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Victorian Election: Liberals under siege from extremist religious groups

The Victorian election is a mess. This is the product of the destruction of our conservative forces by international right wing radicalism; for people in that sphere discrediting democracy is the desirable first step in dismantling the status quo. For the rest of us, it is a threat.

The Liberal Party in Victoria is caught in a trap. It pitches itself as the moderate old party of its forebears. Unfortunately, too many of the moderates who ran it or voted for it are disenchanted both by shambolic efforts in the state, and by its damaged federal reflection.

Around the state, branches are under siege by extremist religious groups, mostly Pentecostal but also Mormon. The state’s governing body is also gradually filling with these members.

Opposition leader Matthew Guy pushed Eastern Victoria candidate City Builder Renee Heath out of the Liberal fold last week, but there are others in this election with similar views from which he cannot separate the party. Too many seats would be lost in this campaign’s desperate effort to defeat the favourite.

Earlier this month a document was finally covered in The Age that is purported to have been designed by Liberal Candidate for the 2019 election Peter Killin. It sets out a “roadmap” for the religious right to “infiltrate” the Liberal Party at all levels. Killin was forced to resign at that time over ghastly homophobic commentary but now sits on the state assembly assisting in the running of the party.

In 2020, Marcus Bastiaan resigned from the Victorian Liberal Party after “having created a powerful network of religious “social conservatives” in branches across the state.”

Investigations into the branches suggests that Pentecostals have coopted Gippsland, South Gippsland and Morwell branches. There is concern about the Dunkley Branch on the Mornington Peninsula also being colonised. In January this year, moderate Liberals asked the party to “dump” a preselected candidate for Ringwood because her “recruitment of Mormon members and religious right views maker her unelectable.” In 2018, The Age reported on “conservative” Mormons winning seats as party officers at the state conference.

Bernie Finn was removed from the party when his praise for American total abortion bans proved the final straw for Guy’s team. The Western Metropolitan Branch has, however, been coopted by a religious majority and the replacement preselected is Moira Deeming. Aside from being Finn’s acolyte and, for a long time, his sidekick at the March for Babies extreme anti-choice body, Deeming has a long record of reactionary positions on LGBTQI rights.

One of the latest scandals has been the comments recorded from Timothy Dragan, aged only 26, compromising his candidacy for the Narre Warren North seat. He ranted about how colonising Australians “won this land fair and square,” arguing that respect for Indigenous Australians is unwarranted, and the nuclear waste should be dumped on Alice Springs. He also spouted anti-abortion views and climate denial. Matthew Guy chided Dragan for “disrespectful” and “silly” comments, but accepted his apology.

The state Liberals struggled during the pandemic’s worst to get traction despite constantly railing against “the world’s longest lockdowns.” Working together with News Corps’ Herald Sun, the constant attacks on the Premier and the state added to the pain Victorians experienced, helping drive “freedom” ralliers into violent attacks on the police. Victorian opposition politicians appeared at the rallies near a full-sized gallows and other violent threats on the government.

Two weeks ago, the Liberals released an ad which placed themselves in the thick of those anti-science, anti-health policy riots, demanding the “cookers” remember when “we” hit the streets to fight against Dan Andrews and vaccine mandates.

As Josh Burns MP has collated, the Liberal Party has agreed to give preferences to a number of figures who have made ugly threats. The list includes Rebekah Spelman who called for the Premier to be hanged, as well as co-orchestrating the rally featuring the gallows. Another is independent upper house member, Catherine Cumming, now standing for the “Angry Victorians Party,” who called for the Premier to be turned into a “red mist.” This term alludes to military jargon describing the impact of sniper hits. She was standing next to violent anti-lockdown protest organiser Harrison McLean, who has written that “Hitler had some good points”, when she made the speech at the “worldwide” rally for freedom.

One of the first acts of the next government should be the redesign of the upper house voting mechanism in Victoria. The state is alone in granting the voters a single choice above the line, allowing the parties to negotiate preference deals that are automatically allocated. Voters have to nominate a minimum of merely 5 selections below the line, but few choose to do so. This mechanism has enabled the scandal over Glenn Druery’s lucrative career as a “preference whisperer” where he assists parties to gain enough lower preferences to win a seat despite gaining few first preference votes.

Another key reform ought to be removing the “exceptional circumstances” block on IBAC’s ability to hold public hearings. The slow path through the process of giving natural justice to people facing adverse findings is holding up the release of corruption findings. More public hearings will allow greater public confidence in the ability of the anti-corruption body to hold politicians and public servants to account. Accusations being levelled at both main parties of corruption are undermining faith in the process.

Another systematic flaw is the behaviour of the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC). It has executed some petty blocks on independent candidates, known as Teals, in a way that appears punitive and has been perceived as partisan by those candidates. VCAT overturned the Commission’s ban on their how to vote cards.

It is crucial that the VEC’s behaviour remain absolutely meticulously nonpartisan. The combination of its bans with the slow IBAC appeal process and preference-whisperer scandals has led to calls from the “freedom” conspiracy sector for the election to be postponed as unworkable. A Dan Andrews victory is being preemptively described as evidence of a corrupt electoral process in those corners of the internet.

Democracy depends on transparency, reliable information, nonpartisan systems and trust. The failure of the corporate media to adhere to that tradition is a critical attack on the ability of voters to select their next government in a responsible fashion. The Victorian Liberal Party’s attempts to suppress discussion of their gradual takeover by the religious right is deeply problematic. Victorians need to know that a “Liberal” vote is becoming increasingly neither liberal nor conservative.

America’s flawed electoral processes have compounded the crisis of trust. It is critical that we don’t follow them into that chaos. Dan Andrews is correct: we don’t want that Americanisation of politics here.

First published in Pearls and Irritations

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12 comments

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  1. Jack sprat

    Hope these religious fanatics fracture and Liberal party and keep them from attaining power for years ,just as archbishop Mannix and ultra catholic Bob Stantamaria did to the Labor party durring the 50s and 60s . Religion and politics are like oil and water they don’t mix very well .

  2. Andrew Smith

    Internationally is more US Christianity promoted by anti-communist Heritage Foundation (‘Koch Network’ & popular with visitors like Abbott, Truss et al.) and its former & deceased leader Paul Weyrich who with Jerry Falwell Snr., weaponised abortion amongst protestant Evangelicals to develop another GOP voter (sub) bloc vs. changing demographics.

    There are many excellent research sources from US media and academia tracking the ascent of Evangelicals, Christianity and their own prejudices including Katherine Stewart ‘Power Worshippers’, Anne Nelson ‘Shadow Network’, etc. and NGOs like SPLC looking at international Christian groups with links to Anglo or western ‘conservatives’, and Russia too (from Soviet times).

    On Heritage, Weyrich was even more cynical when it came to ‘ethnic outreach’ around the Nixon GOP by appointing former WWII Hungarian Nazi Laszlo Pasztor; things have not changed that much or have returned but thankfully don’t gain much traction in Oz?

  3. New England Cocky

    Another continuing CIA strategy to undermine democratic government and election procedures in ”allies”. With the USA (United States of Apartheid) as an ally which country needs any other enemies?

    The ”new role” of the Mormons supporting this CIA policy is interesting. The Mormons had an anti-war position during the American Vietnam imperialist war and indeed, historically became established in Utah at Salt Lake City after long pursuit by the Washington based US Army. Now they are reported as among the CIA ranks.

    However, we should note that this evangelical strategy was also used by the English since the 19th century, especially among Aborigines holding Australian lands that European ”settlers/invaders” want to take over. The resulting ”missions” are well documented as creating and maintaining Aboriginal poverty, as well documented by Noel Pearson.

  4. GL

    They allowed themselves to be co-opted by the religious zealots and fanatics and now they’ve dug in like a plague of ticks and, I expect, will be almost impossible to dig out and squash.

  5. Canguro

    Slightly OT, via a shift to the big house in Canberra, but MSM reporting this morning on the shenanigans of Stuart Robert, the LNP piece of merde known to us as Morrison’s bestie, his closest bro-romance, his prayer buddy and god knows what else, but here revealed to additionally be a neck-deep schemer and dispenser of political favours to his commercial contacts; no doubt rolled-gold Rolexes, magnums of fine liquor and other valuable trinkets flowing his way in expressions of gratitude for the provision of access to the moneyed vaults at that stage under LNP control.

    What a rotten stinking craven corrupt venal and vulgar gaggle of horse-shit pig fuckers these grubby apparatchiks were, and still are.

    Senior Coalition MP Stuart Robert gave secret advice to lobbyists

  6. Clakka

    Since whenever have the modern world States not been subject to the incessant meddling, hatefulness and pillage by the greedy power-seeking sky pilots. They and their clubs, self-proclaiming via gibberish affirming their divine access to the instructions of a mute and invisible god.

    America, was substantially founded by opportunistic religious escapees, missionaries, conveniently aligned incorporations of aristocrats and their collective bands of murderous mercenaries. Ever since, whenever there has been social or economic division, they have entered the fray preferring divide and conquer, fire and brimstone, blood and destruction by any other name.

    An insecure Ronald Reagan, assured of his righteous godly connection, but desperate for votes to retain power, re-enfranchised the lunatic religious fringe and the evangelists, and so began their contemporary enrichment and epidemic spread leading to the wreckage that is the USA today.

    Via an abuse of the State’s pursuit of fairness, they incorporate, avoid paying tax, peddle disinformation and hate speech, attract and fleece the recently arrived and insecure migrants, the uneducated, the maddened, the vulnerable, and the droves of opportunists who prey on them.

    Now that they have, unabated, infected America, they seek further fertile ground. Australia Fair represents a prime target. They are here, focussed on the weakest links, and their progression to wreckage will know no bounds.

    No surprise, just a post-Morrison reminder to beware of tolerating the instigating vested warriors of intolerance, division and pillage.

  7. wam

    Jack,
    I was at high school with migrants from germany, italy and the baltic states. They all all brought fear of russia.
    Mannix and Santamaria used communism to whip up this fear, not through the political murders and social impositions, there were plenty of recent examples of that in catholic countries, spain, germany and italy that the church were not keen to be remembered, but the ‘ungodliness’ of communism.
    On the car radio, I often listened to the soft hypnotic intonations of how labor and communism would destroy god.
    The DLP was a disaster for Australia and I would love the libs to get similarly dudded but there is no longer a santamaria nor a two choice electorate.
    Today the liberal disaffected have teal to vent their anger and the danger to labor is the loonies.

  8. Lucy Hamilton

    Interesting comments, all. Thanks. Cocky: There is an upsurge of Mormon Patriots in the states which puts them in the MAGA space. I’m guessing that is the kind of Mormon we have making these kinds of moves. Politically activated, moving for reactionary policy. I haven’t researched though, so it’s just a guess.

    There is also the Planetshaker church Pastor at Box Hill as a candidate.

    I don’t think they will be dug out either, GL. The “normal” Liberals in the regional branches leave in disgust when they are outnumbered by the religious extremists. The brand is so poisonous from the federal sphere, that I think decent people won’t be tempted to save the Liberal Party. It’ll be Young Liberal ideologues and religious weirdos.

  9. Canguro

    Clakka, thanks for the reference, and apologies for getting into the gutter so early the day but the insecure Ronald Reagan’s delicate wife, the petite & pretty Nancy, she of the ‘Just Say NO’ sloganising campaign to stamp out drug use in the USA, apparently had considerable personal difficulty in just saying no; not for nothing was she known in Hollywood as the Blowjob Queen, as her frequent acquiescence to the requests from the powerbrokers – directors, producers, casting agents and so on – to get down on her knees and fellate the big fella as a tradeoff for her next role in the next upcoming film.

    The reality behind the fantasy; the pure as driven snow wife of the good ol’ guy Prez, she not much better than a streetside whore and him a malicious, conniving, ruthlessly ambitious operative whose deliberate stonewalling on an appropriate public health response to the outset of the AIDS crisis in the USA resulted in hundreds if not thousands of unnecessary deaths along with the associated suffering within the extended community.

  10. wam

    Cangaru,
    American universities had(s?) courses in cock sucking for freshmen.
    Fellatio and cunnilingus have long been a part of sorority hazing.
    These activities have probably been under review by women but only a few years ago I saw a septic cable tv program showing how to put a condom on using your mouth.

  11. paul walter

    They don’t seem to learn. The coverage on the IPABC was emblematic of the conservative mentality remaining caught out by reality. This was an astute article.

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