Tales of Australian Democracy

by Hungry Charley

The first Australian CPAC - Consolidating the Neocon agenda


6th August 2019

The weekend of August 9-11th, 2019 will see a new neocon public platform in Australia. Borrowing its name from the American far-right conference circuit CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), the conference aims to bring together noted neocon speakers from Australia, the US and the UK to promote the 'freedom' agenda of the libertarian movement in Australia. But, despite secrecy about the content of the conference, it seems it is an expensive celebration of the success the far right has had with influencing policy in this country and a predictable attempt to kick start a 'grassroots' movement and lend legitimacy to an ideology increasingly funded by American billionaires.

The American Backers

The headliners are the stars of the Australian far right of this neocon talk fest, Tony Abbott, Mark Latham, Peta Credlin, Janet Alberchtsen, Mick Cater, John Anderson AO, a list of who's who in Australian far right politics, along with international guests, Nigel Farage and Raheem Kassam from the UK and Dr Jeanne Pirro (Fox News Host) and Matt Schlapp (American Conservatives Union) from the US. Attendees can also choose from a number of different passes which have the same intriging international flavour, an Iron Lady general pass, a Menzies 3 day pass or the VIP Ronnie Reagan pass, already sold out.

The point of the whole exercise seems to be along the lines of, "c'mon Australia, join the brave warriors of the extreme right of this country to fight for your rights". Details of what the topics of discussion are however are not public, one can assume much will be taken up with the same culture wars often reported in the Murdoch Press. There is also a post conference 'campaign bootcamp' workshop to discuss practical issues of political campaign tactics. 

Who made this happen? It seems due to a lot of work by two key people, the co-hosts, Andrew Cooper, President and founder of the Koch-backed think tank, LibertyWorks and Matt Schlapp, Chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which claims to be, "...the nation’s original grassroots conservative organisation". Schlapp is joined onstage by ACU Director Dan Schneider.

Andrew Cooper, while making contacts in the US and organising this imitation of the American CPAC conference concept also became the president of the Liberal Democrat Party following the departure of David Leyonhjelm at the start of the year. As reported by the Guardian, it is clear now what he has been doing since then in the US, but also tells us more as to what direction the Australian neocons are attempting to steer the country. It has also brought the growing influence of the American oil/tobacco/gun cabal in Australian politics further into light. 

Schlapp seems to have been a primary mover in the development of the  ACU in the US and has seen the organisation grow substantially, claiming to be America's primary conservative grassroots organisation, mainly through its expanded CPAC conference speaking circuit. The ACU claims it has increased it's reach by social media, "... to reach 25 million live viewers and 1 billion Twitter impressions at the most recent CPAC." ACU also hosts other events, including 'Battleground' CPACs in the US and international CPACs abroad, one of the first excursions it seems is in Australia.

The ACU has its own view of what 'conservatism' means, claiming that "Conservatism is the political philosophy that sovereignty resides in the person. We believe that the Constitution of the United States is the best political charter yet created by men for governing themselves. It is our belief that the Constitution is designed to guarantee the free exercise of the inherent rights of the individual through strictly limiting the power of government."

But these are the same ideological concepts that have been used in the US to define 'Libertarianism' more generally. The message essentially to the ordimary citizen is that by easing government interference will increase your freedom. Of course Australians have already much to be thankful for, with current government policies allowing corporations to run amok in the economy, corporate tax avoidance and offshore theft have never been more clearly in the public view.

Still, the organisers of this conference promise this will be the first of many such events, presumably convinced that Australia is now ready for the golden age of corporate power.

To bring together such an international event in Australia, you also need some cash. What is telling is the list of backers and connections that the ACU has in the US. Despite denials, ACU has been linked to the Koch Network of influence, though in 2014, Koch Industries denied having a working relationship with ACU chairman Matt Schlapp, as reported in the Washington Times,. But financial records obtained by the Times indicate that Koch Industries continue to financially support the ACU. Matt Schlapp is also a former Koch Industries Executive Director of Federal Affairs. The scope of financial backing for the American CPAC events is now well known, with donors including the Bradley Foundation, Donor's Trust, the National Rifle Association and big tobacco.

The ACU is also funded by its sister group, the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF) which clearly states its aims are to change the public discourse by seeking, "... to educate the next generation of conservative leaders by providing them the intellectual tools necessary to learn about the conservative movement, its leaders, its leading organization and especially its principles."

This 'educational foundation' is part ('affiliate') of a network of overtly policy-driven  organisations, all right-wing groups, known as the State Policy Network (SPN) in the US, featuring known Koch affiliate entities such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Atlas Network, Americans for Tax Reform and the Cato Institute.

The ACUF it seems has strong working ties with the Charles Koch Institute. In 2016, Pat Nolan, a director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform collaborated with Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute on a criminal justice reform initiative. Vikrant Reddy also formerly held a position with the American Conservative Union Foundation. 

According to Sourcewatch, between 1998 and 2014, the ACUF received $1,125,270 in donations, with the top donors being the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation - $390,000, the National Christian Charitable Foundation - $390,000, the National Rifle Association Foundation - $108,520, Exxon Mobil - $90,000 and the Armstrong Foundation - $62,500. With such good company, no wonder Mr Trump gave such an outstanding performance recently at the latest American CPAC and why Don Jr was so quick to come to aid of the reputation of the Australian CPAC event. 

Local backers of the Australian CPAC

The CPAC Australian Conference website proudly lauds the sponsors of the conference, with two 'Platinum sponsors', the IPA and Advance Australia.

The IPA are well known for their pervasive influence on Australian policy, particularly over the last ten years, made easier by having ideological collegues holding the reins of power. Advance Australia on the other hand is a much more recent additon to the political landscape, while attempting to dampen the election voice of GetUp, particularly in conservative electorates in the last election are the body now claiming to represent mainstream Australian conservative values, the far rights latest atempt to claim the highly sought after "grassroots" status.

Its all very much couched in Aussie terms:

"Australia has always been about a fair go. Sadly, our governments aren’t listening and powerful elites and left-wing activists currently dictate our future. In today’s politically correct world, if you and I stay silent we will continue to be ignored. Join our movement today and be part of a strong, organised voice for mainstream Aussies".

But as the ABC reported, they are quite secretive about their financial situation, namely who is giving them money, but claimed they will comply with the Australian Electoral Commission's disclosure requirements. But Advance Australia states it is a not-for-profit organisation and is, "... independent of all political parties, religious organisations or institutions, unions and or business", so why the secrecy? 

On their website, they claim to represent thousands of members, though recent figures are not provided. As membership is free, its difficult to to see how this organisation could claim that investment is 'coming from below'. Though director, Mr Gerard Benedet told the ABC that, "Over the next five to seven years, we're thinking long term, we'd like to have over a million members signed up." Mr Benedet was once a staffer for former Queenland Treasurer Tim Nicholls. Prior to this he was a former government relations manager for the NRL and deputy manager of the LNP's state election campaign.

Benedet currently writes for the Spectator and provides and indication of his views on climate change matters, generally following the Bjorn Lomborg line that climate change is real, but renewable solutions offer real problems. A theme no doubt to be expanded upon at the conference.

On the Advisory Council for Advance Australia (lets call them 'AA') are those working class battlers, Dr David Adler, former Deputy Medical Secretary of the Australian Medical Association and President of the Australian Jewish Association, Dr Maurice Newman, with a career spanning over 50 years in stockbroking and investment banking. He has chaired a number of Asian business alliances and has been an adviser to State and Federal governments, particularly the Howard Government. He is also a member of the Libertarian Mont Pelerin Society.

Then there's Sam Kennard of Kennards Self Storage fame. He is currently a Director of the Atlas Partner, the Centre for Independent Studies and former candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party in New South Wales. Well at least the ideological wing of the boat is sorted, but can we expect a 'tea party' movement in Australia?

As the CPAC event indicates, it isn't for want of trying. The Gold Sponsors of the event indicate some of the talent being brought to bear on sucess of the conference.

Firstly it is being backed by publishers, ConnorCourt Publishing, a high end unit specialising in libertarian ideas, as indicated by their latest book on protecting religious freedoms in Australia. Legend House are the event organisers

Political strategy consultants, a new firm, Strategic Political Council are also sponsors of the event. They claim to be "cutting edge government relations and grassroots campaign strategists", although what 'grassroots campaign strategy' actually entails is a little murky. Perhaps they have been reading some of the lessons in public astro-turfing from the US. The leading light of this firm is Michael Kauter, who was a Senior Adviser in the Coalition Government and a Campaign Director for the National Party of Australia since 1998. He claims he has built an, "... impeccable relationships with some of Australia’s top power-brokers, political figures, business, and industry leaders." 

The Menzies Research Centre, that collection of the Australian political right wingers whom are intent on changing our culture to respect western civilisation alot more, among other things, is another gold sponsor of the event. But perhaps most mysterious of the connections to big money is the backing from the right wing American publisher, Epoch Times

The online paper was started by a group of Chinese-Americans businessmen (with supposed links to Falun Gong) in 2000 to respond to issues of human rights in China. Epoch Times is a registered not for profit organisation in the US, but it seems a registered charity was established in Australia by the parent body in 2013 known as the Australian Epoch Times Ltd, a charity which derived all of its $3 million dollar income in the last finacial statement from 'goods and services'. What sort of goods or services a charity, set up by a pubishing company in the US, is providing in Australia? The charity has set up a Chinese news newspaper in Sydney, so presumably it is this.

The 'responsible person' for the charity is a Zhong (John) Tang, the same person who set up Epoch Times in the US. It appears he is linked to the same Tang family that are heavily invested in a variety of sectors in the US including a TV media company and a at least two holding companies registerd in the Bahamas. It appears the Epoch Times/Tang organisation will be playing an important role in the upcoming US election perhaps following meetings between Falun Gong supporters Steve Bannon and the Trump administration.

All the ingredients are there for an interesting event this weekend at Ridges World Square in Sydney. The best right wing nut job speakers we have, including those mentioned but also notable current politicians such as Amanda Stoker and Craig Kelly. And a pile of money to ensure all the punters get the best show possible. It must be party time at neocon headquaters because those money taps are limitless.

But is this a threat to our democracy? Let's just see how the weekend goes and their attempt at top-dressing a 'movement'. Having stolen our government, the neocons it seems still require a bit more manufactured consent. But given the recent political dialogue, they certainly have their sights set firmly on their political enemies, notably 'left wing' groups like GetUp, the Green Party, environmentalists in general, NGOs, unions of course, Indigenous sovereignty advocates, scientists and any bastions of what can be called progressive advocacy left in this country or indeed anyone seen anywhere near an avocado. 

Stay in tune for conference follow up.