Politics Opinion

Corruption and extremism threaten government legitimacy

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

The strength of our Federal Government has been diminished by its response to the rise of right-wing extremism and accusations of corruption, writes Bilal Cleland.

WE ARE CONFRONTED in Western countries with an increasingly extreme right-wing reactionary political movement posing as conservatives.

Conservatives are by nature opposed to radical change, wanting to gradually build upon already established foundations of society.

Radical reactionaries want to halt change – perceived as threatening – and seek to return to an imagined Golden Age. In Western society, unfortunately, that Golden Age is the age of dominance by the White man, in the family, in society and in the world.

A voting system restricted to White property-owning males of mature age and a world divided amongst the European powers as at the height of imperialism is their idea of perfection.

It is in the USA that we are seeing the clearest demonstration of the radical reactionary political agenda.

Analysis of voting patterns there has shown that the strongest pro-Trump vote was in counties where the established White population felt threatened by the growing number of Hispanic and Black voters.

The attempt to stage a coup on 6 January brought this radical reactionary movement to world attention.

Robert Pape, in a study of people arrested in connection with this insurrection, found that the insurrectionists:

“...are mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class Whites who are worried that, as social changes occur around them, they will see a decline in their status in the future.”

Here in Australia, there are worrying signs of the rise of this type of reactionary movement, particularly in states with Labor Party governments. Much of their rhetoric is straight from Fox News and the Trump Republicans.

In Melbourne, there has been a sustained protest outside Parliament for several days in opposition to pandemic legislation. There have been threats of violence, a portable gallows hanging an effigy of the Premier and speakers calling for his execution.

Terror detectives from the Security Investigations Unit have laid charges against Imre Pelyvahas for inciting protesters to make explosives, as well as a second man

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has been forced to close his electorate office, saying:

“There’s been death threats, there’s been threats to rape my staff, there’s been people threatening to bomb my office.”

The imposition of mandatory vaccinations was the catalyst.

Several supposedly conservative Liberal MPs addressed the crowd in Melbourne and UAP former Liberal MP Craig Kelly and several Sky News personalities were proudly photographed with them.

The Prime Minister, in a weak response to the threats of violence, said he opposed them but understood the frustration of so many after such a long lockdown in Melbourne.

The Leader of the Federal Opposition said that Morrison had “failed to unequivocally condemn the violent and extreme statements”:

“When [Morrison] made some statements saying that was inappropriate, but then went on to speak about people’s frustrations, he only put the second bit up on his Facebook post — thereby eliminating any criticism of this activity.”

Mike Carlton said on Twitter: 

‘So Smirko “understands the frustrations” of the neo-Nazis and their fellow travellers in Melbourne. John Howard “understood the frustrations” of the Cronulla race rioters, too. Funny, that.’

The threat from these radical reactionaries is real.

 It is as though the memory of what happened in Christchurch, NZ where an Australian terrorist massacred the congregation in two mosques has been lost.

ASIO has made clear:

‘Extreme right-wing propaganda used COVID-19 to portray governments as oppressors and globalisation, multiculturalism and democracy as flawed and failing.


...ideological extremism investigations have grown from around one-third of our priority counter-terrorism caseload to around 40%. This reflects a growing international trend, as well as our decision to dedicate more resources to the emerging domestic threat.’

This apparent indulgence of radical reactionaries by conservatives threatens the legitimacy of our institutions in the eyes of the majority of the population.

Some indication of the importance of perceived legitimacy can be seen in terms of the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination.

In the USA, the pandemic, rapidly politicised thanks to the Trump apparatchiks, made mask-wearing, social distancing and lockdowns infringements upon civil liberties.

Mandatory vaccination was portrayed by radical reactionaries as equal to the Holocaust.

Fox News did eventually modify its anti-vax stance as the death toll amongst its supporters rose, but even now the uptake is lowest in the most right-wing Trumpist enclaves.

This, combined with the suspicion of authority, often well-founded, in the African-American community, has meant many refuse vaccination despite its effectiveness.

With over 90% of NSW and Victoria vaccinated, it is clear that the anti-vax lobby here is minuscule. Medical authorities and governments are still respected. Legitimacy seems strong.

But the initial low uptake in the Muslim population could be understood in terms of the loss of legitimacy over the years since 9/11 with so much mainstream political and media vilification of Islam and Muslims.

Initial and still sustained vaccine hesitancy amongst First Nations people can also be attributed to suspicion of authority, which is part of the lack of legitimacy.

The greatest threat to legitimacy is perceived corruption in government.

Transparency International defines corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’:

‘Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.


Exposing corruption and holding the corrupt to account can only happen if we understand the way corruption works and the systems that enable it.’

Although Australia does not yet suffer from the loss of legitimacy we see in the USA, it is under threat. 

According to the Australian National University:

‘Just 59% of Australians are satisfied with how democracy is working — down 27 percentage points from the record high of 86% in 2007.’

Robodebt, sports rorts, the car park fiasco, Jobkeeper debts from small business repaid but large corporations allowed to keep millions of taxpayer dollars despite the fact that they made profit during the pandemic, Jobseeker payments reduced to below poverty level, plus attempts at voter suppression have all contributed to the decline of faith.

The reluctance of the Federal Government to introduce a strong ICAC, the performance of Morrison in Rome and at Glasgow, the nonsense over the response to the climate emergency and the pathetic sabre rattling of Defence Minister Peter Dutton towards China have all helped undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the Government.

Despite the political manipulation of the mainstream media, extending it seems into parts of the ABC, there is a strong independent media in this country and an active social media through Facebook and Twitter.

Corruption is being increasingly exposed and atrocities like the attempted suppression of former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s discussion of our China policy are quickly brought to the notice of informed opinion.

Legitimacy might be under threat but there is a strong fightback against corruption, radical reactionary extremism and the lies upon which this decline is based.

It may not succeed in its task of destabilisation of our society.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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