Does the Australian right need a single party to organise around? If so how do we get there? And what type of party should it be? Electorally speaking the Australian right (that is, everyone to the right of the LNP) is a mess.
From the heights of the 2016 rebuke to Turnbullism where where the six biggest parties clearly to the right of the Coalition (One Nation, LDP, Family First, the Shooters, the CDP and the Australian Liberty Alliance) garnered over ten percent of the vote, the situation has stagnated. The largest of these parties Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) has nosedived at the state level, slipping 3.67% for only 1.26% of the vote in W.A and shedding 6.6% of their vote to score only 7.12% in it’s Queensland heartland. Of course the COVID crisis has hit all the small parties with the Greens suffering slight dips as well, but the difference is that the Greens have a large and engaged membership. Nobody who has worked within PHON in its recent election attempts can honestly say the same is true for them. Outside certain areas the activist base of PHON is best described as anemic and even within those areas morale is through the floor.
Part of this is due to the tight control Hanson herself and her offsider Ashby have over the running of party affairs. Such authoritarian rule is easily excused in a small party if the executive is competent, but considering recent property deals involving the PHON leadership this would appear not to be the case.
Part of the issue with the other parties and personalities on the Australian right is that like Pauline Hanson and One Nation they are far too much personality and not enough party. The reason there have been so many tiny right-wing parties popping up over the last two decades seems to be in large part the fact that none of the leaders of these parties seem to be able to imagine anyone other than themselves as the chosen one. Each one seems based around a certain person with very little room for anyone else: Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party, Fraser Anning’s Conservative Nationals, Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party, Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, Ricardo Bosi’s Australia One.
All these parties were or are to greater or lesser extent one-man bands. It’s worth pointing out that aside from One Nation probably the most federally successful right wing parties of the last 20 years have been (the now deceased) Family First and the Liberal Democrats, both of which were not dominated by a single charismatic leader and both of which had (or do have) some level of active local branch structure. The decline of One Nation puts the issue into stark focus. If the right doesn’t actually build up a structure of activists what happens when the parties go through lean times or even collapse at the ballot box? Nobody in their right mind would claim that anything Hanson or any of the other smaller parties on the Australian right has managed to accomplish in parliament has seriously changed the cultural direction of the nation. The LNP have been in power federally for 19 out of the last 25 years and they haven’t even vaguely managed to reverse (or even stop) the disastrous leftward trend of Australian society. The truth is that while electoral campaigns and winning seats can help to put issues at the forefront of the public imagination without a large well organised body of dedicated activists any progress is temporary at best and illusory at worst.
While we shouldn’t ignore the importance of winning votes, it’s clear that we aren’t going to vote our country back to health. The culture war needs to be fought in workplaces, in churches, in community organisations and even in families. Votes can’t do that, and neither can well-crafted internet memes. Only well-educated and well-organised groups of activists can reverse the trend towards disorder, disaster and entropy.
Australia does need a single party on the Australian right. Calls for the other parties to merge or dissolve themselves over the course of the last few years have fallen on deaf ears. Mainly because most of the minor parties on the Australian right are mere vehicles for larger than life personalities that will not (or perhaps cannot) work together with anyone else in any way which might compromise their own individual vision. The only possible solution is for one of these parties (or perhaps a separate organisation working inside one of the major political parties) to put their all into training, educating and organising activists on the same scale as the left does. It is a mammoth undertaking, but it is probably the only possible path to enduring success.
At the last QLD election I had a One Nation activist from central QLD tell me that in a seat where in the previous state election One Nation had come second in the primary vote there was zero organisation, zero activism and even zero people with How To Vote cards at the ballot box. Similarly when Cory Bernardi began his ill-fated “Australian Conservatives” project I was in contact with young activist in Sydney who told of complete disorganisation and a seeming disinterest in the grassroots activists from everyone including Senator Bernardi himself. The political resurrection of Pauline Hanson seems to have given rise to a delusion on the right that all that is required to succeed is a brand name and a leader. That formula worked for Hanson due to her 25 years of struggle and resultant public profile and yet even her light will wink out like a snuffed candle if she can’t turn around her party’s current electoral decline.
The left isn’t winning because they won the most elections, they aren’t winning because they are the best looking or the smartest or the most in touch with the average Australian (they clearly aren’t). They’re winning because they have the most activists. The Greens have roughly around ten thousand members Australia wide. No party on the (actual) Australian right has ever come close to that. And that isn’t even taking into consideration that the Greens were founded as a party to represent an activist movement and as a result have a tradition of a relatively engaged membership.
As previously mentioned, when it comes to activists the far left in Australia outnumber the Australian right by a hundred to one. The idea that what is needed is another minor party (or even for one of the existing minor parties to stumble onto a lucky break and win a few seats in parliament) is a dangerous fantasy.
For the Australian right to have any influence on the future direction of this country we need activists. High quality well informed and well organised activists.
And we need thousands of them. Possibly tens of thousands. So it’s probably a good idea to get started.