Young Liberals’ senate inquiry fails

A piece of mine in Crikey yesterday:

Last week, the Young Liberal-inspired Senate Inquiry into academic bias dribbled to a predictable close.

The Age reported:

The committee found Liberal student organisations were the main agitators for the inquiry and their submissions had a strongly “undergraduate” tone.

“Indeed, the committee believes that the case that Make Australia Fair [the Young Liberal group] makes for the existence of a leftist conspiracy in education faculties and schools borders on the farcical,” it said.

Well, quite. The Young Liberals produced a three-hundred pagecondemnation, great swathes of which consists of course guides, in which supposedly incriminating phrases have been highlighted in scary red. Our youthful McCarthyists reveal, for instance, that subjects on gender mention “gender” quite a lot, a discovery akin to denouncing the zoology department for an unhealthy fascination with animals.

But the Young Libs are, at least, authentically undergraduate. Miranda Devine, on the other hand, is old enough to know better. Yet she too threw her weight behind Make Australia Fair — and with accusations that were even more risible. Why, there’s a Brisbane school, don’t you know, that celebrates Mao Zedong as a “freedom fighter”, right next to George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi — Liberal Senator Brett Mason popped in once and caught them in the act.

Devine’s revelations about Brisbane’s Long March High are not just nutty. They, like the Make Australia Fair campaign, epitomise the peculiar brand of petulant victimology that now grips the populist Right. The Young Liberals’ education campaign website reads, in fact, like one big pity party, a compendium of stories of youthful Tories oppressed by mean teachers, and books with which they don’t agree and posters they see on university walls.

“I have found the constant liberal-bagging, jokes and Labor pushing agenda threatening and frustrating,” confesses one disconsolate young reactionary. “In class discussions I constantly feel like my opinions aren’t welcome and quite often I do not say anything.”

But hang on a second. Aren’t the Liberals the champions of individual responsibility? Don’t the Young Libs themselves proudly proclaim their opposition to the “nanny state” and declare that “while we believe the government should provide the individual with the best opportunities possible, we recognise that the onus is on the individual to seize the opportunity”?

Didn’t, in fact, Ms Devine herself devote her next column to an attack on the whole notion of government intervention?

In a recent discussion of American conservatism, Salon’s Glenn Greenwaldnoted that the American Right has “long ago ceased being a movement of political ideas and is driven by two, and only two, extreme emotions: (1) intense, aggressive rage towards their revolving door of enemies, and (2) bottomless self-pity over how unfairly they’re being treated.” He continues:

They have run the country for the entire decade. For the last 14 years, they’ve controlled the House for all but 20 months. They spent substantial parts of the last eight years in control of all branches of government simultaneously. They’ve won seven out of the last 10 presidential elections. The country’s largest and richest corporations — including the ones owning the most powerful media outlets — pour money into their party and perceive, correctly, that their interests are served by the Right’s agenda. But still — they can’t get a fair shake; everything is deeply oppressive to them; it’s all so unfair.

You can see precisely that sentiment here. John Howard was, after all, in power for more than a decade, during which time he used the power of his office to wage an unrelenting Culture War. Yet for the Populist Right all that achieved … precisely nothing. The ABC is still biased, the universities full of sneering know-it-all radicals and the high schools of Brisbane operated by Maoists. Hence the oddly schizophrenic output from people like Devine.

Any attempt to alleviate the misery of the genuinely disenfranchised constitutes PC meddling by the nanny-state. But a young conservative forced to discuss an idea with which he doesn’t agree? Oh my god — something must be done!


Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

More by Jeff Sparrow ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays