The Insurgency

Aug 24, 2023
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers the keynote address during the 2023 Conservative Political Action Network Conference (CPAC) in Sydney, Saturday, August 19, 2023. Image: AAP /Dean Lewins

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 involve consequences 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.”


– Article updated 17 Sep 2023.

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