We Should Be Terrified of Importing America's Trump-Style Extremism
In the same week that Amnesty International issued a travel warning for the US, advising tourists to be "wary of the ubiquity of firearms among the population," the America-based CPAC held its first rally in Australia.
Founded by the American Conservative Union, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is a political campaigning organisation closely affiliated with the US Republican Party. The Sydney conference was headlined by speakers who are largely irrelevant to the current Australian political debate, including Jeanine Pirro, Nigel Farage and Tony Abbott.
While some have questioned the reason behind this political outfit’s interest in our country, it is also fair to question why some conservative Australians are so eager to see a foreign power influence our domestic politics.
As a true patriot, I think Australia is one of the greatest countries in the world. We are not perfect, of course, and there are many things we could do better -- especially in relation to how we learn from, recognise and respect the traditional custodians of this land. But despite our failings, I do believe that Australia is a broadly strong, independent, prosperous and successful nation and we should be proud of the hard-won progress that we have achieved.
That is why I find it so confusing that there are some Australians who seem to want our country to be more like the United States of America.
A few hundred of those people attended CPAC last weekend so that they might learn how to do politics the American way and, apparently, Australians are rather quick learners. It took less than a day for the ugly chant of “Send her back!” to be ringing through the halls of the Rydges Hotel, in apparent reference to Labor Senator Kristina Keneally who opposed the gathering.
While the crowd didn’t make it clear, one can only assume they meant that the Senator should be sent back to her place of birth, the United States, which I think we can all agree doesn’t make a lot of sense.
While the performative pageantry of the conference can be easily dismissed as identity politics dialled up to ‘absurd’, any attempt to influence our country’s governance practices from the outside should be viewed with scepticism. That is true, even if it comes from a closely allied foreign state such as the US or UK.
There are, of course, positive lessons that we can learn from other countries and Australia should certainly consider adopting individual, constructive policies that have been successfully implemented around the world. What we should not do is allow divisive political ideologies to be crowbarred into our own national conversation.
Australia has relatively strict gun control and political financial disclosure laws. As a result we generally know who funds our election campaigns and can walk down the street, go to the supermarket and attend large public events without fear of being shot. Those are indisputably good things and we should work hard to defend and strengthen those laws at every possible opportunity.
On the other hand, American politics has been afflicted by extraordinary amounts of untraceable money and the power of vested interest groups, which organisations like CPAC seek to ruthlessly exploit.
Perhaps that’s why the newly re-elected One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts attended CPAC’s ‘campaign bootcamp’ on Sunday, which promised to show attendees how to “make a real impact at election time”.
While I’m sure the session was enlightening for Senator Roberts, One Nation’s familiarity with conservative American organisations and the politics of guns and money is already well understood. In March it was revealed that the supposedly patriotic party was seeking a $20 million donation from the American NRA in a brazen attempt to undermine the independence of Australia’s political system and weaken our world-leading gun laws.
At the same time, Australia Institute research commissioned by Gun Control Australia showed that we should be vigilant about the growing influence of special interest lobby groups in Australia and the increasing role of money in our political system. Our research revealed that the Australian gun lobby is already as big as America’s NRA, when compared in per capita terms, and that Australian firearms lobbyists had donated $1.7 million to political parties over the last eight years.
We should be worried about the impact of money in our national conversations because pay-to-play political systems are deeply problematic. They lock regular people out of democratic debates and the lobbyists who can afford to fund political parties’ campaigns always expect something in return for their generosity.
CPAC, similarly, is not a charitable organisation and, as long as some true-believers are willing to fork out $600 for the ‘Ronald Reagan VIP Freedom Passes’ that were on offer last weekend, these conferences are likely to remain a regular fixture of Australia’s political landscape.
As a patriot I believe that is unfortunate because, while American conservatives talk endlessly of ‘freedom’, I want nothing more than for Australian politics to be free of their boorish influence.