James McGrath and the 'libertarianism' of the Australian Tea Party

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Senators Cory Bernardi and Michaelia Cash (front) smile approvingly as they listen to fellow tea-bagger James McGrath in the Senate (16/6/14, image screenshot YouTube)

When James McGrath made his radical rightwing speech in Parliament yesterday, he showed how far our politics had moved towards the “libertarian” Tea Party fringe. Managing editor David Donovan comments.

PEOPLE LISTENING to Senator James McGrath’s maiden speech yesterday may have been forgiven for thinking that its main significance was to serve as a salutary warning about the dangers of consuming lysergic acid before speaking in Parliament.

As comforting as that thought might be, it is quite unlikely McGrath was under the influence of any psychotropic substance when he delivered yesterday's turgid rightwing rant — apart from being out of his brain on the lethal Kool-Aid of “modern” libertarianism.

In case you missed the speech, the Sydney Morning Herald’s James Massola gave some of the highlights:

An incoming Liberal senator has set out a radical libertarian program in his maiden speech, calling for the GST rate to rise to 15 per cent, federal health and education departments to be abolished and for the immediate sell-off of youth radio station Triple J, with the rest of the ABC to also be privatised if it fails to address perceived left-wing bias.

Former Liberal Party deputy director James McGrath also defended people's right to make homophobic comments, as well as "hurtful and bigoted and stupid and dumb things".

Senator McGrath also flagged plans to introduce a private member's bill that would "bring back true voluntary student unionism" as he argued the GST should rise to 15 per cent and include items that are currently excluded, such as fresh food.

He vowed to argue for lower regulation and smaller government as he took aim at the federal health and education departments, which had thousands of staff but had no patients, ran no schools and did not teach students.

"Bureaucracies have become more bloated, more process-driven and more out of touch," he said.

"The states run hospitals and schools - why do we need to be involved? I'm calling for the abolition of the federal departments of health and education, and for universities to be run at a state level."

A longtime former political operative for shady conservative campaign managers (Lynton) Crosby and (Mark) Textor, James McGrath’s career highlights so far would seem to have been working as a campaign director in the Maldives and being sacked as an advisor to Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson in 2008 over a racist remark. There is no evidence the 40 year-old has any significant life experience beyond school, university, student politics and working as a relatively low-level conservative political apparatchik.

I say conservative and doubtless McGrath regards himself as being a lifelong political conservative — but there is nothing at all “conservative” about his comments.

In fact, as discussed by Cathy McQueen on IA earlier this week, McGrath’s views closely reflect the true radical agenda of the Australian Tea Party now in power federally and in McGrath’s home state of Queensland — their true agenda, but one they usually keep from clear view because they know it would be electoral poison. People are only now starting to gain an unpleasant glimpse of this agenda through Joe Hockey’s entirely ideological “lifters and leaners” Federal Budget.

Evidence of this was the gushing applause and approbation given to him by the Government benches after he had finished. The truth is, in the hollowed out Liberal Party, now purged of moderates, he said what most are thinking but don’t quite have the guts to say themselves.

McGrath considers himself to be a libertarian and repeatedly referred to “liberty” and “freedom” in his speech.

Of course, most people probably consider themselves to be in favour of liberty and its notions of personal freedoms, with less government oversight and burdens. Who enjoys paying taxes, or fines, or filling out paperwork, or being audited?

However, the libertarianism preached by McGrath – and, indeed, his new Senate colleague, the softly spoken gun nut, David Leyonhjelm ‒ is not about absolute liberty to do exactly what you want at any time. Of course not, because that would be anarchy and these highly socially conservative people are not at all in favour of that sort of dangerous licentiousness. 

No, for these rightwing libertarians, the key issue is “property rights”. They want to be able to do and say whatever they want, with the proviso that someone else can’t just come along and take away what they have accumulated. And so, they are usually strongly in favour of guns, a strong police force, rigid border controls, a large military and a harshly punitive justice system.

It is the liberty of the selfish.

McGrath may have made his speech in Canberra , but ‒ with a few name changes ‒ it could just as easily have been made in the U.S. bible belt, as it bespoke the same brand of radical small government, low tax, no welfare, no regulation, no minimum wage, anti-Islam, anti-climate change action, “libertarianism” as the U.S. Tea Party.

Their agenda purports to be on behalf of the little guy against a “Big Brother” government, however the Tea Party movement is largely an astroturf operation, mainly funded by fossil fuel interests and multinational corporations. The billionaire Koch Brothers and Exxon Mobil are often cited in this regard, although the network includes many others, including our own Rupert Murdoch.

Libertarian/Tea Party ideology is seeded by these corporatists throughout a network of “thinktanks”, notably the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute and, in Australia, the Institute of Public Affairs. These bodies also act as organisers for astroturf activism, which involves setting up organisations and staging events until the organisation attracts enough people swayed by the speeches, flags, banners, slogans, and colour and movement to maintain the momentum more or less independently. (For a case study in how this occurs, click here.)

The aims of the corporatists are simple — to get ordinary people to pressure Governments on their behalf to lower taxes and stop regulations that may threaten their assets or future revenues. They want the liberty to have the Government not waste the little taxes they hope to pay on public broadcasting, or healing the sick and crippled, or helping the impoverished, or educating the poor, or cleaning the poisonous air — but rather, through the military, police and customs, on being a “security” apparatus protecting their assets from the hungry, angry, growing masses both inside and outside their nation.

Pudgy-faced patsies like McGrath are willing accessories to this because they are paid generously by these same interests to act as their mouthpieces and Judas goats. Do they believe the nonsense that spews from their lips? Some may — but then an idea is much easier to believe when your way of life depends on you believing it. It also makes the perfidy more convincing.

In short, the notion of "libertarianism" is an attractive bait used by society's deceivers because it beguilingly promises more freedom.

Yet, what this version of libertarianism ‒ more accurately called “economic liberalism” ‒ ignores is that much of the business of government is about protecting the weak from the strong.

It is about the freedom to be educated. The freedom to be paid a living wage for a fair day’s work. The freedom to not be subjected to racial vilification and bigotry. The freedom to be healthy. The freedom to breathe clean air and enjoy the wonders of nature. The freedom to make informed choices. The freedom to live in a democracy. The freedom to build a community and a society. The freedom to not be preyed upon by the rich and powerful.

The libertarianism of James McGrath and his puppet-masters is the liberty of selfishness and greed. It is the liberty to accumulate more wealth than one could ever need and not share any of it with those less fortunate. It is the liberty of the Gollum to clutch hold of its “precious”. The liberty of the wolf to descend rapaciously upon the flock.

But for the most people, it is just the liberty to be a slave. And that is no liberty at all.

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