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The Hard Right in Australia

Political Troglodytes and Economic Lunatics: The Hard Right in Australia

Dominic Kelly

March 2019

Paperback $32.99, eBook $14.99

La Trobe University Press

In the mid-1980s, Ray Evans and his boss at Western Mining Corporation, Hugh Morgan, became the pioneers of a new form of political activism. Morgan and Evans set up four small but potent organisations, intending to transform public thinking on industrial relations, the Constitution, Indigenous affairs and climate change.

Together they had an energy that bordered on fanaticism. They lobbied politicians and wrote opinion articles. They were born intriguers and colourful speakers. It was Bob Hawke who called them 'political troglodytes and economic lunatics', yet in their dogged pursuit of influence these hard-right conservatives had an impact on mainstream public policy that continues today. Dominic Kelly shows how they did it.

From the book:

5 December 2016. The Australian Minister for Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, suggests that the government will consider implementing an emissions intensity scheme – effectively a carbon price for power companies – as a way to reduce carbon pollution. The next day, after a furious response from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, Frydenberg backs down. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denies that the scheme was ever under consideration.

27 October 2017. The Turnbull government announces its rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for the establishment of a First Nations "Voice to Parliament," enshrined in the Constitution. The prime minister says that such a proposal is inconsistent with Australian notions of equal civil rights, and infuriates Indigenous people by misleadingly referring to a potential "third chamber of parliament."

1 January 2018. Turnbull, who was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement in the 1990s, is asked about the prospects of Australia becoming a republic in the near future. The once passionate republican is notably cautious ... but he nevertheless floats the idea of a plebiscite or postal survey to begin the process, should Queen Elizabeth die during his prime ministership. Faced with an insurgency from the Liberal Party right, Turnbull is forced to walk back his remarks within twenty-four hours.

25 January 2018. The Fair Work Commission, applying the legislation set out in the Fair Work Act 2009, orders NSW rail workers to abandon their indefinite overtime ban and planned twenty-four-hour strike on the grounds that both actions "threaten to endanger the welfare of part of the population" and "cause significant damage to the economy of Sydney." In other words, an institution created by the Rudd Labor government uses Labor-backed legislation to effectively rule what many view to be legitimate industrial action unlawful.

27 August 2018. Scott Morrison chooses Angus Taylor, a prominent climate change sceptic and anti- renewable energy campaigner, as his energy minister. Morrison says Taylor will be "the minister for getting energy prices down," while resources minister Matt Canavan calls for "a new era of energy and resources abundance." Morrison's chief of staff is John Kunkel, who was the deputy CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia for six years and a senior political lobbyist for mining giant Rio Tinto for two. On the same day Morrison horrifies Indigenous leaders by appointing Tony Abbott as "special envoy for Indigenous affairs," seemingly a consolation prize for being left out of the ministry.

As these fragments from contemporary Australian politics all illustrate in different ways, Australians live in an age in which hardline conservative views on a range of issues set the terms of public policy, sometimes in direct opposition to the desires of the public at large. Why is this so? The answers to this question are many and multifaceted, but this book illuminates one of them: the powerfully influential role of a small group of committed political activists and the remarkably effective organisations they created.


Published in Chain Reaction #137, December 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

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