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Illiberalism: the Dunkley by-election and the cost of doing business

The liberal international order has been responsible for a great many deaths. If the “anti-liberal internationale” becomes ascendant, however, we will see those numbers multiplied exponentially. It is not a stretch to say that the Liberal Party’s campaign in the Dunkley by-election places them firmly in the illiberal category. This is hardly surprising since several Liberal Party grandees and other strategists are firmly ensconced in the Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s propaganda network, and he is the leader of that illiberal faction.

In December 2023, Donald Trump said that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” It echoes similar sentiments from the illiberal leader of the aspiring autocrats, Viktor Orbán: “We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race … and we do not want to become a mixed race.” The eugenicist messaging is reminiscent of the Third Reich, and Hitler used the metaphor of outsiders poisoning the nation’s blood in Mein Kampf. Orban has visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago this week as though the latter was running a parallel illiberal state.

The ideology that links the anti-liberal internationale can be defined as “traditionalism.” There is a philosophical version that inspires many of the leading actors and the White supremacist militants. The populist version creates a mythical past where a virtuous ethnostate functioned in unity and purpose. It is patriarchal: women knew their subordinate place, submissively breeding for the family and the nation. There is no room for Queer people in a world where the superior ethnic group must reproduce for national strength. There is little room for aberrant women who won’t be domesticated. And there must be no room for women breeding with men who aren’t of the privileged race.

The messaging deployed in Dunkley falls into this category. The Liberal Party’s leaders had chosen to dwell on borders and the dormant story of the High Court’s release of people indefinitely detained. Advance, an Atlas Networkconnected body, that exists to foster community discord thus helping the Coalition return to government on the wave of grievance voting had paid to have lurid advertisements published on the issue (relishing its cashed up status including payments for “working” for its charity-status-affiliate).

Surprisingly, two days before the by-election, Victoria Police made a mistake by publicising the arrest on sexual assault charges of one of that category of detainee before, some hours later, admitting that they had mistaken his identity.

The Liberal leadership pounced on this timely error by Victoria Police and spent the hours and days following sensationalising the mistaken arrest and the threat to women in the electorate. Some of the wording demands the label fascistic politicking.

The Liberal Party and Advance did not succeed this time, even with the convenient mistake made by Victoria Police. The goal of the Atlas Network and philosophical Traditionalists has been the slow destruction of the modern, diverse, democratic project. The goal of the more extreme traditionalists has been Accelerationist. This demands shoving crowbars into the cracks in the democratic project and propelling it towards immediate destruction. The damage done in any one campaign must not be assessed on its own merits but in the steps taken to imminent or longterm collapse.

The Atlas Network’s goal has been to damage civil society around the world to make welcome ground for (American) corporations. Some of the donors and strategists see deploying anti-immigrant and anti-refugee messaging as a useful distraction from the ultra-free market goals. Promoting the hatred of Queer people, ensuring they are bashed or murdered or driven to suicide, is a small price to pay for people who think pay-outs to the families of the dead are cheaper than maintenance work on expensive infrastructure, the “cost of doing business.”

Other donors and strategists are firmly in the traditionalism sphere where they despise “woke.” For them this denotes societies that are inclusive of “race” and race-mixing, sexuality and gender diversity. The “unity” of their nostalgic imagined past is fractured by liberal tolerance of difference. This is central to Vladimir Putin and his ally Orban. It is Trump MAGA and, apparently, the Coalition’s Australia.

For these traditionalists, there is a “visceral disgust” felt at bodies that defy their straitjacketed definitions of acceptable. Queer and Brown people or non-feminine women, even the fat, are disgusting. And their bigotry-infused morality allows them to confuse that feeling of disgust for a “moral abhorrence” of the target.

The Liberal Party and Atlas-connected Advance both needed the imaginary crime of the refugee to be sexual in nature because the safety and purity of White women is one of their primary weapons against the rest of us.

Traditionalism is also entrenched in an early 2000s clash of civilisations where the “Muslim world” replaced the “Iron Curtain” as the implacable foe. Any implied Muslim (which includes Christian Palestinians as well as refugees) is utterly disposable in the existential battle they wage in their crusade.

Thus Israel’s “Jewish Nationalists” and India’s Hindutva are allies against the selected “Muslim enemy.” China is characterised as a global threat, so sometimes these figures care for the Uighur population suffering ethnic cleansing by China, but they are just as likely to share China’s characterisation of (Muslim) resistance to oppression as “terror.”

Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin are both eagerly awaiting Trump’s reinstatement, indeed probably shaping their own military goals to help him win in November. If Trump wins, these ethnic cleansers will be even freer to kill the inconvenient populations on the land they want for their empires.

Meanwhile, for free market devotees, the chaos will elicit plentiful disaster capitalism windfalls. And traditionalism’s disdain for empirical knowledge has been their friend in fighting climate science. Trump will roll back Biden’s crucial transition bill and free the illiberal petrostates from the despised limping towards some kind of international consensus on climate action.

When Liberal Party figures play Orbanist games to win by-elections, they further their last decade’s efforts to push Australia’s democratic project towards illiberalism.

All the people harmed – or killed – in the process are just the cost of doing business.


This was first published in Pearls and Irritations as Illiberalism ascendant: the Dunkley by-election and the cost of doing business


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Traditionalism: the belief that could doom us all

It can be difficult to understand what connects free market devotees, white ethnostate militants, Christian Nationalists, tech bros and mere conservatives in the West. One concept that can help understand their rough alliance is traditionalism. In fact it draws together an international contingent that shares goals and enemies, shaping domestic and foreign policy against the interests of the majority.

The international rise of traditionalism became a quantum leap more obvious over recent weeks. Between calls for televised executions sponsored by Coke, the welcoming of the end of democracy, the beginning of the doom of American IVF and rampant Islamophobia in Britain, the eruptions are becoming louder. This week prospective US President Trump is welcoming the leader of Europe’s traditionalist illiberal movement, Viktor Orbán, at Mar-a-Lago.

Adherents of the esoteric heights of philosophical Traditionalism believe that we live in the depraved Age of Slaves – democracy – that must reach its destruction. Our current Kali Yuga, dark age, will be followed by a rebirth into the golden age, the theocratic Age of Priests, in this cyclical rhythm. It is a spiritual belief that demands hierarchy, order and an end to every poison that comes from the Modern age: reason, freedom, equality, progress. These ideas are inspired by the writings of René Guénon and Julius Evola.

Two of the most influential adherents are Steve Bannon, formerly Donald Trump’s first Chief Strategist, and Vladimir Putin’s alleged intellectual inspiration, Aleksandr Dugin. Benjamin Teitelbaum’s hours of interviews with Bannon, and other key figures in the global Right, on the subject are fascinating.

They are radicalising figures. West-loathing Dugin, for example, earned a number of travel bans by calling for genocide in Ukraine in 2014, to rid that valuable land of the “race of bastards.” He helped create in Russia “an atmosphere in which violent internal repression and armed foreign aggression seem natural.” For Dugin, and Putin, a Russian empire will lead this new age. Bannon proclaimed in 2013 that he wanted to destroy the American state and “bring everything crashing down.” Now Bannon runs his media campaign, which is understood to be a significant force on the MAGA+ Right, and plots to reignite his dream to unite Europe into a Traditionalist force. Bannon boasted of his time spent planning with Dugin.

Julius Evola, who shaped the key tenets of Guénon’s writing into its current form, is a pivotal figure feeding into libertarian apocalypticism amongst the tech bros and neo fascists of the internet, disseminated outwards from being the guide of self-styled intellectual fascists. Manosphere podcaster Joe Rogan and former-Murdoch darling Tucker Carlson have both amplified his ideas. These concepts infuse the ideology promoted by the neoreactionary inspiration of the tech magnates, and “leading intellectual figure on the New Right,” Curtis Yarvin. Yarvin shares the fascists’ goal to speed up the destruction of the Kali Yuga in Accelerationism. He schemes for the destruction of the government (and other liberal institutions such as academia, known collectively as the Cathedral) to be replaced by a monarchy. His essays were mainstreamed to the New Right by the Claremont Institute, an Atlas Network partner. Yarvin’s plan to unmake the government is now set out in clear steps by the Atlas-partner Heritage Foundation’s Mandate for Leadership. It is hardly surprising that the billionaire owners of the platforms of civil discourse are investing in potential boltholes in New Zealand, Hawaii and are shooting for Mars.

The popular version of traditionalism, by contrast with this “philosophical” version, appears a nostalgia for a past that never existed. Instead its proponents create a past whitened of sin and pain which narrative they mandate as the only truth. This traditionalism is a site of rampant hypocrisy: a cavalcade of adulterers pontificate about the sacredness of the family and the sinfulness of the diverse modern world. It is a mechanism for control, deployed by people who resent the power they’ve been forced to share with communities they despise. While some only wish to recreate that past, with no care for how differently others experienced the White men’s better days, for others the intentions are extreme.

Populist traditionalism ties together the bigotries against shared enemies of the international Right. Unlike the spiritual racism of the esoterics (handily borrowing Aryan ideals that lighter skin means higher caste and more priestly), this version is overtly biologically and essentially racist. While China is a primary international target of the movement, the most violent bigotry is directed at Muslims, denoted as Brown, and whose lives, according to the Right, are clearly worthless. This aspect of traditionalism unites the currently acceptable Hindu nationalists with the currently acceptable Israeli Jewish nationalists.

Thus in Britain, the Conservative Party Whip lost his role over vile Islamophobic comments. Much of the longterm Tory Islamophobia is spelt out by politicians of ministerial seniority, often from immigrant origins themselves. India and Israel have deep political connections, to a substantial extent united by Islamophobia. Former Secretary of State for the Home Department Suella Braverman depicted ceasefire rallies, calling for an end to the slaughter of innocents in Palestine, as “hate marches.” Any support for human rights by a multicultural array of Britons – White and Black, Jewish bloc, and Muslim Brits – is thus depicted as a violent Muslim insurgency and a sign that they are not fit to live in Britain.

This fits with recent investigations into Paul Marshall, the hedge-fund multi-millionaire, and the beliefs implied by his Twitter (X) activity. Marshall has retweeted calls for a range of Islamophobic arguments including the mass deportation of immigrants. Marshall is a major funder of GB News (Britain’s equivalent to US Fox News or Sky Australia), UnHerd, and has put in a bid to buy The Telegraph, the preeminent “conservative” paper in Britain. He is also one of the founding supporters of the Atlas-linked Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, funding its global anti-climate action agenda and its mission to impose traditionalist values.

In America, Donald Trump is also calling for mass deportation of immigrants. Steve Bannon predicted that these would encompass at least 14 million people. Logistics suggest this scale would be impossible, but the targeting of Brown Americans and residents will be ghastly. Trump’s “top immigration adviser,” Stephen Miller authored the plan to take children – even babies from their mothers’ arms – because crossing the border to apply for asylum made their parents “criminals,” based on his White supremacist beliefs. He is now strategising to assemble an ad hoc army for a military operation that will seize people in mass raids across the country, place them in concentration camps, then apparently deport them in multiple flights each day, overriding all their rights. He intends Republican state armies to invade resistant Democrat states. This sounds like civil war.

Esoteric Traditionalism demands patriarchy. Populist traditionalism unites American Christian Nationalists with the range of MAGA Trumpists in their determination to enforce the nuclear family as the central unit of order. They intend to control people’s sexuality. LGBTQIA+ sexuality and identities are to be eliminated; people who won’t be “cured” will be killed. Women are to be constrained to the home and subordination to a husband. The demarcation of IVF as a current target denotes both that there will be no reproduction without God, and also that birth control is the next target. Already figures are arguing that birth control harms women physically and socially. Life beginning at conception eliminates several key methods of contraception as the start of the new battle that will join abortion-elimination in the battle to deny all reproductive rights. The Right also has begun fighting no-fault divorce (despite the fact that there was as much as a 16% reduction in female suicide after states introduced no-fault divorce). It is not just the belief that women must be returned to their place that drives these measures: this Western Right also promotes natalism – the idea that White women must breed to prevent “race suicide.”

The recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland was a hotbed of traditionalist radicalisation of the Trumpist base. Trump also declared himself ready to claim “ultimate and absolute revenge” on his opponents. Jack Posobiec is a conspiracist and Lincoln Fellow at the formerly prestigious Atlas Network-partner, the Claremont Institute. He claimed, in typical trolling rightwing spirit that his comments were satirical, but this is the way the movement has long mainstreamed ideas. He said: “Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely.” Typical of a number of speakers at the event, he promoted the attempt to overturn the last election: “We didn’t get all the way there on Jan. 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it.” It is hardly surprising that this iteration of the event allowed open Neo Nazis to spruik antisemitic propaganda: there is considerable overlap in the projects now.

Another key Trump-supporter, Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, has illustrated how biological racism is core to the new Right with even the Republican Party’s bowdlerised vision of Martin Luther King Jr to be abandoned. This deployment of MLK to appeal to Black voters has been superseded by the depiction of Black people as essentially inferior and a threat. Kirk also argued, in a dog-whistling display that his listeners know refers to Black people, that executions should be shown on television and children made to watch. He joked that Coke should sponsor that exhibition.

Steve Bannon spoke with Tucker Carlson late in 2023 promoting the Great Replacement conspiracy. Both men evoked a White-race-hating “elite” replacing uncontrollable White populations with manageable non-White immigrants. Bannon praised Viktor Orban as the “political and … public intellectual leader of this.” Carlson has interviewed and praised both Orbán and Putin for his radicalised audience, displaying both electoral authoritarian regimes as models. Putin has been described as a neo-Stalinist dictator, so supporting his more violent measures can inflict costs on the less ostentatious Right. Orbán, leaning towards subtle authoritarianism is a lower-cost role model. Orbán has much to gain from Republicans’ strategic support of Putin’s military goals, and a longterm observer of the authoritarian-admiring Right believes Republicans aim to leave eastern and maybe central Europe for Putin to take. It is debatable whether racism or “family values” bigotry is a stronger driving force in the Putin and Orban traditionalist sphere. Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat argued in her study of authoritarians that the “big continuity and constant is homophobia…even more than race.” Viktor Orbán’s prioritising of the “traditional family” and targeting of LGBTQIA people certainly makes him a hero on this Right. Traditionalism ultimately embraces both forms of prejudice as required.

Several Australian Liberal Party grandees and apparatchiks are integrated into the Orbán traditionalist propaganda campaign. Tony Abbott decried “immigrants swarming across the borders in Europe.” Alexander Downer disdained immigrant “bantustans.” Both seem fixed in the “Clash of Civilisations” mentality that characterised the 9/11 aftermath. Kevin Andrews complained that “[p]opular ideas and current lifestyle choices militate against the acceptance of appropriate policy responses” to a purported birthrate crisis. This natalist position allows no scope for lives that don’t promote breeding within sacred marriage. Last year Downer spoke at another Orbán event, criticising the Left’s “divisiveness” caused by “identity politics.” Thus the traditionalists delegitimise voices that experience life differently: we would be united if the rest would only accept straight, White, “Christian” men’s experience as the only reality. News Corp’s Greg Sheridan criticised the “green madness” which is the “new religion” taught in schools, signalling the fossil fuel agenda entwined with this ideology. It’s likely these Australians’ traditionalism is populist (as one imagines is the traditionalism of Orbán and Putin); it remains to be seen whether any esoteric Traditionalists number amongst them. Regardless, they too despise the democratic project that allows freedom to their “woke” enemies.

Opinion-writers are trying to suggest that democracy is more resilient than our worst fears have portended. As Protect Democracy senior lawyers pointed out recently, however, the USA played its Get out of Jail card when Biden was finally named Trump’s replacement on the night of the 6th. It is valuable to understand this illiberal movement as a process of “competitive authoritarianism,” where the democratic project is hollowed out until the incumbent can no longer be ousted, as appears to be the achievement for Orban. The election itself remains but it is increasingly meaningless. Where our democratic projects worked for so many years to extend the franchise to men without property, to women, to non-White people, now the efforts work to reverse the goals as these traditionalists aim to entrench themselves as the new aristocrats. In Australia, Tony Abbott tried to resuscitate knights and dames. In Britain, departing Prime Ministers install Atlas Network figures into the House of Lords to shape the country more directly. In the US, notable figures have begun to echo radical Right talking points that women should not have the vote; working people have long struggled to vote there with elections held on weekdays, and fewer booths in poorer districts. Anti-majoritarian mechanisms pervade their system. Republicans now speciously boast that the USA was never a democracy as part of the efforts to kill such flawed representation as they allow.

Nostalgia for a mythic past pervades internationally-connected, far-right movements and it is closely allied to the neoliberal project. The Atlas Network is the primary driver of the neoliberal alliance globally. Its forces have been integrated into the populist-nativist Right in Europe, and they are now driving the American democratic project further towards authoritarianism. The forces allied around the Atlas Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 for a new Republican president are formidable and far more organised than Trump’s team was in 2017 when they carried out two-thirds of Heritage’s previous Mandate for Leadership. Project 2025’s Advisory Board combines many Atlas partner bodies with a range of the Christian Nationalist organisations that make up the Council for National Policy (CNP). The new Mandate lists many oppressive social policies intended to be carried out by a President functioning mostly by executive action, overriding a devastated federal workforce where 50,000 are to be sacked. (Ron DeSantis’s vow to start “slitting throats” of federal workers in August was echoed by a Trump supporter beheading his federal-employee father and broadcasting the head on social media in a “Call to arms for American Patriots.”) The often-traditionalist libertarian donor class and the Christofascists are now more closely aligned in goals than they have ever been.

The 2025 Mandate provides again the evidence that these traditionalists know their goals are minoritarian, but they will impose them on the majority using any authoritarian mechanism they can devise.

If they succeed in winning a Trump victory, it will also mean a rolling back of Biden’s impressive program promoting the transition to renewables. It will mean a crumbling of any nascent global effort to combat the climate catastrophe. This is hardly surprising since many of the plutocrats who fund the junktanks in the Atlas Network and the CNP stem from the fossil fuel sector. The support for Russian imperial goals, alongside other petrostates, will hasten the climate catastrophe.

Australians might believe a Trump victory’s social implications remain distant for us, but our rightwing parties seem determined to impose their minoritarian will like their American role models. Liberal politicians, Atlas-connected Advance – unfortunately aided by an awkwardly-timed police mistake – worked to inflame nativist-populist grievance in a by-election last weekend. Policy is abandoned; divisive propaganda is the replacement. These politicians continue to support nuclear reactors primarily as a further delay on climate action and, when we experience the climate catastrophe as a worse permacrisis than we might have, will do the bare minimum to support affected communities.

The traditionalism that is being promoted by the Radical Right around the world will doom us all, but not before stripping our freedoms.


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New Zealand is under siege by the Atlas Network

Just as the Atlas Network-connected Advance body intervened in the Voice referendum in Australia and, in recent weeks, a by-election, similar organisations spawned from the American model are distorting New Zealand’s politics from within as well as from without.

One of the key researchers into the Atlas Network, Lee Fang, observed that it has “reshaped political power in country after country.” In America, every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has begun office with a Roadmap provided by the Heritage Foundation, primary Atlas Network partner. The “Mandate” for 2025 puts America on a hard path to fascism should a Republican win in November. Britain’s economy and standing have been savaged by Atlas partners’ impacts on the Tories. In New Zealand, the recently-elected rightwing coalition government is aping the new “Atlas president” of Argentina, aiming to privatise national assets, but is increasingly also imitating Atlas strategies recently seen in Australia, inflaming racial tensions and harming the wellbeing of Māori people.

Dr Jeremy Walker called Australia’s attention to the local Atlas partner organisations’ impact on the Voice to Parliament referendum and is now helping draw together the focus on the New Zealand partners’ very similar distortion of their national debate. There is a deep racism at the heart of this ultra-free market ideology that has licensed the international right to exploit resources and people around the globe untrammelled, largely in American corporate interest, but more broadly for any corporation or allied sector big enough to be a contender. (They do not, by contrast, fight for the renewable energy sector’s interests, as a competitor to their dominant fossil fuel donors; this shapes their climate crisis denial and delay, and colours their loathing of First People’s capacity to interfere with their profits by environment-driven protest. A sense of Western Civilisation as the apex of human existence and deep disdain for non-Western cultures also pervade the network.)

The Atlas model is to connect and foster talent in the neoliberal sphere. Young men (mostly) are funded or trained to replicate the talking points that Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI) and lobbyists have built into a global network of over 500 bodies in 100 nations. The fact that neoliberal orthodoxies are more religious ideology that fact-based theories explains why their impact has been so utterly disastrous everywhere they have reshaped societies. The goal is to spawn replicating bodies with benign-sounding names that promote the UHNWI and corporate talking points – but with a veil hiding the self-interest that is obvious when those groups speak for themselves. Some of the bodies feign being thinktanks, which George Monbiot recently renamed junktanks to clarify their disingenuousness. Others are “astroturf” organisations that pretend to be grass roots bodies representing popular opinion. Another model is the beach-head in universities, an independent organisation within those institutions intended to dignify the neoliberal religion and the chosen strategies, including climate denial. All these produce material to fill civic debate and train more acolytes to enter politics, strategy companies and junktanks. Mainstream media elevates their standing by hosting their operatives as experts without explaining that the benign-sounding organisation to which they belong is a foreign-influence operation’s local outlet.

These groups damage local conditions to favour international corporations. They lobby for the removal of the “regulations” that are actually protections for the public – as workers, as consumers, as residents. They push for the privatisation of national treasures so that (often foreign) corporations can exploit the profits at the expense of the public. The greater the damage to the local democracy, the easier it is for them to act unimpeded. The stronger their infiltration of the media, the harder it is for the local electorate to understand the stakes. The politicians and strategists that emerge from the sphere (or are its allies) know that none of this wins votes, so they fill the space with culture war division to distract the voter from paying attention. Race and sexuality are their most obvious targets, as reactionary nostalgia for a mythical past of white picket fences pervades their ideology: a valorisation of “Christianity” and “family” and the “sacredness of marriage” (preached by adulterous politicians) is equally apparent in their propaganda.

The coalition that took power in NZ late in 2023, after a campaign centred on attacking the country’s founding Waitangi Treaty, has considerable Atlas infiltration. There is concern about Atlas fossil fuel and associated tobacco interests perverting policy in parliament, as well as senior ministerial aides who might be compromised. The government has promised to repeal Jacinda Ardern’s ban on offshore gas and fuel exploration, plans to sell water to private interests, not to mention planning to enable the selling off of “sensitive” NZ land and assets to foreign corporations, just as Argentinian Milei is intending.

One of the government members, the Act Party, began its existence as an Atlas partner thinktank and continues that close connection. It was founded by former parliamentarian Denis Quigley with two members of the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS), the Atlas Network’s inner sanctum. One, Roger Douglas, was responsible for Rogernomics in NZ which has been described as a “right wing coup” that worked to “dismantle the welfare state.” The other, Alan Gibbs, who has been characterised as the godfather of the party, and a major funder, argued Act ought to campaign for government to privatise “all the schools, all the hospitals and all the roads.” This may not be surprising since he made much of his fortune out of the privatisation of NZ’s telecommunications.

The Act Party is currently led by David Seymour who functions as a co-deputy prime minister in the government. He has worked almost his entire adult life within Atlas partner bodies in Canada and boasts a (micro) MBA dispensed by the Network. In Seymour’s 2021 Waitangi Day speech, he acknowledged his “old friends at the Atlas Network.” In light of that, his recent disdainful and absolute dismissal of the party’s connection to Atlas in an interview was telling: he clearly felt the association was damaging enough to lie outright.

Seymour is also deeply antagonistic to policies dedicated to repairing the disadvantage suffered by Māori people, disingenuously describing provisions that work cooperatively with Māori people as the “dismantling of democracy.” He appears antagonistic to Māori culture.

Another Atlas partner that has been key to distorting debate in NZ is the Taxpayer Union (TPU) which is emblematic of the production of metastasising bodies central to the Atlas strategy. Its co-founder and executive director is another graduate of the Atlas (micro) MBA program. Jordan Williams (currently “capo di tutti capi” of the Atlas global alliance of anti-tax junktanks) laughably depicts Atlas as a benign “club of like-minded think tanks.” He created, however, a body called the Campaign Company which helped radicalise the established farmer power base in NZ politics, planting sponsored material in the media. Williams claimed to grant the farmers “world-class campaign tools and digital strategies.” He also co-founded the Free Speech Union (FSU), which is unsurprisingly fighting regulation of the damaging impact of internet disinformation as well as fostering culture war battles.

A further spin-off of the bodies illustrates the increasing ugliness of the populist strategies. A former Act Party MP has founded the New Zealand Centre for Political Research which is fomenting civic division against Māori interests, including placing hate-mongering advertisements in the media.

The Act Party (alongside the populist New Zealand First party) is at the heart of the coalition government’s intention to destroy NZ’s admirable efforts to promote Māori interests for the betterment of the commonwealth, including the co-governance innovation. Efforts to undo disadvantage and programs that have promoted the distinctive NZ democratic experiment are set to be dismantled. A “massive unravelling” of Māori rights is at stake.

It is not only Māori people who will suffer. The NZ coalition government is also attempting a kind of “shock therapy” that did so much to tip first Chile and then other “developing” nations into brutal pain in pursuit of market “freedom.” The MPS was at the heart of Pinochet’s neoliberal brutality, resulting from Nixon’s injunction to make the Chilean economy scream.[1] New Zealand now faces cuts to a range of services, welfare and disability payments, even while the new PM, one of NZ’s wealthiest ever holders of the role, charged the taxpayer NZD 52,000 to live in his own property. It’s important to remember that this kind of entitlement is the sort that the neoliberals like, alongside subsidies to industry and corporations.

Lord Hannan (one of Boris Johnson’s elevations to the peerage, and a junktank creature) recently spoke in NZ, welcoming “all the coalition partners around this table” to hear his oration. There he celebrated the small percentage of GDP that NZ’s government spends on its people, cheering on the TPU’s power. He also disdained the “tribalism” that has dictated recognition of First Peoples’ suffering. There is grand (but unsurprising) irony in a graduate of three of Britain’s preeminent educational institutions dictating that humanity’s essential equality is all that can be considered when devising policy, particularly in settler-colonial nations.

Amusingly the weightier debunking of the Atlas connections has come from: Chris Trotter, formerly centre left, now a council member of Williams’ FSU; Eric Crampton, chief economist of the New Zealand Initiative, NZ’s leading Atlas partner and Sean Plunkett whose “anti-woke” vanity media platform, Platform, is plutocrat funded and regularly platforms the NZI talking heads.

While Atlas’s system largely functions to connect and train operatives, as well as acting as an extension of American foreign policy, this modest-seeming program must not be ignored. We have a handful of years to achieve a monumental shift from fossil fuel towards renewable energy: Atlas partners aim to ensure this does not take place.

And Atlas partners will push us at each other’s throats while we procrastinate.

[1] That MPS intervention resulted in massive unemployment, extraordinary inequality, and fire-sale prices of national assets to cronies. Much of Chile’s later success is as likely to be attributable to the trade requirements of (statist) China whose demand for copper has done so much to enrich Chile.


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Lessons from the USA about patriotic beat-ups

As Australia approaches that time in January again, we see the unedifying picture of Peter Dutton’s team driving his post-referendum Base into a flag-waving orgy of aggrieved patriotism. He has decided to conduct an attack on Woolworths over a commercial decision that Australia Day merchandise was not popular. Dutton is whipping up the contingent which believes that a No victory meant First People must become invisible, hoping a bigot vote will be enough to win the next election.

Similarly in the USA, compulsory patriotism is part of the Atlas Network’s plan to control the future of America through directing the next administration.

One of the flagship junktanks of the Atlas Network is the Heritage Foundation. It is an influence machine for the radical Right in America. It was co-founded by Paul Weyrich in 1971. The religious right-wing political space lost momentum when fighting school desegregation became untenable: racism could no longer be the (overt) driving force of Evangelical Christians’ political mission. Weyrich was the figure who steered a selected group of right-wing men in the late 70s to select abortion instead of prayer in school to be the issue to galvanise the Christian Right into a political force. The Moral Majority was the result. The Trump Republican Party is its offspring.

Heritage has helped “staff and set the agenda for every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan.” And in the new project, it has brought together what it describes as a “massive coalition of conservative organisations” from both within the Atlas Network and the Christian Nationalist architectures of influence.

Heritage is now led by Dr Kevin Roberts, a Rad Trad Catholic – the sort that despises the current Pope as a socialist and infiltrator. He came to Heritage from the Atlas-partner Texas Public Policy Foundation whose “donors are a Who’s Who of Texas polluters, giant utilities and big insurance companies.” Roberts has been celebrated as the man who would turn Heritage away from adherence solely to ultra-free market goals regardless of cost, towards the National Conservative (Nat Con) project of returning values to the Republican project. These values are Christian Nationalist – frightening for anyone who is not a straight, white, “Christian” man.

Heritage’s Project 2025 or “roadmap” for the first months of the next Republican President’s action has been described thus: “At the heart of this particular document is the installation of a machinery of absolute executive and capitalist power which systematically dismantles democracy and any government protections of the people and the environment all under the guise of reclaiming religious virtue from amoral Marxist wokeism.”

The roadmap is not just a document. It plans to fire 50,000 federal public servants. It has begun recruiting 20,000 people for the new government. It intends to train these recruits in the Nat Con goals of their mission. Applicants are required to give access to their social media and fill out a questionnaire to guarantee their ideological purity. The eliminatory questions (some of which are traps) include, “We should be proud of our American heritage and history, even as we acknowledge our flaws” as a compulsory point. Apparently patriotism is mandatory for employment in this worldview.

This is, however, amongst the less disturbing elements of Roberts’s expression of the project. Roberts’ enemy in his preface, “A promise to America,” is “The Great Awokening,” depicting social justice, secularism and empirical evidence-based policy as a blasphemous trap. He is determined to rescue “the very moral foundations of our society,” imperilled by centralised government. The words “woke” and “elites” throb like drumbeats throughout his preface, signalling the populist distraction that his plutocrat donors demand – to steer focus away from them.

His four goals are to restore the “family as the centrepiece of American life and protect our children”; to dismantle the administrative state; to defend borders; to secure “our God-given individual rights to live freely.”

Placing the family at the core has various ramifications. It is partly a battle cry to eliminate Queerness and return women to home and breeding, submissive to husband. It is partly racist. It is inherently connected to the dismantling of all safety nets, replaced by family and community charity. It is also connected to the radical right goal to dismantle the public education system, with the preliminary step of allowing a minority of radical parents to control what all students are allowed to be taught in schools.

Roberts insists that Project 2025 drives “policymakers to elevate family authority, formation, and cohesion as their top priority and even use government power, including through the tax code, to restore the American family.” He demands all words related to diversity or inclusiveness must be deleted from every federal document. Anyone producing or distributing material that acknowledges Queer existence – which he depicts as pornography – should be imprisoned and “Educators and public librarians who purvey it should be classed as registered sex offenders. And telecommunications and technology firms that facilitate its spread should be shuttered.”

He declares that the Dobbs decision removing protections for reproductive rights is “just the beginning.” The next President must make removing reproductive rights a national commitment. The Mandate also promotes greater pregnancy surveillance.

Roberts portrays environmental protection including climate action as “extremism” and “anti human.” It is “not a political cause, but a pseudo-religion meant to baptize liberals’ ruthless pursuit of absolute power in the holy water of environmental virtue.”

Australians watching our government’s subservience to the American war machine should take note: “The next conservative President must end the Left’s social experimentation with the military, restore warfighting as its sole mission, and set defeating the threat of the Chinese Communist Party as its highest priority” as well as promoting the building of new nuclear weapons.

The current US government he depicts as the monolithic left, “socialism—Communism, Marxism, progressivism, Fascism, whatever name it chooses,” which must be defeated to return whatever he defines as “liberty” to the American people.

The Roadmap is written by hundreds of “conservative” thinkers, but far more concerning is how many of the contributors were senior in Trump’s last administration. Whether it is Trump or some other candidate, these activists intend rapid, concerted action to destroy the administrative state, with the lavish use of executive action from the White House to sideline any congressional constraints.

Heritage has released such a Mandate for the last 40 years but it crowed with delight about the way that Trump embraced their guide when he took power, implementing 2/3 of their recommendations in his first year. Australians could see this as an echo of the (Atlas-partner) Institute of Public Affair’s (IPA) notorious “wishlist” that did so much to shape Tony Abbott’s government in contravention of its election promises.

With the election of Javier Milei in Argentina, Atlas has won their man a pivotal role in that nation’s future, as Dr Jeremy Walker indicated. He plans to sell off Argentina’s assets to predatory global capitalists, and Argentinians are already feeling the pain of price hikes. George Monbiot has recently acknowledged the Tufton St junktanks that have driven Britain into misery belong to the Atlas Network. At the same time, Australia’s prospective future leader appeared in pink hi-vis to pay obeisance to Gina Rinehart, primary funder of the IPA.

Little in Roberts’s preface to the Mandate will surprise Sky News Australia viewers. This kind of rhetoric is at the heart of the world Atlas aims to create: no restraints for fossil fuel but many restraints for the irritating (and immoral) masses.

Fostering aggrieved patriotism is a core right-wing gambit, and we should recognise it when Dutton applies his lighter to that fire in the next fortnight: it is part of a grim package.


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Resisting Christian Nationalism: Secularism Australia’s inaugural conference

Spiritual and cultural Christians – indeed such people of all faiths – need to consider allying together with those who identify as belonging to “no religion.” It is the fundamentalist authoritarians who would divide and constrain us all that need exposing as the small minority they truly are. We must make them as powerless as their numbers, goals and hypocrisies merit.

At the first Secular Australia conference in Sydney on the 2nd of December, people gathered to hear presentations on maintaining the line between church and state in Australia. Jane Caro ably ran proceedings, opening by explaining that the conference’s goal was to build a stronger voice for secularists in the way the nation operates. We can no longer passively expect our interests to be represented when our parliaments are becoming more not less religious. The organisations and individuals maintaining our line between church and state must coordinate action. Some freedoms, Caro reminded, are only possible in a secular society.

Michael Kirby launched the conference, drawing attention to the fact that as of the 2021 census, 39% of Australians declared themselves to be of “no religion.” Professor Luke Beck outlined how Australia’s constitution dictates that we are a country where the separation between church and state is established, illustrating the historical battles between denominations that ended up shaping the structures we function within.

David Shoebridge of the federal Greens spoke about the work in federal parliament, noting in particular the “Basic Religious Charity Exemption” robs Australians of considerable wealth from businesses associated with charities and churches such as Sanitarium, as well as removing supervision of how almost $25 billion of public money is spent in these bodies performing outsourced government services. NSW Green Abigail Boyd described the struggle against entrenched and unaccountable religious conservatism in that state parliament. Both spoke of the way so many Australians are made second class citizens in the privileging of Christian prayer in our parliaments.

Rationalist’s Fiona Patten outlined the important achievements her party has helped achieve in Victoria, presenting an optimistic impression of our trajectory. Secularism, as she pointed out, means equality and freedom of conscience. South Australian Labor’s Chris Schacht illustrated the statistical support that secular government has in Australia, urging the bodies assembled to campaign more strategically in counterpoint to our well-organised religious lobbyists. Our politicians do not understand, he asserted, the census results proving the size of the secular vote, instead continuing to prioritise the activated religious vote. Victor Franco described his efforts at Boroondara Council to prove that privileging Christian prayer in such bodies is likely illegal, within Victoria at least.

Our public schools are established to be “free, secular and compulsory.” As Shoebridge had reminded us earlier, a fair and just society is embedded in that injunction. Alison Courtice and Ron Williams spoke about the secularists’ efforts in Queensland and NSW to constrain the controversial chaplaincy and religious instruction programs in their state schools. Federal governments of both stripes have spent almost $1.5 billion to place inappropriate figures in schools. Not only is this a profit stream for Pentecostal movements, but also a mission field. The ALP’s “secular” option is being embraced by these groups with new “wellbeing” companies set up to place more Pentecostal figures in primary schools.

The Australia Institute’s Bill Browne introduced the think tank’s survey results proving that the school chaplaincy program has only minority support in the community.

Former Director-General of the Navy’s Chaplaincy Collin Acton spoke about his brave stand to make sure secular “chaplains” serve in our navy as first resort pastoral care providers (as well as or instead of the old system where chaplains bring a theology degree and a minimum of two years work in a civilian community). The Religious Advisory Committee to the Services, some of whom also treat the ADF as a mission field, ought to be replaced with a secular expert panel to ensure our service people are best protected from psychological distress. The army and airforce have still not embraced the new balance that Acton’s team persuaded the navy to trial.

Acton, Beck, Shoebridge and Kirby all drew attention to the substantial financial ramifications for the nation’s budget in the strong lobbying powers of the religious sector. Money is spent in huge proportions there, much of it unscrutinised for the manner and effectiveness of its use. This, as Caro pointed out, leads to religious healthcare providers becoming the sole service for a region but robbing the population of crucial medical procedures that don’t meet the provider’s moral code.

Part of the substantial injustice of the excess funding of private schools is attributable to this power imbalance. We will continue to become a more unjust society if the public education system is starved of funds in both function and infrastructure, by contrast with taxpayer funds being spent in abundance on church-linked schools. Former president of the NSW Teachers Federation Maurie Mulheron spoke with great passion on that injustice. The chasm between education systems both segregates and polarises our society.

Some of the money, such as that spent on chaplains, may also be unconstitutional.

One of the most important aspects of the day’s discussion, however, was affirming respect for people of private and virtuous faith. We must stand against the mere 12% who belong to fundamentalist movements that see the rest of us as an impediment to their goals.

Chys Stevenson delivered the day’s most striking speech explaining the risk to our democratic project posed by the Christian Nationalist Right (or Christian Dominionism). She described this Americanisation of Australian politics as part of a “cancerous political ideology.” We have the protection from a soft coup by Christian authoritarians of a much stronger electoral system than the USA, but complacency, Stevenson warned, could nullify that advantage.

The Pentecostal movement is working to infiltrate government and public institutions; the intent is “gaining complete control.” And while the style of religion is foreign, it is growing. The New Apostolic Reformation group alone has 1,000 churches around Australia.

This “imposter Christianity,” quoting Professor Samuel Perry, is often antithetical to Christ’s teaching. It is radicalised to the point that, Stevenson explained, in many churches pastors can no longer preach the Sermon on the Mount without being attacked for being the rotten “woke.”

The Christian Nationalists that Stevenson depicted believe that End Times are close. This requires the purification of every person and nation on the planet to allow Christ’s return to rule. Purification entails constraining all lives: no reproductive rights and no sex outside sacred, heterosexual marriage. This allows no LGBTQIA+ existence at all. Women should be returned to the domestic space.

Stevenson described the Seven Mountains Mandate which intends all aspects of human society to be controlled by Pentecostal figures: education, religion, family, business, government/military, arts/entertainment and media. There is no obligation to be honest with the secular world about this intent or the methods used to achieve it. Everything is literal spiritual warfare. The secular world, including Christians who are not of their movement but most particularly Catholics, is often depicted as demonic. The movement is deeply antagonistic to First People’s cultures, and often segregationist in race terms.

Stevenson used UTS academic Jeremy Walker’s research into the Atlas Network and its affiliate “think” tanks in Australia where anti-climate action work is accompanied by culture war battles that amplify splits in society. The Atlas model of division was at work in the Voice referendum campaign, not least because the fossil fuel sector that funds so much of these junktanks’ work fears the alliance of First People with environmental campaigns.

Neither the paleolibertarians nor the Christian Nationalists have any interest in democracy. The former see it as an obstacle to the free market, while the latter sees it as an obstacle to imposing Biblical law. Stevenson recommended Clare Heath-McIvor’s insider revelations about the threat to the democratic project posed by this movement.

Stevenson’s speech built on Leslie Cannold’s depiction, in the preceding presentation, of how polarised Australian society is becoming. We are following the American route towards hyperpolarisation which cannot sustain the democratic experiment.

Dr Anna Halahoff from Deakin illustrated the degree to which far right lobbyists have pushed the Western Chauvinist cultural deployment of Christianity into our new school curriculum. Then education minister Alan Tudge’s revision to the proposed Australian history curriculum ended up reducing content covering First People by one third, replaced by greater emphasis on our “Christian heritage.” Tudge has no record of being on the Orban speaking tour like too many Liberal Party alumni, but he was apparently filtering the fascistic politics through from the network.

Van Badham spoke with passion, and some trepidation, about her adult embrace of Catholicism. She depicted her faith as integral to her commitment to social justice and her wellbeing. Badham described secularism as a vital bulwark against the authoritarian Christians who pervert her faith, damaging believers as much as people of no religion.

The scandal emerging from Florida in recent days is indicative of the forces at work in the Christofascist right. Christian Ziegler is the state party chair of the Republican Party and a staunch ally in Governor Ron DeSantis’s war on “woke,” with constant assaults on both straight women’s and LGBTQIA+ safety within the state. His wife Bridget Ziegler was a co-founder of the hate group Moms for Liberty that has bedevilled American schools and libraries with anti-LGBTQIA+ aggression.

The fact that the Zieglers have been in an open marriage with another woman, including allegedly lesbian activity by Bridget, followed by an accusation of rape and physical harm of that third party by Christian, exposes the rot at the heart of this kind of politics. Families and individuals are leaving Florida and similar states for their own safety. People have been driven to suicide. Others are living with the mental distress of being targeted for outsider status by this neofascist crusade. The hypocrisy, however, is standard.

True Christians and people of other faiths who live inspired by their belief and its moral code are utterly different from these neofascists.

We must work together for mutual protection.


This essay appeared in an abbreviated form in Pearls and Irritations as Christian Nationalists versus the rest.

Conference sponsors:

The NSW Teachers Federation

The Secular Association of NSW

Humanists Victoria

National Secular Lobby

Rationalist Society of Australia

Plain Reason

Humanists Australia


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Chaos and confusion are intentional weapons: Albanese must strengthen not weaken the misinformation bill

The Albanese government announced this week that it would weaken proposed disinformation-suppressing measures because the Coalition was implacably opposed to them. It is hardly surprising that Peter Dutton’s Opposition should fight the bill; it is disappointing that Labor should have so little commitment to protecting its own chances let alone the democratic project.

Dutton’s Coalition showed, over the referendum campaign, that engaging in culture war divorced from empirical truth is their chosen path to regaining power. Thus it is in Labor’s interest to enhance our democracy by reinforcing integrity in civic debate and politics with as much vigour as they possess.

There are many forces at work fostering chaos and confusion. Some of the problem is structural: social media monetisation driven by pandering to the id; old gatekeeper media organisations struggling to remain solvent in the face of the internet challenge; too much competition for our attention.

There are, however, forces determined to capitalise on that situation. There are many kinds of disinformation at work. Some of it is merely random trolling or malice at play. There is however much that stems from national actors, with such technology functioning as a military asset in hot or cold war situations. Cyber warfare forces are amongst the least expensive divisions and weapons at a government’s disposal, but we have seen repeatedly how powerful one facet, the digital versions of leaflet dropping over enemy lines, has become. Compared to traditional wartime propaganda, it is much harder to distinguish from reliable information.

The US has also used its giant tech firms to meddle in foreign countries’ politics: Google, for example, interfered in countries such as Syria, against Assad, for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many nations have such divisions with China, Iran and Israel divisions making news. Israel also spawns a number of troubling private “security” companies that deploy military expertise for profit or patriotic goals. It can, of course, be challenging to measure the integrity and intent of the reports and complaints made about these nations’ forays into disinformation.

Russia has been notorious in the field using Facebook to shove crowbars into the civic divides that pervade America. It has also been most effectively muddying opinion about its neoimperialist and traditional imperialist actions regarding nations in its region. As well as allegedly strategising against Israel, it has been working since the invasion of Ukraine to hide the truth. A factor as basic as motive has become fodder for endless debate.

This derives from the same information campaign skills that Russia developed over the Syrian civil war where, for example, the moral reputation of the White Helmets remains starkly divided, depending on the individual’s information source. Some believe them to be heroes who rescue the injured; others see them as a propaganda operation that supports terrorist groups. The latter opinion appears to be the result of a sustained Russian and Syrian government disinformation campaign. Publications such as The Grayzone seem thoroughly integrated into Russian information networking.

The situation is not aided by the old anti-war left becoming susceptible to Russian propaganda about Ukraine driven by long and justified disgust with Western neoimperial foreign policy. To see figures like Noam Chomsky spreading the new imperialist aggressor’s talking points is odd: there is room for villains all around. This is one facet of the new diagonalist politics where leftish figures end up working for the Right.

The same information chaos surrounds understanding the sustained Israeli bombardment of Gaza after Hamas’s gruesome attack on the 7th of October. Cyber strategies, including disinformation, have been important tools. There are many actors involved, including minor third parties.

The power of lobby groups to suppress discussion of information arising from the violence has been stark. Jewish peak bodies have Australian government and media so dedicated to avoiding charges of antisemitism that they can barely challenge action that is “perilously close to meeting the threshold” of genocide. Penny Wong’s long-delayed and tepid request to halt attacks on hospitals is depicted as supporting “false and harmful narratives,” a call that has the peak bodies “highly concerned.” Moreover it’s important for journalists (and Kmart) to distinguish between real Jewish community peak bodies and a disgraceful imitation. Disinformation augments misinformation natural in the chaos of warfare so that knowing where to find factual accounts is fraught.

News Corp is certainly one source to avoid. Rupert Murdoch’s investment, with Dick Cheney, in Genie Energy has prevented his media organisation being a reliable source on Israel and Palestine. Genie has had exclusive rights to explore for oil and gas in the contested Golan Heights since 2013. (Did Rupert Murdoch request Scott Morrison send peacekeeping forces to the Golan Heights in 2019?) The investment is also argued to be a substantial factor in News Corp’s climate denial propaganda.

This illustrates that private sector efforts to manipulate opinion can be just as critical as national efforts to achieve military goals. Climate denial and culture wars promoting ultraconservative social positions have long been tied to muddying the civic information space. The primary goal was overtly crippling public ability to commit to fighting for industry regulation.

The model was honed in the campaign to stop certainty taking hold about the gold standard science linking tobacco smoking and cancer. The cigarette, in 2013 considered “the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation,” was not regulated for decades because of the long PR war fought by the tobacco lobby. Many of the same people and scientists used the same strategies to stop the transition from carbon-based energy to renewables. The number of deaths to be caused by this 50-year delay will dwarf tobacco deaths in the decades ahead.

The bodies fighting industry regulation and taxes merged with ultraconservatives fighting the growing diversity of 20th century societies. Networks like the Council for National Policy and the Atlas Network were developed with the goal of destroying civic discourse in order to achieve the ultimate liberty of business combined with statist control of public morality. Much of the money funding this project comes from fossil fuel billionaires.

The strategies used include owning media bodies. Religious radio networks in the US, for example, proved powerful. It involved founding schools or funding chairs in universities intended to produce intellectual material to support their goals. Representatives and delegates continue to write columns for the newspapers, bolstered by big advertorial and advertising spending. Metastasising clusters of civil society organisations are still being established: some were intended to present as thinktanks, others to present as grass roots organisations. The fakery involved in these is captured in the strategy’s label “astroturfing.”

These interests work with full-service influence companies to manipulate the debate. The company that developed the model, Black, Manafort and Stone, became known as the Torturers’ Lobby. It was not just murderous autocrats that they whitewashed for Washington dollars, however. They perverted the information space and democracy for corporate and political clients too.

Australia spawned Crosby Textor, and New Zealand Topham Guerin, as offspring of that innovative forebear.

The Murdoch family was involved, alongside some of Australia’s best known mining magnates, in the founding of such “think” tanks in Australia. The Institute of Public Affairs, the Centre for Independent Studies and the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance are several of the Australian bodies that belong to the insidious international Atlas Network.

The Voice referendum campaign become another tool in the array of targets selected by these bodies. Dr Jeremy Walker and Anthony Klan’s investigations into the ways that Advance and Fair Australia are connected to the Atlas Network’s Australian affiliates also highlighted how the No campaign used the typical strategies to muddy the debate until clarity was impossible. The connections to fossil fuel are clear and follow a long history of Atlas affiliates attacking First People’s efforts to protect their land.

The slogan used by the No campaign, “If you don’t know, vote no,” was an embarrassing celebration of Australian ignorance. It was also peak fossil fuel disinformation. This command to abandon the search for truth and understanding is precisely what tobacco and fossil fuel interests sought to create and manipulate. The study of agnotology is, in part, a study of the deliberate fostering of this ignorance. They want us all to vote no to regulating or taxing industry because we just don’t know.

China and Russia are both amongst powers alleged to have powered an attack on information about the Voice, including the deployment of bots. The AEC’s efforts to check lies have been described as “like a man standing with a backyard hose, waving it at an inferno.”

In celebrating the defeat of the Voice, Jacinta Nampijinpa price signalled that her next target would be Queer Australians. Andrew Bolt highlighted again the link between the Voice and fighting climate action: slamming renewable energy with “Now let’s do Labor’s other mad crusade” (23/10).

Fighting disinformation about fossil fuels and similar controversial sectors, as well as inhibiting destructive culture war battles used to disguise the primary goals, has become the field of independents and minor parties like the Greens. Monique Ryan has introduced a bill to limit the toxic impact of lobbyists with her Clean Up Politics proposal. Zali Steggall has introduced her Voter Protections in Political Advertising bill. Sophie Scamps has tabled a bill to provide safeguards for public appointments. They are collectively fighting alongside the Greens to pressure Labor to make the misinformation bill strong and also extend it to cover the mainstream media.

The Liberal Party has arguably become the political arm of the various interests represented by the Atlas Network’s Australian affiliates. Their direct and broader interest lie in the information space being chaotic. In this light, their criticism that the misinformation bill attacks “freedom of speech” must be seen as the disingenuous nonsense that it is.

Australia can’t be a functioning democracy unless voters understand policy platforms on offer and the stakes. Unless we properly control dis- and misinformation in the civic space, we have little chance to vote well. Albanese must find a backbone for his own sake as well as the nation’s.


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Reforming money in politics: crushing Dark Money without eliminating quality independents

One of the most crucial decisions about the shape of our democracy is about to be resolved. The Coalition and the ALP appear to have reached a decision to block any further challenge to their duopoly control. While it is crucial that we introduce strong reforms to stop third parties distorting our elections, we cannot do so in a way that prevents quality independents and minor parties from challenging hidebound incumbents.

The major parties’ falling primary vote has them unnerved and prepared to distort democracy to protect their manifold advantages. We saw over the referendum weekend that the tools of deception, fear and loathing have too much power to sway our elections. Protecting against the big parties’ gambits is crucial to a future where the public has some influence on the shape of the nation.

Alan Kohler has reported on a cynical deal apparently being forged by shadow special minister of state Jane Hume for the Liberals against the so-called teals and Special Minister of State Don Farrell for Labor against Clive Palmer. Their deal will involve “increased transparency, caps on donations and campaign spending, and increased public spending for elections.” These are all measures to be celebrated, unless they work to prevent Australian voters freeing the country from state capture by industry sector.

Ensuring integrity both in donation reform and election spending are critical reforms to ensure transparency in politics; we must have governments that build policy for the common good, not for the donors.

At the same time, it is crucial that we allow scope in our politics for transparent, integrity-run organisations to support quality candidates. Distinguishing this from insidious spending by vested interests and conspiracy cohorts takes fine reasoning and cautious designing of the reforms.

Dark money distorting the Voice debate

The Voice campaign has revealed how much Dark Money is distorting our political debates. Clive Palmer spent over 200 million to distort the 2019 and 2022 federal elections. He claimed to have swung the former to the Coalition with his preferences. Now the coal miner is reportedly spending $2 million on advertising in a last minute bid to swing two crucial states away from supporting the Voice referendum.

The low barriers of the social media era mean that the quantity of money spent cannot be the only metric used to assess disinformation. A Melbourne crypto trader has spent at least $16,000 spreading Voice fearmongering with paid advertising created on a $140 per-month app.

The 7.30 Report last week added to earlier reporting on Dark Money subsidising the Advance group and through it, its subsidiary Fair Australia, which led the No campaign. The ABC’s report focussed attention on Simon Fenwick, also using his Wall St money to fight climate action. Earlier reporting in Crikey listed Advance’s donors including a number of other wealthy Australians.

Mark Kenny described Advance as being founded in the wake of the Marriage Equality plebiscite to mobilise “a hitherto disparate conservative citizenry whose adherents blame “wokeism” for everything from the declining authority of the Christian church to gender fluidity, environmentalism, and the Voice to Parliament.”

We will need to design a strategy that accounts for money in all its forms, including the scope for small social media spending to manipulate democracy.

American strategies in Australia

American Dark Money manipulation is notorious for its longterm vision and its cunning.

Sydney University of Technology lecturer Jeremy Walker has drawn the connections and parallels between Advance and Fair’s No campaign to the insidious American Atlas Network that has worked to dismantle societies for plutocrat gains across the globe. Its ultra-free market machinations have particularly worked to protect fossil fuel interests. As Walker points out, the gas sector in Australia is particularly interested in stopping the union of Indigenous people and climate action.

The connections are rarely straightforward: money and influence have worked in labyrinthine ways over decades to distort the playing field for the interests of the wealthy, in particular for tobacco and fossil fuels.

Over the weekend, investigative reporter Anthony Klan revealed the shadowy status of Advance and its promoters. Precisely in the Atlas model, it has a network of fake “grass roots” seeming bodies – a strategy called astroturfing – that include entities dedicated to attacks on climate action.

One of the great concerns for figures in the fossil fuel sector at this moment when governments have been mainly neutralised is the possibility that court action will become an impediment to projects and profit. Cases brought over combined Indigenous and climate interests have proven themselves to be a merger that the Dark Money does not want to fight.

Jones Day, a law firm at the heart of the insidious “conservative” legal movement in America, with several Australian offices, has focused on the obstacle in the Australian market.

Advance denies connections to Atlas but there is personnel overlap with the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) which is part of the Atlas Network. Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price both work with the CIS as well as Advance’s affiliate Fair organisation. Mundine chairs LibertyWorks, the Atlas affiliate with connections to fighting climate action and to promoting Trumpist politics in Australia through the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Mundine is also chairman of CPAC Australia.

In the USA, parallel spending is also funnelled through Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs). These are independent bodies that have unlimited spending ability to channel donors’ money into advertising campaigns in support of candidates and parties. This frees Dark Money to distort the political information space with minimal constraint. The Australian Coalition already has roughly 86 bodies able to function as a swarm of PACs.

Unless Australian caps on spending are accompanied by careful restraints on how parallel spending is executed, the money that has gone to parties – and much more – will continue to expand on their ability to distort our politics away from the national interest towards vested interests.

Determining good money and bad

It is uncertain how much power the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has, or whether it is following instructions from the parties’ strategists.

The challenge stands for the committee to work out how to distinguish between the money that distorts democracy and the money that enhances it. The Coalition and the ALP however have little interest in allowing greater democratic freedom which can disturb their hold on power.

Climate 200, for example, has supported a range of independent campaigns. Once a potential candidate establishes that they have community support in the electorate, and if they share values – a foundational concern for integrity and climate action, as well as supporting women in politics – Climate 200 helps provide the money, largely from 11,000 crowdfunded donors, that will enable the independent candidate to compete with the party politician not meeting their electorate’s concerns.

Climate 200 is unusually transparent about its funding and adamant that it holds no control over the candidates beyond that. Compared to Clive Palmer’s candidates, Climate 200 has backed intelligent, thoughtful people displaying integrity in their goals and responsiveness to their electorates. Most of the candidates elected with a Climate 200 start-up fund have shown themselves to be much more responsive to issues of economic inequity than their major party-affiliated peers.

Up to $3 million was spent on Josh Frydenberg’s federal seat in 2022 and a candidate has almost no chance without seed funding of between $250,000-$500,000 to open an office and hire one or two staff to begin to balance the inherent benefits of belonging to a major party. The Australia Institute estimates that federal politicians receive incumbency benefits approximating almost $3 million from the public purse each electoral cycle.

By enforcing public spending to fund elections across the board, however, the major parties are limiting the ability of the small players and quality independents to challenge the duopoly. Victoria’s state reforms, for example, mean that parties gain a much larger public pay-out from elections once they meet the 4% of primary votes benchmark. Parties can also receive this public funding in advance of a looming election. Independents and minor parties have no way to match that if dramatic caps are also instituted. That money is not taxable for party candidates but is taxable income for independents. All these factors undermine quality independents’ ability to challenge the incumbents.

Candidates representing the major parties also currently enjoy huge uncosted advantage in elections. Brand recognition, habit and national spending campaigns are a boost: if the JSCEM’s proposal to cap spending per seat is instituted, this will be a substantial further advantage for the duopoly.

Victoria’s state transition to public money spending dominating election campaigns has been shaped in such a way as to stop quality independents from being electable.

The interim report of the JSCEM has shown the intention to control money spent on garnering an electoral impact by “associated entities and third parties.” It appears not to have been well designed: Kohler, for example, believes Clive Palmer will still be able to drive “one of his trucks through the loopholes” that the JSCEM reforms will enact. There seems to be no intention to tackle the major parties’ business councils where “memberships” are not treated as donations. The JSCEM needs to do better: this is crucial democracy protection.

We will need an independent committee to assess bodies and individual spending for integrity, transparency, and honesty. Money that tends to be spent on distorting debates ought to be taxed and/or fined. This should cover so-called think-tanks, especially ones allied with international shadowy groups like the Atlas Network. This last category includes the CIS, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), and the Australian Taxpayer Association.

The Albanese government has been a disappointment above all in its failure to act on climate beyond mere rhetoric. The new 116 fossil fuel projects listed to commence are a disaster in a moment when every fraction of a temperature rise means more compounding extreme events set to befall us.

Labor, like the 2022 Coalition, must be open to challenge by quality independents and minor parties. Otherwise, the fossil fuel sector is set to maintain its state capture of our governments. Our climate action potential will remain stalled. Parties of government must be forced to respond to community concerns rather than corporate and sector investments. Crushing protest and blocking competition from independents is not how democracy should function.

The referendum showed how vulnerable our electorate is to all the games emerging out of the American Right. It is imperative that we urge the Albanese government to speed up the integrity platform reforms it promised, and to do them with precision. No government lasts indefinitely: Labor needs to protect itself from a post-democratic Right as much as the nation needs them to do it.

If the major parties plan to prevent future challenges to their control of government we need to protest before they embed it in legislation.


This was first published in Peals and Irritations as Dark Money is distorting the Voice debate

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We can’t ignore politicians’ Christianity any longer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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CPAC 2023: the Christian Nationalists taking over the Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations as The Insurgency

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The insurgency within the Liberal Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Lazy language damages our present and risks our future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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The Morrison Government: A textbook case of rampant, moral disengagement

By Steve Davies

2023: What have we all been seeing for a long time? Media report after media report, enquiry after enquiry all showing how inhumane and corrupting the Morrison Government was.

Everything from Robodebt, the behaviour towards women within the parliament, conflicts of interest, the abusive treatment of whistleblowers through to throwing millions of dollars at consultancy companies. The list goes on and on.

People are rightly saying that this is all due to the unhealthy culture of politics and government itself. Some media reports say the same and, again rightly, add that it’s the system.

Australian Public Service ‘experts’ and senior officials say that culture change is needed. Then they say, culture change is hard. This sounds plausible and right.

However, they are wrong. They have been banging on about culture forever. It’s a failed model. One that consultancy firms make a lot of money out of.

As for the public in general and the causalities and victims of this culture? They are rightly demanding real and lasting change. They want answers to the question of what drives all this abuse and disempowerment. They want to know why there is so much silence and denial from government.

It is as clear as day that people need practical tools for understanding, empowerment, and action. The same applies to people within government and Australian Public service agencies. The great explain away of culture has achieved nothing.

A more precise people friendly approach and tool is needed. A tool and approach that connects people and enables them to cohesively call out the inhumane and corrupting behaviours and practices of politicians, public servants, and organisations.

A tool and approach that enables them to call out inhumane and corrupting laws, policies, procedures, and actions in a powerful way.

Such an approach and tool exists, but has been (and is), ignored by the Australian Government (including the Albanese Government), Australian Public Service and law makers. Why?

I can answer that courtesy of deep personal professional experience – decades of research, conversations, and a few battle scars. They ignore it because careers and old bureaucratic empires (sacred cows), will fall and laws and policies will have to be changed when looked at through the lens of the mechanisms of moral disengagement.

Instead, they have displaced responsibility for healthy behaviour and practices within all of our institutions to “the culture industry”.

We are all living through the cruel results of that. And it is no use thinking that the moral disengagement that government is riddled with will disappear simply because we have a newly minted Australian Government.


World renowned Professor Albert Bandura may no longer be with us, but his work lives on. Next year the twelfth international conference of indigenous and cultural psychology will be held in Yogyakarter, Indonesia.

That conference will commemorate the centenary of his contribution to science.

His research into ‘real life’ individual and collective behaviours and practices provides a clarity and tool for understanding that are needed more than ever.

One of the fondest wishes he had for his work on moral disengagement was that it would be used by people to prevent harm and restore, as it were, the health of organisations. Empowering people.

Before continuing to read you might like to find out more on the official website Albert Bandura.

It is, I believe, a national disgrace that the Australian Government is allowing the behaviours and practices that have enabled moral disengagement to continue to be a feature of politics and public administration.

What can we all do?

Look at the behaviour, practices and policies of the government and the Australian Public Service. What you have experienced personally. What you know from others. What you have seen in the media.

Look at what you have experienced or are concerned about through each one of the mechanisms. The more indications you see the worse the situation is.


Mechanisms of moral disengagement Indicators
Advantageous comparison “It would be worse with”. It would be worse if …”
Attribution of blame They brought it (harm) on themselves. They didn’t navigate the system properly. They didn’t tell us.
Dehumanization Treating people as not quite one of us. As a liability. A threat to the system. As cogs in a process.
Diffusion of responsibility “It’s the system. It’s the process. I’m only responsible for”
Displacement of responsibility “I’m following orders. I have no choice”.
Disregard, distortion, and denial of harm Hierarchy fragments responsibility for harm. Robodebt was an attempt to further minimise human responsibility.
Euphemistic language The use of sanitised language to mask hurt and harm. Officialese or bureaucratese
Moral justification Moral, social and economic. *Also, bureaucratic and technological. Data driven.


What actions could you take next?

Talk with your family, friends and colleagues. If you are a member of a trade union or professional body talk with them.

Write to or talk with your member of parliament. If they don’t respond you’ll know they are part of the problem.

Share and start conversations on social media. I suggest you tweet at your local member of parliament, a Minister or Prime Minister. Please use one or more of the hashtags below:

#PeopleFirst #MoralDisengagement #AlbertBandura #OurFuture #OpenGov #auspol #GreatGovNow

The sooner we all start looking at the behaviour and practices of government and the public service through a common lens the better. Why? Doing so will give us all a more powerful voice.

I’m often asked how we got into this mess? The patterns of history are important.



The early twenty first century was a time of optimism about the future. About a world of promise.

It was no surprise that Australians dismissed the Howard Government in 2007 and elected the Rudd Government.

Early in its term the Rudd Government faced the global financial crisis. They demonstrated a speed, creativity and achievement that was praised around the world.

The Rudd Government also set a leading example with Open Government, Freedom of information, public engagement, and its efforts to reform public administration, the Australian Public Service

The intent of these initiatives was reflected in the title of the reform report – Ahead of the Game. The aim was to give Australia the best public service in the world. Innovation, openness, data, enhanced democracy, and Gov 2.0 was being championed.

A Gov 2.0 movement had started prior to the election of the Rudd Government. That movement was highly valued by members of the government. The enthusiasm was immense. The work and approach of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce was world leading.

However, there was also tension courtesy of ‘the old guard’ of the Australian Public Service. There were cultural battle lines within and across public service agencies.

During the tenure of the Julia Gillard Government the declaration of open government was released. In many ways that declaration highlighted the cultural and political battle lines.

Please read the Declaration of Open Government media release and share the declaration.

These were times of great promise. However, the changes were fragile flowers.

Why were the promises and changes made to achieve greater openness, transparency, and public engagement (often referred to as enhanced democracy), so fragile?

Because these flowers of change were young and its roots shallow. In contrast, the dark culture of power, control and authoritarianism ran deep. That culture persisted due to the Howard Government giving Australian Public Service agency heads their fiefdoms.

The actions of the Howard Government resulted in strong shift towards blind compliance to Ministers and, with that, the corrosion of the of the notion of whole of government and its public service serving the Australian people.

It was unsurprising that with the demise of Rudd and then Gillard Labor Government those promises, and progress were snuffed out.

Thinking about the travesty of Robodebt years later. The behaviours, practices and environment that enabled Robodebt were set by the Howard Government years ago.

The trajectory of decline was, therefore, set by the Howard Government.



The election of the Abbott Government in 2013 saw an aggressive return to the Howard years. The use of data and technology to enhance democracy, fairness, and decency? Forget it. Open Government? Closed.

Freedom of information? Reduced to a shadow of its former self. The Freedom of Information Commission and the Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan, were treated appallingly.

Behaviours and practices to ensure silence and blind compliance were normalised. Aggressive authoritarianism on a whole of government scale was the order of the day. The Abbott Government grew unpopular in a short period time.

Such was the concern that Malcolm Turnbull mounted a leadership challenge against Tony Abbott. 30 consecutive Newspolls had shown the government was headed for defeat.

Ultimately, Turnbull took the Liberals to the 2016 election. The result? A one seat Liberal majority.

However, due to his having ‘only’ narrowly saved the Liberal Government the radical neo-liberals saw an opportunity to oust Turnbull. Morrison was installed as leader and the authoritarian neo-liberal agenda ramped up.

Even darker times lay ahead



In so many ways the behaviours and practices of the Morrison government were the end point in a long and cruel journey. Parallels with the Trump administration and that of the Johnson Government in the United Kingdom abound.

Like you, I could go on and on about the policies and conduct of the Morrison Government. However, there is no point. Why? The mainstream media and social media have reported extensively on what we have all witnessed and experienced.

What the mainstream media have not done is explain why we are in such a dire situation. What drives the behaviours and practices. Some media outlets are blinded by ideological bias. Others lack the knowledge and skills.

The single most damning and powerful accounts were the real-life cruelty, corrupting behaviours and practices exposed by the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme.

The real-life stories and experiences were an evidentiary illustration of the extent and normalisation of moral disengagement. Arguably, Australia had a government of ‘Moral Disengagers’.

The Morrison Government took Australia to a 21st Century version of a Dark Age.



On 2 June 2023 I drafted advice and guidance that I was going to send to the Prime Minister and other politicians. The advice was for members of parliament to set an example by discussing moral disengagement openly in the House and the Senate.

Why? One of the reasons why moral disengagement thrives and grows is that the mechanisms that drive it (behaviours and practices), are rendered undiscussable.

I decided to sit on that advice to see how the Albanese Government would progress. That was a fair enough call on my part. Besides, as I stated at the start of this document:

“As for the public in general and the causalities and victims of this ‘culture’ they are rightly demanding real and lasting change. They want answers to the question of what drives all this abuse and disempowerment. They want to know why there is so much silence and denial from government”.

The fact is that moral disengagement has been normalised in government (politics), and the Australian Public Service. Its widespread and granular, corrupts everything and causes long lived harm to individuals, communities and our society.

Are the actions of the Albanese Government sufficient to deal with the prevalence of moral disengagement in our institutions? NO.

Is the Australian Public Service willing or capable of eradicating moral disengagement? NO.

Should the National Anti-Corruption Commission be publicly using the mechanisms of moral disengagement as a tool to proactively prevent corrupt and corrupting behaviours and practices? YES.

Do we need to do so to provide great government that actually serves people? YES.

Steve Davies is a retired public servant. His expertise is in the areas of organisational research and people development. He’s always been attracted to forward looking work. He’s a vocal critic of destructive, cruel and backwards looking behaviours and practices.

Over the years he’s spoken in depth with whistleblowers and advocated the use of technology (including social media tech) to empower people to do great things together.

His thinking and work have been heavily influenced by such great thinkers and researchers as Shoshana Zuboff, Albert Bandura and Peter Senge for decades.

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The AAT: abolishing a system of indefinite torment

The abolition of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) is a crucial part of Attorney General Mark Dreyfus KC’s integrity platform. In the last decade of Coalition governments it had become overwhelmed by partisan appointments, creating a bedlam of incompetence and politically-motivated decisions.

Many of these Coalition appointments were unqualified, with no legal training or experience: there are rumours that AAT librarians had been asked on occasion to write findings. To pour salt on the bleeding wound, salaries of up to $385,000 were granted these politicians’ friends.

The term “competitive authoritarianism” describes the path from an elected (if flawed) democracy to illiberal democracy or authoritarianism. One of the key ways that an elected government can tilt the playing field is to own the referees.

An egregious act by Tony Abbott’s Coalition government in 2015 was the abolition of the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) and absorption of its role into the AAT. Expert adjudicators with an understanding of the crises faced by asylum seekers were squandered and replaced by people sympathetic to the Abbott government’s western chauvinism. As a result, roughly 70% of the AAT’s cases tested the claims of refugees refused by an immigration department determined to fast track white au pairs and to reject people it defined as “non-white” seeking safety from genocide.

These decisions carry grave weight. As the ASRC’s Principal Solicitor, Hannah Dickinson, summarised: “Administrative review bodies like the AAT make decisions that have extraordinary significance for people’s lives: whether they face indefinite detention; whether they are deported to death or torture; whether they will be separated from family or community forever.”

The Abbott AAT ran a twin-track system of appeals. Those who came by plane have access to the AAT proper and a chance of justice. Those who came by boat until July 19 2013 endured the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA) offshoot of the tribunal which was designed to deny justice wherever possible.

The validity of people’s right to refugee status after Abbott and Scott Morrison’s reforms was now judged by public servants expected to reject as many as they could get away with in a Fast Track process that was designed to fail them. Some individual Home Affairs case officers would vouchsafe justice, but find their decision to grant someone protection was then overturned by the National Office in Canberra.

Access to Legal Aid for asylum seekers was cancelled in March 2014. Some filed paperwork or came to interviews unrepresented, and others came represented by migration agents, not all of whom are as scrupulous or expert as one might need facing being forced home to torture.

The notorious IAA was their appeal pathway. It was a place of justice-denying limitations and aggressive ignorance. Only very limited new information could be brought or clarified. People still physically crippled by torture were assessed by these Coalition appointments to be in no danger on being returned home to their persecutors. Rape was not recognised by this body as a weapon of war, and thus dismissed. Evidence was determined to be fake despite its authenticity.

In the public interest, findings were posted on the internet. The IAA redacts only the names, making the cases easily recognisable to foreign nations’ security forces, placing family still at home in great danger of retribution.

Immigration, AAT and IAA findings of the right to protection were made largely on the basis of the foreign affairs department’s Country Reports. These can be a poor basis for decision making, three Upper Tribunal judges in the UK found, in a “scathing” rejection of the appalling Sri Lankan report’s use. DFAT has political and diplomatic motivations to write reports in a particular light. Often the reports are formed on the basis of local employees’ information, with many coming from the ethnic majority that does not recognise the rights or stories of the minority community fleeing the country. Expert advisers giving a more accurate picture of the appellant’s fate were disdained by the partisan appointees of the IAA. Tamil Sri Lankans in particular have faced terrible injustice because of the use of this Country Report.

The replacement body for the AAT is being workshopped around Australia at the moment, hearing submissions and accepting reports. It is critical that justice for asylum seekers and refugees is part of the deliberation. As Lord Bingham, former British Lord Chief Justice, said, “asylum decisions are of such moment that only the highest standards of fairness will suffice.”

Australia must recommit to the Refugee Convention. A dedicated body such as the RRT must be reconstituted. This works to remove the unnecessary burden of cases from the AAT (and the courts) to an expert appeal tribunal. The IAA must be disbanded in disgrace.

Resources must be allocated to both bodies: years-long delays are a denial of justice.

There must be training of the tribunal members to understand the impact of trauma on memory, to understand cultural sensitivities about revealing such horrific information to interrogatory strangers. There must be support staff to aid in the mitigation of the pain of reliving a person’s worst horrors, compounded by the fear that they will be living through similar pains again if their story isn’t believed. Interpreters must be carefully selected, with an eye to ethnic tensions in the homeland.

It is essential that new information can be introduced and DFAT Country Reports must be replaced by a more accurate assessment of an appellant’s safety in their homeland.

The 12,000 people in the legacy caseload (pre July 19 2013) are in limbo, many stuck in expensive legal appeals against unjust findings from a broken process. This is a pressure the courts cannot sustain alongside the covid-era backlog. The frustration of professionals and volunteer supporters is immense: even those now out of options and due to be sent home have ominous fates looming.

Australia is determined that the “offshore cohort,” who came after the arbitrary date of July 19, will go elsewhere. Their last decade’s fate was decided by the whim of Border Force. A painful life of limbo in Australia or the grotesque torments of the Manus and Nauru prisons might depend on which side of a Border Force official’s arm they stood in a room, to be split from family and friends.

Unfortunately there are few options for them available since most countries are dealing with their own more generous intake already. Every political undertaking is changed as circumstances shift: Rudd’s “no chance” promise is unnecessary in an era of boat push-backs.

Both cohorts are being used to balance the slow mercy granted the 19,000 whose visas will be transitioned to permanent safety. The legacy and offshore groups are being sacrificed to the culture warrior bigots.

It seems that outside the courts, immigration minister Andrew Giles plans to review each case separately to see which deserve a Ministerial Intervention. This appears an outrageously labour-intensive process for a cohort where 90% have consistently been found to be genuine refugees. An amnesty, which Giles rejects because a small number come from places with no record of persecution , seems a much better option than continuing to torment these individuals and families kept in limbo.

Our politicians and complicit media have performed outrage about the relative few refugees who made it to our distant shores, as a racist distraction from their unpopular policies. In fact our intake has been measly. During a similar crisis of displacement, Australia took 70,000 refugees in a year. The post WW2 refugees, however, were largely European and somewhat less challenging for a white supremacist people.

It is great news for our democracy that the shambles of an AAT is being replaced. As part of this process, we must ensure that we provide justice for the relatively few refugees who have come to us for safe haven rather than persecuting them in the hope that their genocidal home becomes preferable to our indefinite torment.

There is no place for that crime in a healthy democracy.

Originally published in Pearls and Irritations


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Murdoch’s Zero Sum games: divisive propaganda meant to break us

The Murdoch media drives resentment with propaganda as constant as drums of war. The pounding message for its audience is that every development is a zero-sum game, one that only defrauds this “conservative” base.

The unspoken subtext for all these battles is the idea that everyone comes from a place of roughly equal opportunity. The concept that anyone might be disadvantaged (or advantaged) by decisions that we make as a society is anathema. The knowledge that history can trap people is inadmissible. Any attempt to mitigate harm so that we can all benefit is dismissed as social engineering, a slippery slope to socialism.

The poor, the welfare dependent, women, non-white people: any action to diminish barriers to their achievement is portrayed as theft. The idea that a society where most can flourish is a flourishing society is poison to this narrative. Equally, the benefits of upper/middle class birth are obscured: the successful achieve through grit and determination. Anyone can replicate this if they try, the story declaims. The default identity is middle-class, white man. Any other status is an “identity” to be deplored as divisive.[1]

Sometimes News Corp targets refugees, who are rarely depicted as the fellow builders of this nation that they have been. Instead, they are deplored as taking from us, either our wealth or our safety. The recent announcement that “boat” people can apply for family reunion in the years ahead (replacing the painfully destructive decade’s separation from vulnerable family) is presented as inviting people smugglers. Actually that “business model” is prevented by the boat turnback policy: the last decade of human rights abuse by the Coalition government was wanton cruelty.

The Voice to Parliament is now the primary front of the war. The Voice is in actuality little more than a token. The Discussion Paper outlines the intent: it will allow “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [to] have more of a say on the laws, policies and services that impact their lives.” There is no power to compel government or ensure that advice is incorporated into the ways Indigenous lives are impacted by Canberra. It is incorporated into the constitution in order to recognise the weight of the fact that this land was theirs for over 65,000 years before we took it, unceded, over the last 200 years.

The Northern Territory intervention showed the worst ways that outside interference could impact groups traumatised by history: “any possible benefits to physical health [were] largely outweighed by negative impacts on psychological health, social health and well-being, and cultural integrity.” The idea is not that the Voice should replace concrete strategies, but that it should help tailor them to be more effective. The hope is that the damage done by the colonial project can be better mitigated by a more thoughtful and appropriate series of strategies achieved through consultation.

We have shown ourselves to have the capacity to continue hurting First Nations people more than any other population, from the beginning when we eliminated an estimated 90% of their population to this moment where we continue to attempt ham-fisted “solutions” to the problems born of poverty, intergenerational trauma and marginalisation. We owe them more thoughtful, consultative solutions.

Instead of the truth about this feather duster of a body, Murdoch’s audiences are told that it is “third” chamber in parliament and poses a dire threat to white Australia’s autonomy. Andrew Bolt described it as a “new apartheid” with just one “race” benefitting from the racism, equating it to the White Australia Policy.[2] He also labelled it an “undemocratic farce.”[3] He depicts many of the Indigenous Australians it will represent as “Fakes, frauds and rent-seekers,” in his repeated efforts to discredit the Aboriginality of claimants.[4] Henry Ergas describes the prospect as entrenching “racial separatism” and denying “political equality” to white Australia, akin to disenfranchisement of French Jews before 1789.[5] Albrechtson depicted it as “preferential privileges”[6] and “a radical shift in power.”[7] A typical letter-writer describes the Voice as singling out one group for “special treatment” and scuttling equality by putting them above the rest of the population.[8] Peta Credlin depicted it as a “trojan horse” to usher in “Aboriginal states.”[9]

Chris Kenny of all people warned Dutton in November, buried deep in a long column, not to risk being seen as a “a political anachronism, a flint-hearted curio” by pursing the smear campaign on the Voice, a body that can do “no significant harm to the nation but could provide considerable benefits.”[10] The Australian published the account of the nitpicking stress testing of the wording of the amendment by a mixed panel of constitutional heavy-weights from one of its members. George Williams makes clear that there is no veto power over parliament. There is no requirement that government listens to the Voice. There are no special rights conferred.[11] This is why some First Nations’ activists are dismissing the body as a sop.

Any other claim for inclusion is treated as a threat to the mainstream’s ownership too. Marriage equality took nothing from traditional” marriages and yet this was the framing that throbbed through News Corp. Janet Albrechtson recently expressed that JK Rowling ought to be woman of the year for her attacks on trans existence. Albrechtson performed horror that the word woman “is being erased.”

This distortion of the facts is not freshly concocted by the columnist. It is a standard trope of the women’s right-wing space (even though not all declaring it realise the provenance). It emerges from the idea that various groups in the LGBTQI+ community have asked that language includes them. When a lesbian couple have a baby, one of them is the “birthing parent” since both will be mothers. Nobody is eliminating the term mother;” it is just that our language is able to open out to include other experience where relevant.

Leaving language open for professionals to address people as required is not an erasure of women’s existence. The controversial term “chestfeeding” has been devised purely to speak to people for whom breasts aren’t relevant. It is not a replacement for the term breastfeeding. The lesson is merely asking midwives to be thoughtful about the needs of the individual recipients of their instruction. Change is complicated and messy. We make mistakes. Solving the inherent problems is our task.

The result of this campaign is deadly violence.

The only recent battle where News Corp’s audience arguably does stand to lose something, rather than cowering in fear of manufactured monsters under the bed, is the tantrum over Jim Chalmers’ The Monthly essay. The opinion and letters page of The Australian[12] was filled with outrage over his “socialism” expressed in a work that asks, as Katherine Murphy puts it, “in conciliatory terms that capitalism should (brace yourselves readers) be tethered by values.” He continued the focus on economic growth as the solution to our ills, despite concern that this is a dangerous path.

In fact, the idea that these readers stand to lose in capitalism balanced with regulation and government programs is a myth created by the plutocrats who believe life truly is a zero sum game.

Robert Reich detailed in a February essay that the “free market” is a poisonous lie that has created massive inequality, dysfunction and disaster. There is no such thing as a free market, he points out: markets are designed by judges, legislators and government agencies for a party, either “to advance public purposes or monied interests.” As servants of the monied interests, our right-wing political parties have become circuses filled with clowns and jerks, or zombie parties, gutted by deceptive free market ideology. Nativist populist creeps and campaigns are winning and damaging countries in predictable ways. Britain is paralysed with rolling strikes after years of neoliberals starving infrastructure of funds. The “antiwork” movement represents workers’ growing disgust at the exploitation laid bare by the pandemic.

Murdoch’s Dog Line treats a request to be included in our societies as though the target is digging up the graves of our ancestors and stealing our inheritance. Politics based on this resentment and rage can only damage us. It is crucial that those who continue to follow Murdoch’s “news” do so in the full knowledge that his zero sum games are a dangerous distortion intended to distract us while the monied interests take everything.


[1] Sheridan, Greg “Identity politics the real risk in voice,” The Australian 7/2/2023

[2] Bolt, Andrew “Architects of new apartheid,” The Herald Sun 31/10/2022

[3] Bolt, Andrew “Giving voice to an undemocratic farce,” The Herald Sun 19/1/23

[4] Bolt, Andrew “Whose voice is being heard,” The Herald Sun 14/11/2022

[5] Ergas, Henry “Voice to entrench racial separatism,” The Australian 27/1/2023

[6] Albrechtson, Janet “Oratory is no substitute for cool, hard-headed analysis” The Australian 5-6/11/2022

[7] Albrechtson, Janet “Conventional approach to real debate in voice” The Australian 8/2/2023

[8] Needham, David “Terrible irony of attempt to right historical wrong,” The Australian 2/2/2023

[9] Credlin, Peta “Voice a Trojan horse,” The Herald Sun 12/2/2023

[10] Kenny, Chris “Sound the alarm, Mr Dutton” The Weekend Australian 26-7/11/2022

[11] Williams, George “Expert stress tests show the voice is not a threat” 23/12/2022

[12] Letters The Australian 1&2/2/23)

This was originally published in Pearls and Irritations as The Voice: News Corps dangerous zero sum games


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Distracted by hate, we are robbed

We are at a crossroads. The Ultra High Net Worth Individual (UHNWI) class is creating a new international feudal order, assisted by the professional enabler class including politicians in pursuit of their money. One of those enabling mechanisms is the media. In Australia, News Corp serves as the strongest weapon in the creation of their desired world.

Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland spells out the power the UHNWI class has to shape nations to their needs as they passport shop for the most desirable conditions. They rob their nations of the funds required for stability, and corrupt the lands where their money settles. The myth of meritocracy gives scope to syphon off the best of the lower orders and stifle disruptive urges. Lawyers, accountants, politicians, all can become wealthy catering to the needs of the UHNWI set.

For perspective, Donald Trump belongs to the enabler class. His money-laundering property deals provided a service to the kleptocrats determined to protect their astronomic wealth for heredity.

Since the neoliberal propaganda about ultra free markets as the ultimate tool of general well-being took hold in the 80s, USD7 trillion has been funnelled from the masses to the ultra rich.

The Liberal Party in Australia (like its “conservative” fellows around the west) has been hollowed out by the zombie economics and the culture war games that replaced belief in the government and some degree of justice. The Labor Party continues to try to balance the needs of the paymasters with the broader wellbeing. Neither party is fit for purpose in fighting the climate crisis that the ultra rich have inflicted upon us by deciding to abandon the initial impetus to innovate out of the threat.

News Corp serves to boil frogs. As in that metaphor, their audiences are lulled to ignore the threats of climate, the rise of a violent far right and theocrats until it’s too late. The audience is also made to boil with anger and resentment at groups they are taught to fear as threatening their comfort. There are two current targets: First Nations Australians through the demonisation of the Voice to Parliament, and the “woke” with particular hatred deployed against LGBTQI+ people.

The news orgy of mourning over Cardinal George Pell and Jim Molan are emblematic of this culture war tribalism. Few Catholic clerics would have received the thousands of words of eulogy from the Australian establishment that have decorated Pell in the last week. It is likely that had he not been a target of progressive wrath, he would have followed the usual quiet trajectory of the Catholic departed. David Marr argues that Catholicism has received greater weight in recent years, compared to the decades of déclassé embarrassment, because the radical right sees it as one of the great unifiers and defenders of the superior western tradition.

Jim Molan is depicted as the ultimate patriot warrior of the kind the right worships. The coverage elides the bigotry and culture war nature of his political contribution as a senator, because that is the kind of head kicking the right demands. The allegations of war crimes in three Iraqi cities, and his alleged nickname The Butcher of Fallujah, are naturally omitted. Partly because, levelled at a western soldier, they have not been investigated adequately but because, as with Pell, his victims are not worthy of attention.

The poor, non-whites, non-Christians, women, refugees, LGBTQI+. As victims, they are utterly disposable. As Premier Dan Andrews pointed out, the Church moved predator priests from working class parish to working class parish. The children they preyed upon were not worthy of Pell’s interest. Nor are they worthy of News Corps.’

Molan used Muslim and LGBTQI+ Australians as political tools, but they are justified kills by this right wing reckoning. Iraqi targets are worthy only of a shrug, even if they were, allegedly, civilians. MeToo was a poison for the right because women’s pain is not important compared to men’s. The climate crisis is negligible, by their accounting, because those who suffer most will be the poor.

To distract from the unwinding of the democratic project, the tools of the oligarchs practise divide and conquer. A category of human is sacrificed as disposable to the baying of the enraged base. Jewish people remain a target. Trans people are the first of the LGBTQI+ community to be placed in the firing line.

Australia joined the world in depicting Muslims as a threat, using that excuse to inflict abominable harm on people who came to us seeking safety. Canadian organisations say refugees coming from Australia are the most damaged people they’ve assisted, compared to people fleeing every human hell. A video is circulating social media of a man who was sent from our off-shore prisons to the US. He came to us for help fully functioning. Now he lives homeless on American streets, his brain shattered by our cruelty. Molan was co-author of this horrific program.

Rupert Murdoch intends that Australia is especially susceptible to this propaganda, with his dominance of our media. His organs control the message delivered to the radicalising right. This base believes their sort has lost the battle for control of our fate because of some progressive academics, and cynical corporations placing Pride flags on their social media accounts. (These tokens of justice are mere pacifiers to egalitarians as our project of a fairer world burns.)

Murdoch’s writers lull us into seeing shattered norms as normal. Adam Creighton depicted the takeover of the US Congressional House by the conspiracy-beholden, christofascist Republican fringe as a better form of democracy. Victorian Liberal MP Matthew Bach churns out optimistic columns on our future; it’s easy to see the world as promising when you belong to the enabler class.

The poor will be killed and displaced in, at least, their millions in the decades to come, echoing and expanding 2022’s Pakistan floods. For the UNWHI class and many of their enablers, these people are utterly disposable. It’s easy for Nick Cater to celebrate the power of fossil fuels in granting air-conditioning to mitigate the pain of lethal wet bulb temperatures. Most won’t have that mechanical luxury as their worlds disintegrate. The disempowered in our own nations will lose their homes and lives; they will be distracted with flames fanned to hate the “woke,” the Queer, the Other.

We must each decide whether we are willing to be lulled and boiled. Will we allow the kleptocrats and enabler classes to target our fellow citizens or people in foreign disasters as disposable? Will we fall into internecine bloodshed as America is, killing the demonised, or will we confront the ultra rich with their crimes?

It will take international cooperation to constrain the UHNWI class. Within our own nations, we must decide if we will continue to allow their enablers to assist the plutocrats in hiding away our common wealth. Accountants, lawyers, politicians, the corporate media: they are targets we can constrain if we commit.

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations as The ultra high net worth individual’s strongest weapon: News Corp

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