Why propaganda works so well in Australia

Jun 30, 2023
Strips of newspaper with the words Propaganda typed on them Image: iStock

The past five years of intensive anti-China propaganda, highly aligned as it is with government objectives, have been instrumental in propping up public support for AUKUS and the Australian government’s flawed foreign and defence policies. Why have Australians been so susceptible to the influence of that propaganda?

Propaganda is information, especially of a biased or misleading nature. In P&I recently, John Queripel quoted the results of a Lowy Poll. He concluded that “Propaganda directed at teaching Australians to loathe and fear China has been remarkably successful over these past 5 years.”

Many learned and experienced diplomats, politicians and scholars have repeatedly demonstrated the absence of credible evidence to support the propaganda that China is a military, economic or cultural threat to Australia.

Why has propaganda been so successful in Australia? Why does all the evidence-based opinion not gain traction with the Australian public? In his 1941 book Methuselah’s Children, Robert A Heinlein wrote “you can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic”.

Perhaps Heinlein’s insight provides clues to the hoodwinking of most of the Australian public over the China threat. A more detailed analysis of three of the key elements driving a successful propaganda programme – Motivation, Means and Message – also helps to reveal the West’s and particularly Australia’s susceptibility to China misinformation.


In the West, where largely unregulated capitalism prevails, the most effective propaganda leads to rewards and objectives that are aligned with the power and wealth elite. Ownership of weapons manufacturers and major industries – media, pharmaceutical, healthcare, manufacturing, education, oil and gas, electricity, transportation, agriculture and science – lies with a concentrated number of companies and individuals. These entities are highly motivated to maintain the status quo – and even increase the wealth imbalance in their favour.

After WWII, and especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US has brazenly sought “full spectrum global dominance” – no less than a position of superiority in every sphere of human activity. It has reinforced that desire by establishing over 800 military bases around the world. Any “foreign policy” has been supplanted by “defence policy”. Diplomacy has been replaced by military threat. “I can kill you anytime” is very persuasive and has served US interests well. This demonstrates just how motivated the US is to maintain its number one status.

Around 2016, it became apparent that the rapid development of China and its vast trading potential would soon surpass the US as the world’s largest economy. Even if China expressed zero imperialistic ambition (it has only one foreign military base) fear of the loss of US global supremacy became an even more irresistible motivator for the US to constrain China’s development using any means available. A core objective of the propaganda in Australia clearly aims to encourage Australia to prepare for a dangerous US-instigated proxy war with China over Taiwan.


The concentrated ownership of wealth and power in the US and West has subverted virtually every mechanism of control over governments, industry, media and society. This nebulous but powerfully focussed force has developed a vast propaganda machine with the means to promulgate ideas to the broader global public that enhance the US obsession to impede China’s emergence as a global leader.

In 2018, the US persuaded the intelligence agencies of the Five Eyes – UK, US, Australia, NZ and Canada – to secretly collude in an assertive and all-encompassing programme of misinformation and deception to vilify China in the eyes of the US and the West. The stark results of these means of deception were revealed in a 2021 Gallup Poll.

Subversive, pro-US “assets” already in place in many countries were provided with the means of additional funding and content to reinforce the “China bad” message. These included the CIA, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Centre for New American Security, Hudson Institute, Atlantic Council, International Institute for Strategic Studies and many others.

Ownership of western mainstream media is in few hands – and sympathetic to maintaining the US global hegemony. Control of western television, print, news outlets, public affairs programmes and social media readily joined the campaign and provided the means to sway public opinion towards fear and loathing of China. Organisations inclined to give voice to positive truths about China would face cuts in funding or advertising revenue. Reporters and journalists who did not toe the line were made to feel anxious about their careers and livelihoods. US Congress even openly allocated direct funding to “journalists” who supported the preferred negative messages about China.


Effective propaganda needs to convey a credible message to its target audience. It does not need to be true, just believable. The message must be consistent, continuous and all-pervasive. There should be no avoiding its malign influence.

The storytellers’ messages grossly and repeatedly misrepresent actual events in, and actions of, China. The storytellers can also create fictional messages that can be difficult to refute – especially when most of the potential “refuters” have been silenced. The propaganda also draws from purposely fomented incidents of unrest and rebellion stirred up by the clandestine activities of the CIA and other operatives embedded in US embassies and military bases in many countries around the world.

Prejudices and susceptibility

As Heinlein wrote, a key element in the success of propaganda is exploitation of prejudice and susceptibility. In terms of people’s attitudes towards China in Australia, the propaganda plays to the many years of fear of the “yellow peril” and the “domino effect” of encroaching communism. These have been effective tools of successive governments wishing to garner power as the “protector” of the populace. Scratch the skin of many Australians and vestiges of prejudice, racism and bigotry still emerge. They have appeared after every successive wave of immigration and unfortunately reinforce Australian society’s ongoing negativity towards many minorities.

Overblown nationalism and fear of some form of personal loss (status, job, religion and culture, self-importance) also increase susceptibility to negative, hateful propaganda. It flourishes in the absence of any counter-narrative. Hence the disappearance of Russian Television when the government needed to lift support for the War in Ukraine. We should dread the day when the excellent television channels CGTN News and CGTN Documentary are banned from cable and satellite television in Australia.

Australians are noted for their laconic style and “laid back” nature. Could this seeming virtue of “tolerance” be apathy in disguise – a lack of motivation to reject misinformation and seemingly attractive falsehoods? If so, this would only increase Australia’s susceptibility to the influence of propaganda.

Government objectives aligned with propaganda

The Australian government seems to be increasingly aligned to the US military via AUKUS – even to what many say is a deplorable loss of sovereignty and self-determination. The government has a dogged adherence to the woefully wasteful $368 billion contract for eight ill-suited nuclear-powered submarines.

The past five years of intensive anti-China propaganda, highly aligned as it is with government objectives, have been instrumental in propping up public support for AUKUS and the Australian government’s flawed foreign and defence policies.

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