While it’s all feeling a bit ‘January 6’ in Victoria’s capital, it is Scott Morrison’s silence that we should be paying attention to.

 

 

One of the most depressing, if entirely predictable, things to have happened to Australia’s conservative movement over the last quarter-century has been the move from principled adherence to right-wing principle (the superiority of free trade and capitalism, for example, or the rights of the individual) to just looking at whatever the Republicans were doing in the United States and going yeah, that. This trend is currently playing out on the streets of Melbourne where a few hundred protestors are demanding an end to public health measures, and members of the Liberal Party are jumping on board the anti-vax-something-freedom bandwagon and erecting gallows to (try and fail to) hang effigies of Labor premier Daniel Andrews. It’s US protestor cosplay, following the notorious riot at the US Capitol where pro-Trump demonstrators angry about not winning the election decided the best way to handle their disappointment was to attempt a thankfully disorganised coup which still left six people dead and dozens seriously injured. A gallows was brought to that demonstration too, ostensibly for Vice President Mike Pence who had failed to overturn the election result on the grounds that he had absolutely no power to do anything of the sort. 

Even now, as investigations into January 6 continue, Republicans argue that there was no riot and that this was, if anything, a bunch of high-spirited tourists visiting the Capitol.  In the US, this kind of deliberate, reality-ignoring nonsense kind of makes political sense because Donald Trump is still a looming shadow over the party and those who defy whatever nonsense idea comes off the top of his elaborately-combed-over head find their political career significantly curtailed. 

It’s strategically wise for a GOP senator to bleat about fascist dictatorships and dark vaccine conspiracies because at least they only have to fight against people outside their party instead of battling two fronts – as Republican representative and lifelong conservative Liz Cheney has learned to her considerable cost, with the Republicans in her state of Wyoming passing a resolution not to recognise her as a member of the party, largely because she dared suggest that Trump should be held to account over January 6.

But in Australia we have no Trump – at least, not yet – and screeching about vaccine mandates being apartheid isn’t official LNP policy – as evidenced by the fact that the government putting restrictions on travel based on vaccination status is the federal Liberal-National Coalition led by Scott Morrison, and that the NSW government (again, Liberal-National) have just agreed to extend their more draconian emergency powers by a year rather than the three months of the Andrews government. 

 

 

Still, if there’s one lesson Trump taught politicians it’s that you can just ignore obvious inconsistencies, contradictions and outright lies in your argument if you yell loudly enough and/or insist that the real issue is that you’re being silenced. 

And there is a little bit of smart politics about it because while people are talking about Liberal MPs calling for revolution it means that they’re not talking about Liberal MPs crashing their Ferraris through suburban fences, almost hitting the wall of a building with a child sleeping on the other side, and attempting to reverse away before blowing 0.131. It’s definitely better to be perceived as the party of brave freedom fighters than the party of dangerous drink drivers.

But what’s worrying is that Scott Morrison and his comms team are clearly waiting to see how well it plays.

At the time of writing the PM hadn’t criticised the protestors literally calling for the death of the elected premier of Victoria. And sure, one imagines he wouldn’t have been quite so blasé had it been a Liberal premier that was being targeted; and had it been himself, the Army would have been called in.

 

 

And it’s possible there are electoral reasons for the Liberals courting the anti-vax vote which would otherwise go to the likes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, United Australia Party or whatever other gatherings of half-wits and AVO recipients inevitably set to clog up the federal ballot for parties that feature “Freedom” or “Patriot” in the name.

 

At the time of writing, the PM hadn’t criticised the protestors literally calling for the death of the elected premier of Victoria. And sure, one imagines he wouldn’t have been quite so blasé had it been a Liberal premier that was being targeted; and had it been himself, the Army would have been called in.

 

But the further the party goes down this conspiratorial, anti-science, anti-government rabbit hole the harder it will be to come back. Already the Liberals are terrified about their prospects in metropolitan electorates over their pitiful climate policies; it’s unlikely that denying science and successful health policy is going to win those voters back.

This isn’t a theoretical situation anymore either, since a man has been arrested by counter-terrorism officers for attempting to rally protestors to bring guns along, while adding “someone need to shoot Mr Dan f— in the head with a .50 cal explosive tip!” The idea that this is just a harmless expression of frustration rather than a geeing-up of violent right-wing extremists is now impossible to maintain, surely?

Still, as the PM is now arguing, he’s the underdog in the coming election and needs to come up with something – anything! – to galvanise the electorate; and if demolishing science, the notion of public good and the functioning of government itself is the outcome, then hey: you can’t make an omelette without destroying civil society, right?

Is Morrison game to suggest that the vaccine strollout, quarantine mismanagement and virus spread through aged care and cruise ships was actually a bold strike by the Liberals against their own COVID policies? 

If polls suggest it would save Kooyong from falling to the Greens, maybe don’t rule it out just yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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