van Os, Kim & Smith, Chloe. (2023). “Mapping Global Populism – Panel 1: Populism and Far-Right in Australia.” European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). June 5, 2023. https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0040
This report is derived from the inaugural panel of ECPS’s monthly series, titled “Mapping Global Populism,” which took place online on March 23, 2023. The panel featured renowned scholars on populism from Australia and New Zealand. As a result of this insightful panel, the report provides brief summaries of the speeches presented by the speakers.
By Kim van Os* & Chloe Smith
This report is based on the inaugural panel of the ECPS’s monthly panel series titled “Mapping Global Populism,” held on March 23, 2023. The panel featured esteemed scholars in the field, including Dr. Imogen Richards, from Deakin University Australia, Dr. Rachel Sharples from Western Sydney University Australia, and Dr. Josh Roose from the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization. Dr. John Pratt, from Victoria University of Wellington, served as the moderator for this panel.
Dr. Pratt initiated the panel by emphasizing the importance of studying populism in this region. He highlighted that Australia, along with New Zealand, exhibited early indications of far-right tendencies even before the emergence of Donald Trump in the United States.
In the 1990s, Australia witnessed the rise of a distinctive populist party named One Nation. This party espoused anti-immigration, anti-science, and anti-expert stances, garnering considerable support from tabloid media. While One Nation experienced electoral successes primarily in Queensland during the subsequent decade, its influence has since diminished significantly. In the recent federal election in Australia, One Nation failed to secure any seats. Nonetheless, as Dr. Pratt maintains, this does not imply the disappearance of far-right populism in Australia. One Nation has left its mark on mainstream parties, particularly evident in the national party’s climate change denial stance.
Dr. Imogen Richards: “From Past to Present: The Question of Populism, Extremism and the Far-Right in Australia”
Dr. Richards revealed a complex interplay and representation of connections between white identity, environment, culture, race, and territory. Concepts such as blood and soil, race, and place, emerged and strongly influenced the ideological foundations of the far-right in Australia.
Dr. Imogen Richards presented a compelling analysis of the utilization of environmental politics by far-right actors in Australia, employing key theories of populism to shed light on the subject. Without delving into the contested realm of populism definitions, Dr. Richards acknowledged the potential value of both the ideological and performative approaches in examining the discussion that follows. She offered brief summaries of the perspectives on populism put forth by Mudde, Mondon & Winter, and Moffitt.
Dr. Richards emphasized the significance of Australia’s colonial history in comprehending the contemporary expressions of environmentalism by white supremacist groups. This history is characterized by the British genocide of indigenous peoples, who inhabited the mainland for over 65,000 years, and extends to their ongoing marginalization, dispossession, and displacement. Furthermore, Dr. Richards stressed the importance of recognizing the lack of honest appraisal of Australian colonization, which has led to a disregard for the spiritual and cultural practices of indigenous peoples relating to land and country.
Appreciating the context and impact of Australia’s white colonial history is pivotal to understanding how the far-right in Australia relies on specific environmentalist expressions to forge a distinct white Australian identity. This discussion revealed a fusion of mythologized and aesthetic depictions of a white, male Australian with a highly selective historical account of their interactions with Australian land.
Dr. Richards delved into the origins of this identity, rooted in the British genocide of indigenous people and the ongoing displacement, dispossession, and exploitation of the land of Indigenous Australians. The “birthing story” of these far-right groups revolves around the “taming” of Australia’s harsh natural environment. They construct narratives that revolve around the historical and contemporary use and exploitation of Australian land for economic purposes, disregarding the traditional custodianship of the land. This narrative positions them at the center of environmental politics and practices, claiming ownership, a deep connection to, and profitable usage of Australian land.
The discussion then explored key events in Australia’s early post-colonial history that have solidified the white Australian identity and the extremists associated with its cultivation. These events include the racist riots against Chinese gold field miners in the 1850s, the implementation of the White Australia policy in 1901, and the importation and support of fascism and Nazism. Dr. Richards revealed a complex interplay and representation of connections between white identity, environment, culture, race, and territory. Concepts such as blood and soil, race, and place, emerged and strongly influenced the ideological foundations of the far-right. The Australian First Movement (AFM) and its leader ‘Inky’ Stephenson appropriated and incorporated indigenous heritage and symbols. Additionally, two archetypes—the ‘larrikin’ and the ‘bushman’—formed during this period, still evident in Australian culture today. These archetypes portray a deep connection to the land, physical strength, and a degree of anti-intellectualism.
The discussion then examined the different trends that emerged after World War II, resulting in diverse expressions of the far-right and their connection to the environment. Industrialization and increasing diversity fostered anti-urban sentiments, which aligned with the far-right’s attempts to align themselves with the early organic farming movement. Dr. Richards also identified a transformation in far-right discourse in the post-1960s era, wherein extremist groups, while still emphasizing race and place, also focused on population reduction, quasi-bioregionalist ideas, and the valorization of the military as a key recruitment source.
In order to comprehensively address and challenge far-right narratives, it is essential to gain insight into how their proponents construct and perpetuate the identities they espouse. This discussion critically examines the role of Australia’s colonial history in relation to environmental politics, shedding light on the white identity that continues to serve as a driving force for far-right groups in the country. Moreover, it underscores the influence of international and global ideologies on far-right movements, which intertwine with their national myths, legends, and symbolism.
Dr. Richard’s research drawed extensively from the forthcoming co-authored monograph titled “Global Heating and the Australian Far-Right,” scheduled for publication with Routledge in 2023. While this presentation was truncated due to time constraints, the forthcoming book promises to provide further captivating insights for those seeking a comprehensive understanding not only of the development of the Australian far-right but also of the profound impacts of colonialism. It underscores the significant role of environmental politics as a catalyst for the formation of exclusionary ideologies and the construction of identity.
Dr. Rachel Sharples: “Racism, White Privilege and White Supremacy in Australia”
Dr. Sharples argued that the denial of racism and white privilege represents a direct consequence of the failure to address indigenous sovereignty and dispossession in Australia, as well as the realities of Australia as a nation of migrants. Notably, her research focuses on the mainstream population rather than extremists, as claims of anti-white racism and white privilege are deeply entrenched in the attitudes and behaviors of broader society.
During her presentation, Dr. Rachel Sharples delved into the emergence of far-right ideologies within the broader Australian population, focusing on themes such as racism, white privilege, white supremacy, and anti-white racism. Dr. Sharples emphasized that white privilege continues to hinder efforts to combat racism in Australia. She asserted that anti-white racism and white privilege have been fostered by the infiltration of right-wing nationalism into mainstream discourses, perpetuated not only by politicians and the media but also deeply ingrained in the attitudes of a segment of the Australian population. While these sentiments have long existed in the Australian collective consciousness, contemporary times have witnessed a heightened tolerance and legitimacy given to white supremacy and national populist views, which Dr. Sharples argues warrants a unique and under-examined perspective on white privilege discourses in Australia.
According to Dr. Sharples, white privilege stems from individuals subscribing to notions of lost privileged status associated with Anglo-Celtic heritage, as well as perceived government ambivalence toward acknowledging and addressing these changes. Building on the prior panel discussion by Dr. Richards, these ideas and narratives must be contextualized within Australia’s history as a white settler and multicultural nation that has failed to adequately address indigenous sovereignty and dispossession.
Drawing on years of research and data collected through a large-scale attitudinal survey of Australians, Dr. Sharples highlighted the responses of thirty-eight individuals who explicitly made claims of anti-white racism and white privilege. Findings revealed that claims of anti-white racism were linked to perceptions of favoritism toward migrants, a sense of “white paranoia” stemming from perceived threats by ethnic minorities, and a perceived loss of control over national space and identity.
Furthermore, Dr. Sharples argued that the denial of racism and white privilege represents a direct consequence of the failure to address indigenous sovereignty and dispossession in Australia, as well as the realities of Australia as a nation of migrants. Notably, her research focuses on the mainstream population rather than extremists, as claims of anti-white racism and white privilege are deeply entrenched in the attitudes and behaviors of broader society. Dr. Sharples posits that addressing these issues at a societal level can help curb the misuse and harms associated with the adoption of more extremist positions.
Dr. Sharples contended that a growing number of white Australians perceive themselves as victims of anti-white racism, becoming increasingly vocal about their perceived prejudices and concerns about the erosion of a white national identity. These claims have found expression in the political sphere as well.
Additionally, Dr. Sharples highlighted an unexamined sense of ownership over the national space, evident in commentaries that whitewash Australian history, disregarding both the indigenous history of the land and the contributions of immigration and multiculturalism.
The remainder of Dr. Sharples’ discussion underscored how these claims have permeated not only mainstream media and political discourse but also the fabric of Australian society. She provided numerous examples that solidify the argument that these ideological claims have firmly taken root in mainstream Australian discourse, with prominent political figures and a divisive media and entertainment environment being key contributors.
The discussion drew attention to divisive political figures who have fueled and endorsed anti-white racist claims, welcoming and celebrating far-right proponents of hate and racism on platforms such as ‘hate tours.’ Even the Parliament House has faced criticism for hosting problematic speakers and promoting a range of intolerant, hateful, and racist views.
Australia’s media landscape, long accused of permitting racist and intolerant views, aligns with the findings presented by Dr. Sharples. She described several high-profile sports and media personalities who have used their national platform to propagate racist views against Indigenous Australians and Muslims. Troublingly, despite facing backlash, these individuals have retained their high-profile positions and remain influential figures today.
In her concluding remarks, Dr. Sharples emphasized the rightward shift in the Australian political landscape and highlighted a significant dichotomy present in policy debates and the corresponding populist media coverage. This divide centers around the tension between aspiring to be a nation that embraces cultural diversity and a perceived necessity to safeguard the white colonial heritage or white national identity. The firm establishment of this dichotomy within mainstream Australian society, coupled with a growing number of claims of white vulnerability and victimization, underscores the dangers associated with the normalization of intolerant, racist, and anti-white sentiments by influential figures who shape public discourse and debate.
Dr. Josh Roose: “Masculinity, Populism and Religion in Australia”
According to Dr. Roose, a thorough understanding of the far-right and populist right necessitates a careful examination of masculinity, which encompasses the societal construction of male identity. Masculinity entails the establishment of social expectations regarding manhood and the hierarchical structuring of society, privileging masculine traits while devaluing those associated with femininity. While participants in far-right groups are predominantly men, the influence of masculinity extends beyond these subgroups.
In his presentation, Dr. Josh Roose employed a lens of masculinity and religion to examine the far-right phenomenon in Australia. He posited that both masculinity and religion are perceived by far-right populists and extremists as being under existential threat, which significantly influences their political agenda. Dr. Roose commenced his talk by providing contextual information on the current state of Australia and the underlying factors that have contributed to the emergence of far-right populism. Subsequently, he delved into an analysis of recent developments within the country.
According to Dr. Roose, a thorough understanding of the far-right and populist right necessitates a careful examination of masculinity, which encompasses the societal construction of male identity. Masculinity entails the establishment of social expectations regarding manhood and the hierarchical structuring of society, privileging masculine traits while devaluing those associated with femininity. While participants in far-right groups are predominantly men, the influence of masculinity extends beyond these subgroups. Origins, ideologies, internal dynamics, and recruitment methods within these groups are intricately intertwined with notions of masculinity. Notably, among white-collar workers, there exists a perception of engraved entitlement and a perceived erosion of the respect, recognition, and social status to which they believe they are entitled as men.
To comprehend this phenomenon, Dr. Roose suggested examining the changing status of men and work over the past five decades, particularly in light of the introduction of free market economics and its displacement of Keynesian economics. Participation in far-right groups may be driven by resentment and blame directed towards women and minority groups, who are perceived as having benefited from male economic, legal, and political subordination. Additionally, such sentiments may be directed towards governments perceived to have facilitated these developments and could be rooted in feelings of shame.
Dr. Roose also explored the role of religion within this framework and the way it is framed in relation to populism. He argued that significant intersections exist in terms of intellectual, ideological, and affinitive aspects between hard-right populists, far-right extremists, and religious actors emphasizing textualist interpretations. These groups all lay claim to possessing universal truth, harbor a sense of marginalization, and cultivate a powerful perception of persecution and victimhood, among other shared characteristics. Dr. Roose further posited that misogyny serves as a gateway to contemporary manifestations of the far-right. Furthermore, these groups often espouse anti-LGBTQ+, antisemitic, and anti-science views.
Dr. Roose also highlighted the notable trend wherein an increasing number of young individuals, particularly angry young men, are actively engaging in these spaces, contrary to the prevailing notion of youth disengagement.
Concluding his presentation, Dr. Roose contended that a crucial aspect requiring further investigation is the extent to which these attitudes intersect with mainstream values, politicians, and community members. It is imperative to understand the potential for these relatively small groups to build a broader movement and gain prominence within the wider population, as this is where the true consequences may arise and the real damage can be done.
(*) Kim van Os is an intern at European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) with a master’s degree in International Relations. Her main research interests are the relation between populism and far-right radicalization, gender, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia.