Protesting Australia’s Peak Far-Right Gathering: CARR’s Owen Marsden-Readford on CPAC

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Peak Far-Right Gathering

Billed as “the largest and most prominent conference for conservatives and liberty lovers in Australia”, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was set to take place over the 1st of October weekend at Sydney’s Luna Park, until it wasn’t.

Featuring a swag of reactionary guest speakers, including a former Trump chief-of-staffer, a main Brexit agitator and Country Liberal Senator Jacinta Price, the promotional material spruiking the “family friendly” event had stated for weeks that it would be held at the famous venue.

Luna Park ordered CPAC Australia to remove its name from its branding and event material last week, while a spokesperson for the fun park has advised that it had never had an agreement with the right-wing Australian organisation linked to the US-based original.

CPAC Australia went on to announce last Friday that it has secured a venue in the Sydney CBD, which has not yet been disclosed, along with having confirmed that former ultraconservative prime minister Tony Abbott will be speaking amongst its weekend lineup.

A rising global movement

Founded by the American Conservative Union, the Conservative Political Action Conference held its first meeting in 1974. At that original event, yet-to-be US president Ronald Reagan gave the keynote speech, while Donald Trump has been a regular speaker over recent years.

The far-right forces at these events are the same players that have seen the US Supreme Court stacked with reactionary judges, who this year have revoked the national right to abortion, increased state power over Native Nations, limited emissions protections and revoked a ban on guns in public.

The first CPAC Australia event was held in 2019. The initial conference lineup consisted of many of the speakers at this year’s turnout, and it sparked a controversy as federal Labor called for “career bigot” former Breitbart editor-in-chief Raheem Kassam to be blocked from attending.

The importation of US-inspired conservative politics grew in this country under the Morrison government, with its attempted championing of Christian liberties under the guise of religious freedoms, as well as in the messaging and symbolism of the Freedom movement.

Rainbow rights

Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) is holding a protest against the CPAC conference on 1 October, meeting at Sydney’s Town Hall and moving on to the yet-to-be-disclosed CBD venue. CARR has been consistently countering the rise of the far-right in this country via its rallies.

A civil society organisation that aims to bolster and uphold LGBTIQ+ rights, CARR has been shining a light on the Christian right’s repeated attacks over recent years, which have consistently been aimed at transgender people, and, in the case of NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham, trans kids.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to CARR member Owen Marsden-Readford about why it’s necessary to get out on the streets and oppose this local US far-right derivative, whether the religious freedoms debate has gone for good, and what it means for Luna Park to have turfed out CPAC.

Community Action for Rainbow Rights’ Owen Marsden-Readford
Community Action for Rainbow Rights’ Owen Marsden-Readford

The Conservative Political Action Conference is an annual event that’s spruiked as “the largest and most prominent conference for conservatives… in Australia”. It’s about to take place over the 1 October weekend.

The conference’s slogan is “Conservatism is the political philosophy which states that sovereignty resides in the person.”

Owen, as a member of Community Action for Rainbow Rights, how would you explain CPAC?

CPAC is the peak gathering of the far-right in Australia. It’s Christmas for bigots. It’s a conference full of people like Tony Abbott, Katherine Deves and Nigel Farage.

They want to use it to build up the forces of the far-right: a movement of people who want to make the world uglier, meaner and more oppressive, with less democratic rights for ordinary people.

As you say, the Sydney event is set to feature a range of guest speakers, including Tony Abbott, Brexit leader Nigel Farage, former Trump chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney and Senator Jacinta Price.

CARR is set to demonstrate out the front of the conference. Why not just ignore these people? Why is it important to demonstrate?

The politics that these people represent is the driving force behind increasing attacks on women’s rights in the United States.

You have Kathrine Deves heading up transphobic sentiment in our society, and Nigel Farage with a history of whipping up anti-migrant racism in the United Kingdom.

We can’t just let them get away with that. We don’t want to let them use a conference like this to build their forces and increase their influence in society. We want to be able to counter that.

So, we want to get as many out there protesting these people, because ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. It just gives them a free kick.

But by countering them, it shows that most people don’t agree with these far-right bigoted ideas. It shows that there are people who want to make society fairer and less oppressive.

Peak Far-Right poster

The original CPAC began in the US in 1974. It’s run by a group called the American Conservative Union. These sorts of reactionary forces are on the rise in the US, and the dethroning of Trump doesn’t seem to have affected this.

How do you consider the rising far-right in the States?

The rise of the far-right is a process that has been happening for years. But it was very much emboldened by the Trump presidency, and Trumpist politics: the idea that America should be even more suited to the rich and powerful and even worse for minority groups and workers.

This has been gathering steam and cementing itself in the institutions of American political establishments, like state governments and the Supreme Court.

These politics have spread out beyond America, as you can see with CPAC. After it started out in America, it now has conferences around the globe, trying to build up these terrible politics wherever it can.

The rise and continued growth of the American far-right needs to be combated both in America, but also to stop its toxic influence spreading.

Part of Trump’s legacy is that the US Supreme Court is top heavy with ultraconservative judges, who want to turnback the clock on rights. Most notably, it revoked the right to abortion, but there are a number of other recent decisions in a similar vein.

Should this be of concern to Australians?

It definitely should be of concern. It’s these kinds of forces that are behind the overturning of Roe versus Wade and the removal of reproductive freedom for millions of women.

In Australia, they’re not as strong here yet, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to stay that way.

So, protesting that aims to stop their interests from rising is important everywhere.

It also reflects that the institutions of the political establishment, like the Supreme Court, aren’t really on our side. Instead, we have to mobilise where we have power, which is on the street and in our workplaces.

A CARR protest takes Oxford Street late last year
A CARR protest takes Oxford Street late last year

Scott Morrison championed religious freedoms. He aimed to pass a swag of laws that would have prioritised Christian values over all others under the guise of religious discrimination laws.

Do you consider this threat to have passed with the coming of Albanese? Have we seen the end of the religious freedoms debate?

No, we haven’t. The religious freedoms debate was always a Trojan Horse for bigotry and homophobic hatred. The whole justification and framing of it was cooked up after the victory for our side which was marriage equality.

It was designed by the right to push back against that.

Shamefully though, the Albanese government has said that in the coming term, they’re going to pass a form of the Religious Discrimination Bill, because they’d rather not rock the boat than have a strategy to stand up for the rights of LBTI+ people in Australia.

There are no friends really in parliament. We have to keep fighting for the rights of the oppressed people, no matter who is in government.

And lastly, Owen, Luna Park has just announced it had no idea that the CPAC was going to meet at its venue, so the conference organisers have scrambled to find a new one.

The organisation has since sent out an email stating “left wing cancel culture” was behind the fun park’s retraction.

What does this tell us?

It shows these ideas don’t have a lot of purchase in Australia right now. The right always wants to try and create the myth of the quiet Australians, who agree with right-wing values but don’t stand up for them, and what this shows is it’s not true.

The vast majority of people are totally opposed to this toxic and oppressive politics.

But it’s important to take the sentiment of ordinary people and built upon it, because, ultimately, businesses and corporations can’t be relied upon to safeguard our rights or curtail the influence of the far-right.

The Protest Against the Far-Right CPAC Conference rally will meet at Sydney Town Hall at 1 pm on Saturday 1 October and will then march on the event venue

Images: “Tony Abbott” by theglobalpanorama is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.  Nigel Paul Farage by Micheal Vadon is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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