra High Net Worth Individual (UHNWI) pointed out that national borders and laws are as nothing to this class. Their enablers make a relative fortune finessing their mostly legal theft of their nations’ wealth. The professionals share their clients’ belief, more often than not, that governments are incompetent and thus money taken by the government in tax is wasted. They believe in their own mythology that they are wealth creators and thus more valuable. They perceive “redistribution of collected tax as immoral because it creates dependency on the part of the poor.” Destroying initiative with flood support would do nobody any good in the long run.

Through the bushfires of the Black Summer, the pandemic and now the floods drowning much of Queensland and NSW, Liberal and Coalition governments have generally commanded their populations to take individual initiative. This is fine for those enablers of the plutocrats who have strong wifi, large homes and access to consolatory luxuries and the best healthcare. Many have died because essential workers do not have that option.

The federal Coalition had few jobs over the pandemic, but it botched them all. It is undoubtedly responsible for quarantine but flung that hot potato to the states.

Vaccine roll-out followed by RAT provision was scandalously mishandled. The ugliest excuse was not wanting to get in the way of the free market. The wealthy donors were not going to be affected by the shortages, able to make their own arrangements. Subsistence-level workers were inescapably going to sicken and kill the elderly with these ridiculous and expensive mistakes, but neither the workers nor the elderly really mattered when profits were to be made. This is the model for the climate crisis: some lives are superfluous.

The recent IPCC report from the second Working Body took last August’s first report establishing that human activity was to blame for most current heating, and illustrated the catastrophic impacts. With the concurrent emergence of Japanese encephalitis far south on the Australian mainland, the Covid pandemic and shocking floods, we are seeing the cascading and compounding climate crises the new report describes. Wearing masks to protect ourselves from virus or bushfire smoke is going to be the least of our worries.

Politicians and public servants have been aware for decades that the climate emergency was coming, even if they chose to sneer at it as lefty hysteria. The right has opted to build a fortress against the crisis of displacement they knew would escalate from the relatively minor numbers of the Middle East “interventions.” It has chosen to inculcate a broadly-accepted ideology that taxpayer funds can be funnelled into fossil fuel subsidies and military spending without question. The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss details how social spending, on the other hand, has been made to seem wasteful and soft.

Barnaby Joyce dismissed those who died in the bushfires in his electorate as likely Greens voters. Shane Stone, the coordinator general of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency appeared to blame people “who want to live among the gum trees” before stating that “the taxpayer and the ratepayer cannot continue to pick up the bill for these huge, catastrophic damage events.” As a former Liberal Party president, he receives a salary of $500,000 for the role. It is clear from this rhetoric that too many Australians are disposable.

At the same time the Coalition is announcing rorts, military spending and corporate welfare for more crisis-fostering gas fracking. As Denniss points out, we don’t have to accept the right’s moralising about which national money is thrust chaotically at donors and electoral success, and which programs are depicted as wasteful because they only help the public.

There are much more effective ways to deal with emergencies than to deploy the ADF, particularly if they are commanded to prioritise photo opportunities over labour. Australia is going to experience some of the most challenging impacts of a crisis that is making “the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and way more dangerous by 2040.” The numbers of poor in the world are compounded by the former middle class who’ve already tumbled out of that status over the pandemic, the money funnelled up to the global oligarchs. More of us will be poor as the crises mount. These poor and precariously positioned in Australia will, as always, suffer catastrophes worst.

We have to decide if we are willing to settle for people like Shane Stone who don’t believe that the nation’s money should be spent on Australians in direst need. Do we envision an Australia that leaves our fellow citizens in desperation, or do we envision one that spends its money on all of us?

The Australia Institute has a popular proposal that suggests taxing the fossil fuel sector to fund an emergency body that will have the capability to support Australians wracked by the succession of crises we face. That is certainly an important idea that must be discussed. The sector has prevented us from transitioning to renewables back in the 20th century when we could have done so with little pain; the time has come to make them compensate us for the suffering that has only just begun.

In the meantime, we need to debate what Australia looks like as these catastrophes slam us. Are we going to let the wealthy shut themselves away from the suffering, wincing at the next disaster’s figures of death and destruction? Will they establish elite private sector emergency services as happens in the US? Or will we work together, community and government, to assist those worst hurt?


Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.

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Lies, lies, lies – and the lying liars who tell them

Politicians, predominantly on the right, have repeatedly been caught lying in direct contravention of video evidence. The falsifications aren’t minor.

In Canberra at the moment there is an almost total lack of accountability. Any effort to confront Prime Minister Scott Morrison or his cabinet with their lies, corruption and ineptitude is met with deflection to a disingenuous list of “achievements” or more lies. Without effective supervision and repercussions, the threat this poses to our democracy will only become more dire.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is potentially facing repercussions after years of lying to the electorate. Whether or not he does so, the damage to British democracy taking place under the Tories is confronting. In the US, Donald Trump’s lies have been embraced by the party he led and the majority of Republican voters. Deception is widespread in that party’s efforts to subvert the possibility of Democrat victories in the future. The American Republic’s democratic processes are already undermined; whether they will survive the next decade is in doubt.

From Plato’s time, philosophers have noted the instability of democracy. Its freedoms – including freedom of speech – are the seeds of its own destruction. Would-be tyrants and their propaganda have the capacity to end the system we prize, even without us noticing. Truth, and trust in what is being said, is crucial to the democratic system.

Deceit is at the heart of the problem. Sometimes it is the insidious propaganda that aims to (mis)represent our nations as well-run liberal democracies. At other times the stratagem is outright demagoguery that seems likely to end in bloodshed.

In Australia, Crikey in particular has been tracking the lies that mark Morrison’s government. While there has long been an expectation that politicians aren’t always truthful, the scope of deceit that has besmirched the performance of the Coalition, just like this era’s Republican and Tory parties, is enough to shove the timid media beyond euphemisms.

The brazenness of the deceit is the factor that has provoked that shift. Politicians – predominantly on the right – have repeatedly been caught lying in direct contravention of video evidence of their own previous statements. The falsifications aren’t minor: some are complete inversions of earlier positions. In America some Republican politicians supporting Trump’s Big Lie do so because they literally fear for their lives. Without an armed and angry base to threaten them back into line, Australian and British leaders have little justification beyond knowing that there are no consequences any more.

In January 2022, as Australians largely fail to find the rapid antigen tests (RATs) we need to participate in society in a pandemic, the government is running advertisements that boast it has them. Nobody is sure whether these are the collation of RATs that have been taken from private and public sector organisations’ deliveries, or an inflated boast. As with so many other (in)actions of this government, the disaster follows supply offers and warnings made months before, instructing the government that millions would be necessary. According to the AMA, the government refused to purchase them, wanting to let the private sector profiteer.

In the wake of the Park Hotel Djokovic drama, Morrison misinformed radio listeners about the refugee status of the people imprisoned for months in the Alternative Place of Detention (APOD). When confronted he disingenuously asserted he hadn’t “said” what he’d clearly implied. Given that the innocent men (some then boys) were placed in indefinite detention by Morrison as immigration minister eight years ago, his claim to vagueness on the cases seems disingenuous.

Over COP26 in Glasgow last year, the Australian delegation was reviled for its blatant climate action disinformation. French President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that Morrison is a liar was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s former colleagues. It’s not just our own civic space under threat from constant deceit, but our standing among nations.

Part of the dissimulation is intended to suggest that the system is functioning well. In none of the three countries is that the case, and healthcare workers have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic mismanagement. NSW nurses held a stopwork protest in mid-January because their workplace is unsafe for them and their patients in the Omicron surge. Their exhaustion and the nurse-to-patient-ratio blowout are making hospitals dangerous. In the face of constant federal and state government mantras that they are coping, the nurses’ signs said they are not.

Rather than listening to poorly paid frontline workers exhausted by the third year of bearing the brunt, Josh Frydenberg mislabelled them “militant unions”. He hoped thus to nullify a cry for help for his voter base. The former “essential worker” praise was quickly inverted to disdain when the nurses drew attention to being Sisyphus borne down by the weight of government “let it rip” apathy.

The moment where the crisis of truth in “conservative” Anglosphere politics and some parts of the media became obvious might be pinned in 2016 when “post-truth” became word of the year. The fact that Trump’s victory and the Brexit referendum occurred in that year is not unrelated.

Many factors made the truth harder to detect at that moment: the swirl of social media disinformation; its targeting by bad actors like Cambridge Analytica; increasing competition in the attention economy; and the internet’s devastating impact on legacy media (partly celebrated initially because of the establishment’s own failures to convey truth, such as The New York Times and its assertion of the presence in Iraq of WMD).

It did not begin that recently, though. In 2004 George Bush adviser Karl Rove was alleged to have said that the US government did not function in the “reality-based community,” instead having the ability to “create our own reality.” Fittingly, he denies having said it.

The following year, commentator Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” which became the American 2006 word of the year. It is intended to cover the sense or feeling that something feels true on intuition rather than requiring data to bear it out. It was meant to satirise the Tea Party development in Republican politics and its unhinged assertions. In Trump’s era, Kellyanne Conway called truthiness “alternative facts.”

Now Republican politicians and pundits spew the “blue lies” that divide tribes, and even the “accusations in a mirror” of total inversions of truth that precede horrors. Their followers often appear to see lies as weapons of war rather than necessarily a matter of sincerity. Verifiability does not matter as much hurting the loathed enemy.

The internet has unleashed those alternative realities. Right-wing thought leaders such as Joe Rogan on podcasts and YouTube and social media speak to millions around the world. They have a much more powerful impact than radio shock jocks or “conservative” media pundits. Provocative communications are shared to provoke “lib tears” and then these right wing figures “rage farm” the resultant furore.

Part of the long-term crisis is based in the role of PR in politics, with the right over the decades deploying increasingly effective marketing and communications strategies. Funded by the ultra wealthy and honed through free-market think-tanks, this strategy was intended to counteract alienating policies meant to benefit only the donors.

The Coalition government is much more concerned with messaging than being able to do the job of creating policy that benefits the country. It is aided by co-operative media that is satisfied to echo government talking points in gormless stenographic journalism. The fact that Morrison’s own marketing background is not strewn with successes might explain lacklustre efforts such as under-age forklift drivers.

Rather than finding strategies to solve the massive challenges of living through a pandemic, the government is involved with the spin project of their religious “freedom” bill or the ability to unmask anonymous “trolls” on the internet. This is intended to enable Coalition politicians to sue internet commentators for defamation if they expose government misdeeds. The point is to chill criticism of government (in)action, hardly consonant with their posture as “free speech” warriors. It sits well, however, with the government’s many efforts to prevent transparency over the years, including working to silence charities.

Structuring a narrative to sell a government as successful and a country as efficiently navigating difficult times is not the same as being successful or dealing with challenges. Lies and misleading messaging buttressed with strategies to silence criticism leave us with a crisis of trust, and with cynicism. This is combined with the swirl of internet misinformation centred in America but with enthusiastic adherents here. The result is a total inability to agree on a shared data-based reality that must ground our decisions as we face the much bigger crisis of the climate emergency.

The Coalition must confront its decision to pursue the American right into a focus on culture wars and spin. The US is proving to us that this divisive propaganda can only be destructive. We must transform the supervision of Australia’s federal government to ensure truth, integrity and accountability. Without those steps, we too risk losing our liberal democracy.

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.

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