Speech: Trumpism and the Liberal Party
I rise tonight to speak about the scourge of far Right extremism and its normalisation in our politics and our culture. A couple of weeks ago we saw the end of the catastrophic Trump presidency in the United States. The litany of policy failures, corruption scandals, criminal investigations into senior officers, and a fundamentally racist political agenda was topped off by Donald Trump trying to steal an election and incite a violent far Right insurrection at the US Capitol Building.
People dismissed those of us who called Trump a dangerous authoritarian and a fascist. They said we were overreacting. They said we had no idea. But Trump's legacy speaks for itself. It gives me no joy to say we were right. Every person in our political class who indulged Trump and gave him an easy run has some serious explaining to do. That means everyone from the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, down. The problem is that, while Trump has temporarily been sent off to play golf in Florida, the white supremacy and autocratic politics that he represents still remain. History tells us that failed attempts to install a fascist autocracy are often followed by successful attempts. America is by no means out of woods just yet.
In Australia, Trump-style politics have infected our own. While the far Right has long been part of the Australian political landscape, what's new is that the far Right conspiracy theories, talking points and talking heads are now a norm and on channels like Sky News. Government backbenchers like George Christensen appear to have no shame in spouting Trumpian racism and extreme right-wing views—and without any sign of sanction from the Prime Minister. We saw the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, shamefully comparing the attempted violent white supremacist insurrection at the US Capitol to the Black Lives Matter racial justice movement.
It matters for us because we are so far from resolving our own problems with far Right extremism and white supremacist politics. I've said it before and I will say it again: Australia is yet to grapple with being the country that raised the Christchurch killer. Since the deadly Christchurch mosque attacks almost two years ago, the evidence of the growing far Right threat on our shores has continued to pile up. Late last year, a New South Wales teenager was arrested and is facing terrorism related charges, with police saying he had an extreme right-wing ideology focused on neo-Nazi, white supremacist and anti-Semitic material. In January, it was widely reported that a group of 40 young white men went on a camping trip in regional Victoria, making white supremacist gestures for photos to be shared on social media and terrifying locals.
I welcomed the announcement of the PJCIS inquiry into extremism—critically, including far Right extremism—established late last year, and I look forward to seeing what the committee is able to uncover. I would strongly advise the committee to pay careful attention to the Aotearoa royal commission report into the Christchurch mosque attacks and the lessons it can teach us for how we approach terrorism, security, online extremism, racism and religious hatred. The committee should also engage with and solicit submissions from the Muslim and Jewish communities, and other communities targeted by far Right violence. There are careful policy and legislative responses that must be considered.
But bigger and perhaps more difficult than our policy response is changing our political culture. We have to ask the basic questions and really engage in some introspection. What sort of behaviour and rhetoric do we consider acceptable from our political and media elites? Where do we draw the line? And, crucially, when somebody crosses that line, what are the consequences? Are there any consequences at all? One aspect of Trumpian politics that has seemed to filter into our own is the real lack of accountability or shame for wrongdoing. Speech matters. What we say matters. How far Right violence is reported matters. Unless there is accountability for failing to meet the high standards expected of us, it will go on. I hope that in 2021 the government will finally reject the lure of post-truth politics and populist extremism.