It is not the easiest thing in the world to cause a stir among conservatives. They are often described as reclusive creatures preferring the sanctity of the ballot box to the rancour of placard-waving. Perhaps that is true in a political landscape where the phrase ‘quiet Australian’ has become synonymous with Coalition victories – as though their voters were bats in the night, little more than silhouettes who can be largely ignored after the dust of an election campaign has settled.
No doubt that is why there was an air of fear when the American Conservative Union and LibertyWorks floated the idea of an Australian version of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). I’ll admit, the moment I saw Nigel Farage’s face pop up on a flyer, I signed whatever registration form was in front of me.
For several weeks that was the end of that. Speakers quietly signed up. There was a rustle of excitement, but it was shaping up to be an experiment rather than an event.
In stepped marketing guru extraordinaire Kristina Keneally, who used the blanket of parliamentary privilege to level such a bewildering tirade of unearned scorn at CPAC that she inadvertently stumbled across the unifying motivation for conservatives – freedom. An air of rebellion took root. The deeper Keneally dug in her political intimidation, the faster tickets fled. As she approached the Earth’s core, CPAC sold out and if there had been any question about the enthusiasm of ‘quiet Australians’ it was answered with a standing ovation as the unexpected star Raheem Kassam took the stage in defiance.
Whomever labelled CPAC a ‘festival of hate’ was half-right. After side-stepping the rabble of Marxists braving Sydney’s ice age, the spirit of the conference was festive. I have bad news for those who desperately wished it to be a dull affair – it was not. What I encountered was a thrall gathered from across the continent and a few New Zealanders that snuck in while we were distracted. They were farmers, business owners, executives, party members, retirees and alarmingly, students. Though I am prepared to accept the wild compliment of inclusion in the collective ‘youth’, what was being observed was Labor’s worst nightmare – a shifting of conservative politics toward younger generations.
Shrugging off Twitter’s hashtag assault that branded these perfectly ordinary Australians bigots, racists, extremists and every type of ‘phobe’ possible – the grand ballroom was at capacity when the original trio of Outsiders Mark Latham, Ross Cameron and Rowan Dean fronted the now infamous and headline-stealing event.
‘This is what democracy looks like!’ screeched a protester, tossing a frigid latte at an attendee. Meanwhile, inside where it was warm a collective breath held as Farage spoke in defence of the Brexit vote. His political existence centres around the preservation of English Liberty. It is no small thing to stand against an entrenched professional class of politicians and hold them to account. Twice.
Striding the stage, Farage warned that the Tories were given their chance to do the right thing. Liberals, take note: when the instruction of the people is ignored, civilisation forges a Farage or a Trump to correct the balance.
I must admit that it is a strange breed of ‘racist’ event that rises to its feet in applause for Indigenous speakers Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine who gave insight into Aboriginal communities, ongoing desperation and our complex history together. They then compared recent scars from a fierce election campaign where ‘progressives’ converged to keep their voices out of parliament. Equally racist was the inclusion of psychiatrist Dr Tanveer Ahmed and Sky News host Rita Panahi, who spoke of cultural identity while Chairman of the Japanese Conservative Union Jikido Aeba welcomed Australia to the CPAC family. Not the right kind of diversity, perhaps?
Labor has made it clear that they would rather Kassam keep his lived experience of Islam quiet and his English pub humour out of the country in case, gods forbid, politics in Australia learns to laugh again. He wasted no time identifying the empty chair on the stage as Kristina Keneally which served as the perfectly silent table for his glass of gin and tonic.
The Americans brought a flavour of white supremacist, gun-loving, alt-right, unoriginal extremism – oh sorry, that was another Keneally tweet. What our friends actually did was show that, while conservative policy diverges across the globe, we all hold a determination to re-establish the first principles of Western Civilisation. Maybe the machine of state-funded media was correct to fret as the persuasive voices of Judge Jeanine Pirro, Matt Schlapp, Mark Meadows and Peggy Grande gravitated towards the Reagan dream.
With politicians constantly in search of bars for our cage, it was no surprise that a brief chant of ‘send her back’ rose up in rejection of tyrannous individuals. For those unable to translate comedy, it was not an expression of serious intent but an acknowledgement that no one who attended has time for lazy attempts at suppression. The IPA’s Janet Albrechtsen and Daniel Wild, Generation Liberty representative Renee Gorman and YouTube star Daisy Cousens all spoke to the battlefield of ideas mediated by a rising fist of unwelcome social justice.
Not everyone was brave enough to share this stage, worried their reputations might be tarnished by proximity to democracy’s greatest gift – debate. Farage is right, the public yearns for leaders with personality and conviction. This was reflected in the cheers reserved for Craig Kelly, Amanda Stoker, Jim Molan, Malcolm Roberts, Campbell Newman, David Limbrick, John Anderson and loudest of all, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Current PM Scott Morrison was a noticeable absence, reflected in tempered enthusiasm when he was mentioned. Perhaps next time?
The overwhelming sentiment of the crowd was a preference for those with aspirations to build a future rather than tearing it down. Thank you Andrew Cooper, Dan Schneider and Peta Credlin for keeping us in line at the gala dinner. With Craig Kelly’s hilarious ‘Keneally Cup’ for services to conservatism, and the unexpected capturing of a flag, CPAC was a roaring success.
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