This article was amended on August 26, the day after initial publication, following contact from Brighton Rotary. See below.
Look if you’re going to be a would-be Liberal powerbroker, you absolutely have to have a name like Marcus Bastiaan. Isn’t it great? It’s like being called “Person Bastard” or something.
It sounds like the name of a firm that makes steel dildos. The aforementioned Bastiaan has now quit the Victorian Liberal Party at the age of 30, having created a powerful network of religious “social conservatives” in branches across the state.
The move forestalls his being carpeted by the party over his rapid rise to power, complete with the usual: gauleiter-style texts; accusations of people being moved into taxpayer-funded adviser jobs for the purposes of factional finagling; loyal foot soldiers rolling up to suburban branches.
The symmetry is striking. In both the Labor and Liberal parties of our little Sweden/East Germany/People’s Commune of Shanghai of the South, new powerbrokers — Bastiaan and Adem Somyurek — have risen rapidly in the interstices of the existing factional system (more loose networks on the Liberal side).
Somyurek took the rich bejewelled provinces of the Mulgrave Freeway as his own, after jumping out of the SDA — a coalition of rightist neurotics who were locking out of power anyone who wasn’t Irish Catholic or Dutch-German Calvinist obsessives.
Bastiaan, an old Brighton Grammar boy, as The Age noted — only in Melbourne can a political scandal sound like the Head of the River* — made his march by joining Brighton Rotary and rising to the top by his early 20s.
(Subsequent to publication, Brighton branch past president Damien Hellard wrote to Crikey to deny Bastiaan had “rose to the top”. “He never chaired any committees, was never a member of the Board and was never nominated for or elected President,” Mr Hellard told us.)
Bastiaan, so far as I can see, made the same move that Somyurek did. He found a subculture with greater collective solidarity than those around it, and turned it into a force based on an offer of power.
In Labor, non-Anglo-Celtic groups had been used for decades as factional footsoldiers for commands connected, however vestigially, to old forces of left and right. Somyurek’s success lay in creating for them a faction of their own, to dictate terms to the old guard (and in alliance with the Croatian and other forces in the CFMMEU and the industrial left, essentially reassembled the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk!).
The Mormons and happy-clappies that made their way through the Liberal Party around the same time had even less opposition than Somyurek faced. The Liberal Party branch structure, as a genuine community force, has been withering for decades, as politics (or joining anything) has diminished in contemporary society.
When joining the Liberals was just something one did without thinking, like joining the tennis club or marrying a Firbank girl, a moderation and community connection could be maintained naturally. It kept the party in state power for three decades, and anchored the federal party.
But post-war Australian liberalism — more social liberalism than classical liberalism — has been as much a victim of atomised neoliberalism as any other organisation. The moderates fall away as the middle class becomes individualist and familialist, and as Labor locked the Liberals out of power for a generation. (Spirit of ’99; thanks Jeff! Your greatest contribution to our great state was destroying your own party from within.)
The religious conservatives moving in aren’t liberal at all. They have a politics of revealed truth, being advanced into a fallen world. There is an inner religious core to these groupings who hold Bastiaan, Matthew Guy and others in as much contempt — as “worldly people” — as they would find the Deakin University Qu*er Students Alliance, and the party’s political professionals think the religious hardcore is nuts.
In other words there is a rich mutual understanding between them. Further over is the old party apparatus around Michael Kroger, who’s prospered politically from the plentiful funds going into the party from the Cormack Foundation and suffered when trustees of such succeeded in the courts in breaking the assumption that the foundation paid only into the party, in its support of “liberal causes”. Kroger has had little choice but to ally with Bastiaan’s foot soldiers, the Mormons and the morons. I bet the social mixers are great.
The Bastianites’ blurred crusade is a measure of the usual paradox of contemporary politics: you can take over a mainstream party from the outer edge of its politics only when it has fallen into an oppositional rut within its polity.
Victoria was a centre-right progressive state, moving leftwards from the ’70s, a shift which “Hamer liberalism” adroitly stayed atop of. Culturally-politically, the state has kept moving left as the Liberals started going right.
Now the gap yawns wide. The Andrews government’s social initiatives sit where the public’s values are (and acts as cover for its political-economic neoliberalism). That fit has allowed it to weather the various COVID-19 disasters which, fairly and unfairly, it has been slated with.
The Liberals look like a George Grosz picture; a hand-drawn freakshow. Having given up on 2022, they are free to undermine the leadership of Michael O’Brien, who is of the right in every respect, but is shifted centrewards by the collapse of anything resembling a real moderate phalanx of the party.
The resulting politics makes the student politics of Labor look like the Council of Trent. I particularly appreciate the reverse shit sheets, in which a member of the insurgency such as Stephanie Bastiaan is denounced for being a religious fanatic, in order to attract the support of religious fanatics.
It’s all a bit alarming. I’m sure they’re all nice people, but scary. The women especially; they look like the armed wing of a Malvern baby shower**.
The good news is that such hijinks vastly reduce the possibility that they will gain power — and especially that they would be able to benefit from the COVID-19 crisis. The bad news is that they will get lucky eventually, and all they need to do is hold themselves together long enough to reap the benefit.
Which is a sort of putschist strategy, and gives the lie to their claims to liberalism — they are the advance guard of something else on the right, scorning the value of anything but power in the name of nothing other than power itself.
*Meliora Sequamur, eh Marcus. Half the right fixers and bourgeois Marxists of Melbourne come from that joint. What was in the water?
**Could the thin-beaked pigeons of the cultural left who get the vapours about every use of “Sultan of Springvale” get off my case now?