Inspired by the US Tea Party movement’s success in fuelling right wing opposition to Barack Obama’s policies, local Tea Party groups are rapidly spreading throughout Australia.

Queenslander David Goodridge — who edits the Australian Tea Party’s website –- told Crikey there are already 17 local Tea Party branches across the country, including in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory and his own state.

“Just over the last weekend we would have had 700-800 enquiries [about joining the Tea Party],” Mr Goodridge said. “We just put them in touch with whoever their local people are and let them start their own thing. The more the merrier…We haven’t had any Greens but we’ve had disgruntled Labor people, Liberals, Nationals.”

Mr Goodridge said there had been an explosion of interest in the group since an article about it was published in The Australian last week.

“We got over a quarter of a million hits on our website — it totally destroyed our server. We were on the front page of [conservative blog site] Drudge. We were the number seven politics and news web story in the world on Friday. The Huffington Post was just in front of us.”

Since the US Tea Party first emerged in 2009, it has become a populist phenomenon, staging massive demonstrations and successfully backing right wing candidates against more moderate opponents in Republican Primary contests.

Last week Tea Party favourite and evangelical Christian Christine O’Donnell – who in the past equated m-sturbation with adultery – won the Republican Senate nomination for Delware.

The emergence of Tea Party groups in Australia has prompted concern that they will promote division and extremism. Last week the ABC’s The Drum published a piece by teacher and broadcaster Mike Stuchbery in which he wrote:

“Tea Party politics are the politics of paranoia, of distrust and constant fear. They are politics that begin with the assumption that forces more powerful than you and I are actively working to impose tyranny on the population — in particular, those trying to make an honest buck. Those are not the politics of the Australian people.”

Mr Goodridge disagreed, saying that the Tea Party movement has much to contribute to the national political discourse.

“What is the role of government in the economy? What is the role of government in your life? And, quite simply, when you’re living your life do you make decisions for yourself better than the government does? Can you spend your money more cleverly and sensibly than the government can? That’s a very Australian concept; those are very Australian ideas, very applicable to Australia right now.”

He said cutting taxes would help the Australian Government pay for essential services such as health care.

“The higher the taxes the less money that comes in,” he said. “That’s been the same everywhere in the world since Nobel Prize winning economists such as [Friedrich] Hayek and Milton Friedman more recently have shown that’s how it obviously works: higher taxes equals less money to the government. Always has, always will.”

The US Tea Party movement — which Mr Goodridge claims has 75 million members — has been dogged by accusations of racism and fear mongering since it began.

As this video shows, Tea Party supporters there have carried placards reading, “Obama’s Plan: White slavery”; “Save White America”; “Obamanomics: Monkey see monkey spend”; and “Impeach the Kenyan”. Members of the “birther” movement — who believe that Barack Obama was born overseas — have also attended Tea Party rallies.

One Australian Tea Party group, known as Eureka, has already established an active and controversial presence on Twitter (@AussieTeaParty). Their 3,816 tweets include,  “Scary when the Trotskyites make the most sense: ALP coalition IS ex-left, scum of the middle class collectivist fascists” and “The Labor Government has killed more Afghans in boats than the SAS has in the field. Strong work clueless socialist f*ckwits”.

Mr Goodridge said the Eureka Tea Party had no “formal links” with his organisation, but added: “We have no desire to get in the way of how they do things. People will judge them and if they think they’re being a bit outrageous they’ll pay the price for that.”

Mr Goodridge hopes the Australian Tea Party can be a diverse movement, including members from different faiths and political persuasions. But, he said, racism has no place in mature political dialogue: “We totally reject all forms of racism, we don’t understand the concept of it. We believe that the race that matters is the human race and that’s the race we’re associated with.”