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 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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