Slipping into Federal Election year, the Liberal Party of Australia is split between two hostile forces. Supporters of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are on one side and disciples of sacked prime minister Tony Abbott are on the other.
In Liberal Party terms the split is a “left” (Turnbull) versus “right” (Abbott] affair. The intensity of the push is coming from the party’s NSW division which is thick on the ground with right-wing Howardistas and Abbottstanis.
The party’s Victorian division, the home of party founder Sir Robert Menzies, is opposed to the Abbott splitters, with the exception of one lone nutter, former defence minister Kevin Andrews.
In Tasmania Senator Eric Abetz is the Mad Monk’s chief warrior while there are a handful of revivalists in Queensland, including Lutheran Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson who has spoken sorrowfully about losing his “closest friend”.
Liberals in other States and Territories are looking on in disbelief as the party turns against itself.
The stark piquancy of the party’s split was underlined on the eve of Australia Day when Abbott announced he would re-stand for Federal Parliament at the next election in his Sydney northern beaches seat of Warringah.
The next day he took off for the United States, shattering Turnbull’s carefully stage-managed move into The Lodge and a unique moment to front Australia Day celebrations where the emphasis was on cultural unity, gender diversity and a renewal of the republic debate – three of Abbott’s pet hates.
In the days since his scene-stealing operation it has emerged that Abbott is in the US to give an address to a far-right lobby group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is fiercely opposed to President Barack Obama, presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, gay people, pro-choice citizens and anti-gun reformers. As a piece of high-level diplomacy, it is recklessly destructive … but typical of Abbott.
The Ghost of Sir Joh
The current Liberal Party warfare recalls the divisive, ill-fated and hilarious “Joh for Canberra” campaign. On the eve of the 1987 Federal Election Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen launched a raid on Canberra by fielding his own candidates “to fix Labor and the Liberals”. They included former Treasury Secretary John Stone and National Farmers’ Federation president Ian McLachlan.
In the wash-up, the Joh-led enterprise denied Opposition Leader John Howard the prime ministership – he eventually succeeded in 1996 – and delivered a resounding victory to the Hawke Government.
Bjelke-Petersen’s assault had the unwavering backing of media magnate Rupert Murdoch who lent journalists from The Australian (Des Keegan) to support the project.
Wal Fife, former federal and NSW Liberal MP, wrote: “The involvement of Des Keegan as organiser and speech writer for the ‘Joh for Canberra’ campaign while he was still working for News Ltd left little doubt as to Murdoch’s intention. He was bent on disrupting the Coalition.” (A Country Liberal by Wal Fife, 2008)
The circumstances may have changed since then, but there is little doubt that Murdoch is up to his old dirty tricks again. On this occasion Murdoch is throwing his support behind Abbott in the hope of returning the Liberals into a hardline conservative party supporting unregulated free market capitalism.
Will journalists on The Australian volunteer to assist this squalid subterfuge? I suspect that there are those that will. When they do, let’s name them.
The Abbotts and friends
While Mr and Mrs Abbott have travelled first class to the US to address the ultra-reactionary Alliance Defending Freedom, another
Liberal, Kevin Andrews, is in nearby Washington DC addressing the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank.
Their purpose is not to put a persuasive or independent point of view to an American audience, but to make contacts with well-heeled and like-minded nut jobs from the US far right. They need an infusion of support from American co-thinkers so as to build their Liberal Party clique into something bigger.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is widely recognised in the US as the most reactionary of all the far-right lobbying groups. Alan Sears, its founding president and former Reagan Administration official, is co-author of The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Liberty Today and a regular contributor to Murdoch’s Fox News channel.
The ADF is opposed to “tolerance training” in classrooms which aims to reduce bullying of LGBTI students and instead proposes the introduction of “truth days” to brand homosexuality as “sinful”.
The Arizona-based organisation with 3,000 Christian fundamentalist lawyers on its books conducts legal actions against governments at home and abroad to spread their crazed agenda. Annual contributions have swollen to almost $50 million a year with membership growing.
ADF leading light James Dobson argued in his book, The Strong-Willed Child, that a child will understand how to interact with authority if it is portrayed correctly:
“By learning to yield to the loving authority … of his parents, a child learns to submit to other forms of authority which will confront him later in his life – his teachers, school principal, police, neighbours and employers.”
ADF’s former attorney Lisa Biron was convicted of child pornography in 2013 when she filmed two men committing multiple sex acts on her 14-year-old daughter. Ms Biron is now serving a 40-year jail sentence. The deeply embarrassing episode has been wiped from the SDA’s memory.
Abbott plans to meet Rupert Murdoch in New York and the SDA will send delegates to Canberra this year for the Australian Christian Lobby’s talkfest. Who will receive the rowdiest reception – Turnbull or Abbott?
The cat was let out of the bag by Philip Higginson, former federal treasurer of the Liberal Party, when he boasted about the money he could raise the in US for then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government.
In his leaked resignation letter, dated 22 February 2015, Higginson laid claim to raising $70m since 2011 and disclosed plans for Abbott to visit the US to raise “tens of millions” from American donors.
“I have also participated fully in the creation of record levels of income particularly in the crucial years 2012/13 and 2013/14,” Higginson wrote.
“I can now quite confidently ask individuals and their advisers for a donations of a million dollars and even more recently confidentially request a million pounds sterling without vacillating.
“I was planning to increase that ask for tens of millions of dollars within the USA and had laid out plans to the PM for approval in principal. I believe it is still possible.”
There are no legal requirements in Australia to disclose contributions made to political parties from overseas companies, think tanks or wealthy individuals. And none of the major political parties are anxious to change the non-disclosure status.
Two potential sources of US money for political parties in Australia are the gun lobby, represented by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the fundamentalist Christian lobby.
The fighting Hughes
Evan Hughes, son of flamboyant commercial art dealer Ray Hughes, has taken a swipe at the art world while launching his political career as a Labor candidate at the next federal election. Hughes Jr, who will oppose Malcolm Turnbull in the seat of Wentworth, told The Art Newspaper that the art world “has been taken over by dickheads”. He added: “Too much of the commercial art trade has become about the selling of product and the accumulation of capital, much to the confusion and disillusionment of young artists.”
Brisbane-born Ray, who has closed his fabulous Surry Hills gallery, reckons his son should print on all his election material, a slogan saying: “Support for Malcolm Turnbull is a mile wide but only half an inch deep.”
Evan recalled that in the 1990s the Turnbull family commissioned a portrait of the then merchant banker by one his father’s artists, Lewis Miller. “Unhappy with the work, Turnbull confronted my father at a function and exclaimed: ‘That artist of yours is no good; he’s made me look like a big, fat, greedy cunt’, to which my father replied, ‘He is a realist painter, you know’.”
Quotes of the Week
Donald Trump is certainly the best of the lot. I think he understands the real sentiment of America.
– David Duke, far right anti-Semitic white nationalist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan
The Israeli army has to stop arresting Palestinians, but it must execute them and leave no one alive.
– Chief Rabbi of Israel’s Safed settlement Shmuel Eliyahu
PS: According to the Jerusalem Post, Eliyahu said in 2007: “If they (the Palestinians) don’t stop [resistance] after we kill 100, then we must kill 1,000. And if they do not stop after 1,000, then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million.”