Coalition politicians are embracing far right Orbanist ideology

Dec 1, 2023
Tony Abbott : Image: Alamy/ EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo

Tony Abbott added two new posts to his resume this month, debuting as Fox director and announced to be “joining the Danube Institute team as a guest lecturer.” Add these to the October news that Abbott is now an Advisory Board member of the far-right Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC). Australians should be watching.

Hungarian Conservative celebrated the growing closeness of the former Prime Minister and Orban’s Danube Institute. Abbott in turn commended the English-speaking intellectual network attracted by Hungary’s history and culture but also the “success” of the Orban government.

That “success” is distinctly illiberal. In fact Orban boasts that Hungary has an “illiberal democracy.” The term democracy there is more decorative than functional; the European Parliament terms Hungary an “electoral autocracy.” When mass youth voter turnout defeated Poland’s illiberal government recently, experts commented that an equivalent opposition victory has been made impossible in Hungary. Orban’s base is driven by nationalism and bigotry: “traditional” identity and values make non-White people unwelcome, targeting LGBTQIA+ people and Roma as well as deploying coded antisemitism.

As noted here before (and in the Hungarian Conservative), Abbott has a history of appearing on the Orban speaking circuit. Joining him there are several other Liberal Party grandees and apparatchiks. It is important to note that the infiltration into News Corp is present too with Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan as the most prominent connection.

Orbanism offers a unifying image of the success possible for a rightwing politics based on a conception of “natural law.” In this “natural law” there is an inherent power structure that places men over women, and white, “Christian” men over everyone. Strict barriers are maintained between life’s unalterable binaries and divisions, including race, sex and gender. A fascistic nostalgia for a mythologised past drives the mission. This “natural law” pervades the bigoted political movements of the West. It is infused into the ARC and the overlapping National Conservative movement.

Last weekend’s The Australian (25-26) could have emerged wholesale from an Orban event. Natasha Bita, the masthead’s Education Editor had two substantial pieces on boys’ education. One celebrated single sex boys’ education as dealing with the crisis of them “falling through the cracks” where she editorialised the question “Has the gender-equality push gone too far?”

In the second, “Boys feel blamed for toxic culture,” she conveyed the opinions of King’s School headmaster Tony George that “neo-sexism” is at work in society’s “genderism” experiment. George asserted that boys don’t need girls in classrooms to learn to “kowtow to a female boss.” Throughout both pieces, a straw man of leftist education theory is despised as trying to break boisterous boys. Apparently overworked teachers trying to force rowdy students to meet mandatory benchmarks isn’t to blame.

Perhaps Bita or George are fans of an education administrator in The American Conservative who declared: “The task of classical Christian education is to train a noble class within our own institutions, so that they can supplant the class currently turning America into a dump.”

The same edition grants a column to Virginia Tapscott to challenge the idea that mental health isn’t a factor in men’s violence as if the imagined progressive opponents would not accept this fact. Neighbouring articles to Tapscott’s however feature a society where “submitting” to “a woman in authority” is “kowtowing,” and male “boisterousness” and boys being boys is celebrated without acknowledgement that this has long been coded cover for something much worse.

Then Janet Albrechtsen builds a farcical picture of feminist oppression of good men in her defence of patriarchy titled, “At 99 not out, Brian smashes wicked myth of patriarchy.” “Regressive anti-male myths” damage us, whereas this patriarchy (defined by her as “good bloke” individuals not an oppressive system created over millennia) is one we ought to embrace.

Further, editor Paul Kelly depicts protests calling for peace for Gaza as part of surging antisemitism that poses “moral and civilisational” questions. The “antisemitism” he thus detects in the left is apparently “reinforced by the ideology of identity politics.” Identity politics is, of course, the disdainful label given by those with power according to “natural law” to any complaint from the “naturally” subject. The trajectory of the Australian right is indicated by Kelly’s imagined Australians not recognising their country in these mostly peaceful and solemn (and utterly inclusive) protests. These Australians think, Kelly guesses, “Nobody told us multiculturalism would end here.” Apparently the vast number of white Australians at the protests aren’t Paul Kelly’s Australians.

Throughout the pages of this edition and others in recent time, there is almost no acknowledgement that Israel’s government is no longer liberal but much closer to fascist, nor is there any suggestion that decades of Palestinian suffering are factual and relevant. On 22 November, Kelly echoes Peter Dutton’s call for “moral courage and moral clarity.” These are neoconservative buzzwords that recall the early 21st century’s civilisational battle against Islam where the West represents “good” against that faith’s “evil.” The Australian’s Editorial on 20-21 October underscored this by returning to the old bellicose thought-terminating cliches of a “fight for the free world,” with Israel our bulwark against the “anti-freedom, anti-democratic axis of evil.”

Tony Abbott’s colleagues at the Danube Institute and the ARC are largely pro Russia and anti climate action. (The edition of The Australian explored above returns to the Murdoch message that renewables are a threat in a column by Chris Kenny.) For that reason it will be interesting to watch the Abbott link between Orban and Lachlan Murdoch’s Fox.

One of Lachlan Murdoch’s most striking acts on taking the helm at Fox was to stage a visit to Ukraine with reporters. He publicised his meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy and support for Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion. This is a strong signal for the head of a media organisation belonging to the Putin-supporting right. Orban is, of course, the palatable deputy for Putin since that invasion.

The Daily Beast revealed recently that Fox News sending its flagship Tucker Carlson program to Budapest to celebrate Orban’s illiberalism for a week of programming was “unapproved.” The New York Times’ deep investigation into Carlson had said he reported directly to Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch. Huge legal pay-outs over pandering to Donald Trump’s election lies were likely a factor in the Murdochs cutting Carlson loose.

Murdoch watcher Paddy Manning suggests that Lachlan’s visit to Ukraine is a sign of him moderating the extremism that had come to dominate Fox. Whether this is a business decision influenced by calmer heads or a true moderating of Lachlan’s more radical right politics remains to be seen.

There has been no condemnation or rejection from the Opposition of the many Coalition politicians joining the ARC or their grandees paying homage to Orban. There is clearly no moderating the “natural law” disgust at the disempowered asking to be heard in The Australian.

We must know the Australian right in those facts.

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