The Australian Financial Review reports…
“The only thing that perturbed the Reverend Fred Nile about the establishment of a new anti-Islam party is that he wasn’t consulted.
The leader of the Christian Democratic Party in NSW, who is a key supporter of the state Coalition government, says he had hoped that supporters of Dutch politician Geert Wilders would have got behind his own party’s push to field candidates across the country for both houses in the next federal election.
“That’s what I would have hoped,” Nile says. “But we’ll work with them. We’ll exchange preferences.”
Wilders leads the Netherlands’ most popular party, which has been ahead in 13 of the past 16 opinion polls. If the Australian Liberty Alliance can replicate even a portion of his success it could feature prominently at the federal election likely to be held next year.
When Wilders spoke at a press conference in Perth on Wednesday he was almost drowned out by a small but noisy protest. The Dutch politician, who travels with heavy security, was unperturbed. He said the Australian Liberty Alliance would provide a “new hope committed to fight for freedom and freedom of speech and among other things, it is committed to stop the Islamisation of Australia”.
“What is happening in Europe today with the asylum-seeker and migrant crisis, please don’t think that it won’t happen to Australia tomorrow,” he said.
Political parties running on anti-immigration platforms are gaining significant ground in Europe against a backdrop of the mass movement of people fleeing wars in countries like Syria, and violence in quasi-failed states like Libya.
The ultraconservative Swiss People’s Party won the biggest share of the country’s vote with 29.4 per cent at last weekend’s election, even though Switzerland has been relatively unaffected by the flow of refugees.
The Swiss have dubbed the result a rechtsrutsch, or “slide to the right”, which could also be a label used to describe the strong polling recorded by the Marine Le Pen-led French National Front, far right Sweden Democrats, Austrian Freedom Party and Wilders’ Party for Freedom.
Will Australia swing to the right too? And if so, how far?
Nile says the CDP made its announcement during the week that it would field candidates across the country at the next federal election because he sensed an election could be called early. He also says the elevation of a moderate like Malcolm Turnbull to the prime ministership has created an opportunity for a “true” conservative party, such as the CDP.
“The [Liberal] party is shifting to a non-conservative position,” says Nile. “We wanted to have our candidates in place. The climate is running in our direction.”
While discussions around what constitutes a “far right” party are not settled – ALA leaders say they are just concerned citizens, and not on the political extreme – the parties gaining traction in Europe have several things in common.
They tend to be very patriotic – and are sceptical of alliances such as the European Union – anti-immigration, and, in particular, anti-Islam. They also have strict moral guidelines and are anti-elite, in that they believe power needs to be handed back to the people, American Tea Party style.
Finally, as opposed to the more rounded political parties that will naturally deal with difficult policies like immigration and combating radicalisation as part of their agenda, far-right parties often have a single raison d’être.
In the case of Australia’s newest party, the ALA, that is to combat Islam.
Its manifesto reads: “Islam is not merely a religion, it is a totalitarian ideology with global aspirations. Islam uses the religious element as a means to project itself onto non-Islamic societies, which is manifest in the historical and ongoing expansion of Islam.”
Dr Ian Cook, a senior lecturer at Murdoch University who teaches Australian politics, says parties that single out a “culprit” for their misfortune poll better when the public feels threatened. This can be the threat of violence or terrorism, but equally, it can be an economic threat.
“When people feel economically insecure they look for scapegoats,” says Cook. “There will be purchase in Australia and [it] will resonate with some people in the community.”
Is there a limit to the success of a far-right movement in Australia?
While the European experience shows that far-right parties can become part of the political establishment – and in some cases, the most popular parties – Cook says he’s unsure whether a party like the ALA could attract more than around 10 per cent of the primary vote in Australia, as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation did in the 2001 federal election.
He cites the public backlash against the Coalition’s proposed 2014 budget measure to force young people to wait six months before signing on to the dole, in a bid to make them “earn or learn”, as an example of what happens when a policy is perceived by people as being too harsh.
“The idea you can withdraw support, it didn’t seem like a fair go,” Cook says. “The intensity of the [far right] parties is something that not all Australians are comfortable with.”
West Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam says that while there might be some political room on the right to exploit, single-issue parties had a habit of disintegrating.
“If the Liberals move to the centre, does that open up space on the far right – maybe,” Ludlam says. “But those parties tend to tear themselves to bits once they are confronted with exposure. It’s easy to grab attention by targeting one group, but maintaining a political party is very hard, especially when you are only united by your opposition to one particular group.”
“The ALA is not just a political party – it is a hate group.”
There is no assurance that the ALA will emerge as the dominant far right party in Australia: it is entering a political space that already includes parties and movements such as Reclaim Australia, Australia First Party and the Nationalist Alternative.
Nile says criticism of Wilders, which included calls to have his visa to visit Australia cancelled, has been unwarranted.
“I don’t believe he is racist,” says Nile. “He’s actually quite a moderate person. The ALA has pinched some of our policies, but we’ll work with them.”