When the speakers had concluded and all the crazy questions had been asked, the 40 or so people who had turned up to the North Ryde meeting of the Australian Liberty Alliance — guest speaker: Angry Anderson! — stood around chatting. There were no refreshments, and no one suggested repairing to the bar downstairs. That was a little worrying: absence of creature comforts is one sign of a serious political party, one too busy getting stuff done to think about food.
In the Pittwater room of the RSL, there was only a table stocked with row upon row of bottled waters and bowls of Mentos mints, for reasons that had become obvious earlier in the evening. Your correspondent made his excuses and scurried to the gents, to write up a series of notes that could not be taken in the meeting itself. The Liberty Alliance were “not keen” on having media at such events, I’d been told earlier. And they were careful with their security to avoid protesters. The address of the North Ryde meeting was sent to those who were registered, by text message, a precaution somewhat undermined by the fact that the website advertised “Angry Anderson at the RSL!” .
I tried to recall some of the choicer moments — a questioner asking what was to be done about the “Socialist Morning Herald” and “Pravda On The Yarra”, whispered tales of advertising being pulled by the big boys, like Prime TV, the beaming approval for some entry into the media: “We got on Mad As Hell last week!” — but it was all swirling around in my head.
You go to a Trot meeting, and the speech is already edited into a series of dot points by the speaker; notes, which you are welcome to take, are not required. The hard right frown on media but are so intellectually disorganised that note taking is an absolute must. What was it Angry said about the mechanics of the inner ear, while talking about his days as an apprentice fitter and turner? What was the phrase NSW Senate candidate Kiralie Smith used when she imitated Barnaby Joyce berating her about halal certification? They had different takes on the Communist New World conspiracy, but what were they?
Oh, and the water. The water, the water, the water. Don’t forget the water. There was a bang on the stall door. They’d found me out! It was a get in the back of the car moment. “REG!” a woman’s voice slur-shouted. “Um, no,” I said in my fruitiest English-accented voice. “Oh. Zalright. Just looking for my deadshit of a husband, he’s got me wins card.” That was fine with me, love. Your demands and needs were clear, unlike the addled, ride-down-the-mountain meeting I’d sat through earlier.
It had begun too many hours earlier, when the MC, 60ish Rotary clubbish type, had acknowledged the traditional owners — by which I mean he’d asked the audience to put their hands up if they’d been Liberal Party voters. About three-quarters did. There were mutterings of “Abbott”, “what they did to Tony”, “multicultural Malcolm”.
This gathering, the ALA, was no UPF bikie/leather outfit or True Blue Crew squaddists. About 85% male, it was half those in V-neck sweaters and slacks who looked like they’d been tinkering in the shed right up until they had to leave for the meeting, and the other men who would go to the beach in a dark blue suit, black shoes and socks and a short-back-and-sides from 1952.
“We’re getting lots of people coming over,” said someone. They didn’t need to. It was clear that the blue suit brigade were old NSW Liberal branch officials, and the more informal crowd had been drawn from the new hard-right social movements — anti-mosque protests, the Q Society, the mad anti-halal movement. This meeting was one of a series across the state.
Maps of the half-dozen lower house electorates they’re focusing on were spread over a side table, with different coloured lines indicating different “regional group” responsibilities. Another table was piled with slick leaflets targeting different seats. Taking this all in as the MC did the preliminaries, a shudder went through me. This was the hard right getting its shit together, no question. Then the MC said “Please welcome Angry Anderson!” and 10 minutes later, the crazy was back, and I relaxed again.
“Sibilant … I’m not very sibilant … anyone know what sibilance is, your ‘S’s and your ‘T’s.” The audience looked bewildered. Gary “Angry” Anderson, leader of Rose Tattoo, commercial TV voice of youf and the excluded, Nationals candidate for a couple of seats, has now joined the ALA, is running on its Senate ticket. Trim, glowing with health, the man is almost 70 and looks … well, he actually looks younger than he did when he was with the Tatts. The wild years, the drinking and drugs and head-butting amps — he’s left that stuff long behind.
An Angry Anderson warm-up speech for a political event is a verbal free jazz event in which the man jumps from sibilance, to why kids were going deaf, to the failure of modern teaching methods, to the structure of the inner ear, to the failings of union representation in the 1960s, to Peter Garrett’s bad choices, to the joys of reading, and finally out to some actual politics. It was a lot of AA and, until the end, not much ALA.
It had its poignant moments — memories of a dad who beat him, and who had been beaten, of childhood abuse — and its absurd ones as when he pointed to the Australian flag on a floor-pike behind him and gave a long disquisition on the Stockaders swearing allegiance to the Eureka flag, and then it veered off into some mutterings about the Communist New World conspiracy.
His free association is hard to capture on the page because every thought branches off into an aside, so that a 40-minute speech is one sentence, with many dependent clauses. “Like I tell my kids that they can’t hear their teachers, because the music they listen to, on their tech sound systems, I give each of them a big present when they turn 12, because well, you do, and sound systems, that I’m so envious of, anyway, between seven and 12 minutes of that will cut off the sibilance, and that happened to me through operating a metal press, mind you with the things teachers say these days, maybe my kids are better off, because, I think it’s 75 decibels will …” which went on for some time before he managed to get out of this tailspin.
Everyone laughed along with him gaily. Were they being polite? I looked around. No, they were into it. Their minds were attuned to what would only otherwise pass muster as an open mic slam event at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. How? When the main act, Kiralie Smith spoke, I had my answer.
Many will remember Kiralie Smith as a forceful woman who rose to prominence in the anti-halal movement, an everyday Strayan in country style, long brown hair and Fosseys of 1987 fashion. That Kiralie Smith is long gone. The woman who strode up to the microphone, with shining blond hair, jewelled choker and tailored-cut dark blue suit, is a political professional, made over in the same manner as the just plain folks of the US Tea Parties became beltway professionals. The ALAers, to judge from the meeting burble, have many gripes, but Kiralie has just one: the purported character, spread and very existence of Islam.
“Islam is not a religion!” she said. “Y’know, y’know, y’know” — she has a hee-hawing sort of voice and laugh, the class dag style, which tends to undercut the Dominique Francon makeover. “It’s a totalitarian ideology and political movement, and, and, and when I saw Malcolm Turnbull — MT, Empty! — at that Iftar, I was sick to my stomach.”
There was a lot more like this, culminating in the ALA’s brilliant plan: to make all religions in Australia compulsorily accredited, and require them to commit to the UN Human Rights Convention. “Guess which ‘religion’ won’t? Which hates women and gays?” “Islam!” the crowd yells back. It’s deliciously wacko on so many levels, the chief one being that the Australian Liberty Alliance is trying to subvert section 116 of our constitution, the freedom of religion, which is about the only explicitly encoded liberty we possess. That is good wacko.
The ALA has “23” other policies, Kiralie asserted, but there was time to talk about only one other big one. Not the economy, not war and defence, but our waterways. Our rivers have been locked up by those damn Greens. Or non-damming Greens. The Riverina is dry because not enough rivers are being dammed. No, no, don’t try to work it out. The Greens — “they hate nature, they hate us!” Kiralie roared — apparently run the joint, the bipartisan Murray-Darling Basin Plan being their evil work.
Rivers, dams, she did go on. It was only seeing the lined-up bottles of water, the bowls of refreshing mints after that I twigged: our precious bodily fluids! They want to steal our precious bodily fluids! Halal poisons us, and our rivers do not run. Truly, we are in the wilderness. It was a great double act, Angry the sort of free-floating id of the disgruntled masses, going where it will, Kiralie its angry ego, obsessively focused on purity and danger, and the contamination of our land and people.
Towards the end, she brought it all together as she got onto the globalist agenda and the Communist New World order — which is the real power behind the scenes, Communists will be glad to know. Arguing for the protection of homosexuals from Islam, as groups such as ALA are now wont to, has been a problem for them, since they also argue that the whole homosexual population is pursuing a radical anti-family agenda by getting married.
How to reconcile this?
“In the UN, which the Islamists have taken over, really” — nodding of heads at the UN — “the globalist and the Islamist agenda are coming together. And the real purpose is the lowering of the age of consent and paedophilia,” although even Kiralie looked a little tentative about that. But for at least some in the crowd, that was a relief from the tension. Ah, that makes sense! I looked at the heads of the short-backs-and-sides, and wondered what they thought of their blonde bottle rocket of a candidate, firing off in all directions, an entirely different type of fizza.
Effective politics demands that people recognise points of unity among differing ideas and bury the differences sufficient to be able to work together. That’s what an effective party is: a collection of factions, themselves collections of fractions and tendencies. It’s to our great good luck that the hard right works, these days, in the opposite manner; they all tend towards the paranoid, in which everything persecuting them is connected to every other thing persecuting them (“people ask me, ‘What are you most concerned about?’,” said one morose chap to another in the dry socialising after, “and I say, ‘everything’.”‘), while the petty differences between them magnify to make it impossible for them to work together.
They all — from One Nation to Family First to the wilder side of the Shooters — have essentially the same world view, which is that it’s all run by the globalist trans-homo elite. That should be the basis for a mass movement. Instead, they are splintered in such a way that they may well rule themselves out of Senate seats they could otherwise get. This was one additional reason for removing the Senate automatic ticket scam — because it removed any incentive to work together and rewarded the right’s pathological fractiousness, stemming from the fantasy nature of their politics. Put Kiralie Smith, Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter in the same party, and they’d tear each other apart.
In the rich ecosystem of the hard right, the ALA appears to have taken on the role of clearinghouse, a sort of sink-strainer to catch every stray obsessive notion that flows through the culture. Gary “Angry” Anderson has become their mascot, saint and holy spirit — a man who put his anger and pain into music then good works, and has now succumbed to anger’s specific gravity, its tendency to draw us back to the temptations of resentment and blame.
Whether it is a cause for sadness or foreboding is another question entirely. On the one hand, it’s another meeting in a room in an RSL. Where the left has draughty church halls, the right has these echt meeting places, all apricot walls, polished fake copper fittings, and landscape reproductions — places where people who can’t organise some coffee and biscuits for after, talk about how they’re going to run the country, so long as they can maintain their vital and free hydration.
On the other hand, they did have the maps out. They do have a degree of organisation and evolving structure. They have a core of volunteers working themselves into the ground. The organisational apparatus is clearly more rational than the higher-profile freak show figures who have drifted in from the anti-Muslim social movements. Should “this sucker go down” again, and a major recession hit us, with a couple of terror incidents thrown in as well, the ALA could swell into life — and would have the apparatus in place to cope with an influx of members.
Their future success will depend on whether their Senate vote this time round is merely small, or pathetically derisory. Anything better than utter humiliation, and they might be in it for the long haul. And in one accusation they are absolutely right: the media has ignored and blanked them out as just another bunch of eccentrics meeting above a beer barn, and we all know how that goes.