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CPAC mentality | The Monthly


The US-style conservative conference was a reminder that the Voice referendum is being used as a Trumpian Trojan Horse

The vileness and the gloomy conspiracy theories espoused throughout the two-day Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend have resonated well beyond the conference itself. In the year of a nation-defining referendum, the fervour of the far right has never been more full of zealotry, no matter the cost to the country they claim to love so much. At between $119 and $7000 a pop, a ticket to CPAC gave attendees a chance to reveal themselves beyond the board room – or the lounge room. Beyond the snarky Facebook posts and the lame memes, the conference allowed participants to be their miserable, bigoted, racist selves in real time. Perhaps in their own minds, they were witnessing clever and insightful conservative thinkers with original ideas, but in reality both the format and the ideas have been imported more or less wholesale from the US. Instead of using the conference to talk about the big issues – climate change, cost of living, corporate corruption or growing inequity – participants decided to focus on other people’s genitalia, changing the date of Australia Day, woke cancel culture and – everyone’s favourite – the climate hoax. For people who believe climate science is a lie, they sure do love to be sun smart with their caps.

Self-described, CPAC is “a values-based nonprofit organisation that espouses the best of Howard, Reagan and Thatcher while exploring new ideas and themes for the coming generations”. But it seems the “new ideas” to emerge from the conference amounted to “vote ‘No’ in the Voice referendum” and “lift the ban on nuclear”. Throughout out all the conference’s racist stupidity on the Voice, Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price smiled and watched on, as their people were denigrated, demeaned and debased by those purporting to have “values”. Perhaps the fact that Mundine and Price both had their faces on CPAC’s promotional banner was flattery enough to appease them. In fact, it’s an indictment on them both. They claim to be leaders of their people, but in the end they’re merely props, ready to be discarded once the referendum is over.

The conference was a reminder of the sad reality that the referendum is serving as a Trumpian Trojan Horse. For conservatives, it was a chance to try on the reality-denying tactics that ultimately failed in the United States, but will continue to undergo refinement until they either succeed or do an optimal amount of damage, because there is still a buck to be made in the last thrashing moments of Baby Boomers in their twilight years.

The latest Trump-lite “controversy” relates to the Australian Electoral Commission advising that a tick can be used as a vote for “Yes” but a cross cannot be used to vote “No”.  Peter Dutton, in his regular penance on 2GB, described the rule (which has been in place for 30 years) as, “completely outrageous”, adding that “it gives a very, very strong advantage to the ‘Yes’ case”. As usual, the predictable hysteria is not matched by facts. Guardian Australia reports that during the 1999 republic referendum (in which the same rule was in place), “only 0.86% of votes were classed as informal, and only a portion of those related to ticks and crosses on the ballot”. The AEC continues to urge people to simply vote “Yes” or “No”.

Despite the microscopic size of the issue, it will be used by conservative opponents of the Voice to undermine the legitimacy of the referendum process, and by extension the AEC and election processes across the country. The AEC disinformation register, which lists pieces of disinformation about the Voice referendum, reads like something straight from the Trumpian playbook on how to erode faith in democracy.

Those traditionally on the fringes of political discourse, particularly on the right, have found themselves increasingly closer to the centres of power. The trend has been growing for 25 years or more, as the Australian political landscape shifts to the right. Despite Labor governments dominating the mainland, almost none of them (with the possible exception of Victoria) can be labelled truly progressive. The extreme viewpoints shouted at the world over the two days of CPAC have never been more intertwined with the “mainstream” political parties that are the Liberal and National parties. The referendum is a litmus test as to whether this intertwining is an effective strategy, or just a mess.

With yesterday’s Intergenerational Report showing clearly that if we are to leave anything for coming generations, then we must tackle climate change now (listening to First Nations people would greatly assist in that venture), the only thing CPAC demonstrates is that if we were to follow CPACkers on their path, we’d be driving off a cliff.

Daniel James

Daniel James is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He hosts the radio show The Mission on 3RRR FM.

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