|Well in less than ten days' time, a political conference is descending on Sydney.
It's called the Conservative Political Action Conference – otherwise known as CPAC.
CPAC is an annual event in the United States attended by conservative activists and politicians.
And they’re now branching into Australia.
This local event is hosted by The American Conservative Union and another group called Liberty Works.
Now, if you wanted to know more about who are behind these groups, well good luck to you.
The American Conservative Union and Liberty Works do not disclose the names of businesses, the organisations or the individuals who fund them or what they stand for.
So we do not know much more about why these groups have chosen to branch into Australia or seek to influence Australian politics.
CPAC Australia is also sponsored by:
• The Menzies Research Centre – the Liberal Party’s think tank;
• Advance Australia – that conservative group who is best known for a distasteful, inappropriate and sexualised video targeting the Member for Warringah in the other place, Ms Zali Steggall, during the recent election; and
• The Institute for Public Affairs – naturally.
I have always welcomed political debate; I have chosen a career where I get to engage with people who hold different views to me such as Senator McGrath.
However, there is a difference between engaging in political debate and spewing vitriolic bile.
There is a difference between meeting up at a political conference and associating with racists.
And there is a difference between listening to political leaders and influencers and giving a platform to hate speech.
Whilst CPAC may have an innocent name, it definitely is not innocent by nature.
I’d like to highlight that both the Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, and our Senator from this place Amanda Stoker, the Liberal Senator, are scheduled to be speaking at this event.
Now I also note Warren Mundine – who the Prime Minister handpicked to be the Liberal candidate in Gilmore – is attending and speaking, along with the Liberal candidate Jacinta Price.
That is their prerogative if they would like to do that but I would like to bring to the Senate’s attention the company these Liberal Members of Parliament will be keeping, associating with, and sharing a stage with next week.
The speakers list is a who’s who of right-wing extremism with numerous guests having long records of attacks on women, on gay and lesbian people, on Islam as well as having links to antisemitism.
Let’s start with Raheem Kassam – one of the headline speakers at CPAC.
Mr Kassam is described as a “British political activist” according to CPAC’s website.
However the organisers of the event choose to omit the details of what Mr Kassam thinks being an “activist” involves.
Mr Kassam has an extensive history of vilifying people on the grounds of their race, religion, sexuality and gender.
He has described the Quran – the holy book of the Muslim faith – as quote, “fundamentally evil”.
Mr Kassam has campaigned for “limited migration” against what he describes as “large-scale Muslim immigration”.
He has regularly attacked the LGBTI community with homophobic and transphobic comments on social media.
And, this one, after the Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon suffered a miscarriage, Mr Kassam tweeted, and I quote:
“Can someone just like… tape Nicola Sturgeon’s mouth shut? And her legs, so she can’t reproduce.”
The question is simple. Why is the Home Affairs Minister allowing this individual into the country?
Section 501 of the Migration Act exists so that the Minister has the power to refuse the visa of an individual of such a character.
The Minister can refuse a visa if there is a significant risk an individual would vilify a segment of the Australian community or incite discord or represent danger to them during their time in Australia.
We should not allow career bigots – a person who spreads hate speech about Muslims, about women, about gay and lesbian people – to enter our country with the express intent of undermining equity and equality.
If the Home Affairs Minister allows Raheem Kassam into the country he is encouraging this cavalcade of intolerance to continue at CPAC’s talkfest of hate.
Another speaker taking to the stage is Matt Schlapp – who is Chair of the American Conservative Union, the people behind the event.
He is a self-described “lover” of the National Rifle Association.
He has defended the Chief of the NRA for saying people who want gun control “hate freedom”.
Mr Schlapp said having a Republican politician of colour in the role of chairman of the Republican National Convention in the United States was, and I quote, “the wrong thing to do.”
Regrettably that is not this speaker, Mr Schlapp’s, only instance of racist dog-whistling.
And this is yet another speaker those opposite are willing to share a stage with.
The speakers of CPAC – and their views – don’t stop there.
US Congressman Mark Meadows is taking the stage.
He has advocated conspiracy theories about US President Barack Obama being born in Kenya and, in 2012, vowed to send the then-President, “home to Kenya”.
Those were his words – I will send the President “home to Kenya”.
The Congressman opposes any restrictions on gun purchases and opposes gun registries that would list detailed information about firearm ownership.
Late last year, Mr Meadows, the US Congressman, was fined $40,000 for failing to deal with sexual harassment allegations in his office.
He was also recently accused of using an African American public servant as a racist prop – and, yes, he is slated for a speaking slot at CPAC.
US Congressman Matt Gaetz is also welcome at CPAC.
He is best known for inviting Holocaust-denier Charles C. Johnson to the 2018 State of the Union address in the US.
The person Gaetz invited – Johnson – was permanently banned from Twitter in 2015 after asking for help “taking out” a Black Lives Matter activist and in 2017 denied that over six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust.
Congressman Gaetz apologised for providing a ticket to Charles C Johnson because he, and to quote the US lawmaker said, Mr Johnson “showed up at my office”.
Apparently you get to show up at the Congressman’s door and you get to go in to the State of the Union.
At the same time, Congressman Gaetz insisted that Johnson was quote, “not a Holocaust denier, he’s not a white supremacist”.
How does he know if he just showed up at his door for heaven’s sake? These are the people.
Congressman Gaetz is also currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee in the US for intimidating a witness, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association – a commonality for CPAC speakers – and said that the open carry of weapons was a right "granted not by government but by God."
These are the people attending this event; speaking at it.
I would like to know – is Senator Stoker comfortable sharing a stage with these people?
If Senator Stoker cancelled her CPAC appearance it would not be the first time she has withdrawn from such a commitment.
In May – during the Federal election – the Senator was billed to join a group called the Sunshine Coast Safe Communities group.
Much like CPAC, it was innocent by name, but not by nature.
They described Muslims as “incompatible people” and Islam as “the destroyer of multiculturalism”.
The Senator did cancel because she did have the flu.
I would not fault her for cancelling her appearance at CPAC.
But the Member for Hughes, I dare say it will take more than the flu to keep him off the stage.
This is a test for the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Is he comfortable with his Members of Parliament sharing the stage with people like this?
Will the Prime Minister direct them not to attend? Will he step in and show leadership?
In John Howard’s time the Liberal Party was a broad church but boy are the sands shifting now.
This is not political activism – this is the normalization of the extreme right wing in Australia.
And why is Nick Cater from the Menzies Institute allowing the once reputable institution to be behind this ugly intolerance?
Australians will be uncomfortable with this.
And the question is – who in the Liberal Party will stand up?
Will it be the Prime Minister?
Will it be Treasurer Josh Frydenberg?
Will it be Attorney-General Christian Porter?
Are Senators Payne and Birmingham comfortable with this type of conference and their colleagues standing up?
I cannot speak for Robert Menzies but I have to think that the founder of the Liberal Party would be turning in his grave at what this Party, and the institute in his name, has become.
MEDIA CONTACT: TIMOTHY DUNLOP 0428 043 110