The view from Billinudgel

Advance Australia – where?
The latest quest for a right-wing opponent to GetUp misunderstands what inspires people to action

Advance Australia national director Gerard Benedet. Source

The quest for a right-wing opponent to GetUp has been going on for almost as long as the quest for a right-wing Phillip Adams at the ABC – and with about as much success.

The latest wizard wheeze come from a stratospherically elite clique of rich, bored men looking for a hobby. It includes men like Maurice Newman, who preaches that climate science is a fraudulent conspiracy ensuring the establishment of a totalitarian socialist dictatorship under the United Nations, and James Power, currently fighting to prevent women from becoming members of Brisbane’s Tattersall’s Club.

After diligent market research, they have settled on the unoriginal name of Advance Australia, which is not only plagiarism but deeply misleading – the only way they want Australia to advance is either jogging on the spot, or, preferably, stumbling backwards.

They claim to be protecting mainstream Australian values, but just about the only ones they have come up with thus far are maintaining superannuation tax lurks for the rich, keeping tax deductions for those who have not paid tax in the first place, and not moving Australia Day from January 26. To date, mainstream Australia has resisted the urge to storm the barricades on their behalf.

The organisation’s oligarchs are predicting that they will have a million members in time for the federal election, but are coy about how they plan to recruit these hordes. Perhaps they are assuming that sheer weight of money, of which they have plenty, will suffice, much in the way that Malcolm Turnbull bought his Wentworth preselection and, before then, Kerry Packer bought Australian cricket.

But mass campaigning does not work that way; buying up a rent-a-crowd is hardly likely to move swinging voters. You need a grassroots movement of enthusiasts and idealists, and for that you need not a top-heavy pyramid, but a bottom-up structure based on volunteers – like GetUp.

GetUp has some serious financial sponsors, but not many; it relies on widespread rank and file support, which it attracts because it has policies that inspire and excite people to action. Climate change, Nauru and Manus, gender equality, economic fairness – important issues that conservatives tend to avoid, but which are the lifeblood of progressives.

There is nothing comparable coming from the right: its obsessives (like Newman, indefatigable columnist for The Australian) are constantly bogged down in ideological confrontation over the culture wars. The idea that they can suddenly re-emerge as a kind of an antithetical Jim Cairns, leading passionate throngs through the streets to be delivered at the polling booths, is too silly to contemplate.

Advance Australia really has only two things going for it, and both are of dubious value. The first is the Murdoch press and its hangers-on, but history shows that while the Dirty Digger can scare politicians, he has not had all that much success with the voters. The second is the religious right, but the God botherers have their own battles to fight, and while they will welcome any support they can get, they are unlikely to reciprocate in a meaningful way.

And if the public takes any notice at all, it will probably be in the form of a question: Advance Australia – where?

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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