Now, here’s a confession. Two decades ago I invented the term “Lunar Right”. I primarily had in mind extreme right-wing groups that were heavily into conspiracy theories but eschewed violence. Such as the Australian League of Rights and the Citizens Electoral Council.
I also used the term with reference to two organisations that were associated on occasions with violence against individuals and/or property and which seemed to be fascist-lite: the Sydney-based National Action organisation and the Perth-based Australian Nationalist Movement.
However, in recent years the term Lunar Right has been used by leftists and social democrats alike against mainstream conservatives. Last November, former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd told Network Ten’s The Project that Malcolm Turnbull had “to deal with the Lunar Right of his party”. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten made a similar point this year.
Mungo MacCallum and Mike Carlton have attempted to identify parties and individuals with the Lunar Right. The former used the term with reference to Katter’s Australian Party. The latter did so in a tweet that mentioned Liberal senator Cory Bernardi and the Ku Klux Klan. In 2012, Mark Latham linked commentator Andrew Bolt with the Lunar Right. It’s possible that there will be more references to the Lunar Right when parliament resumes.
It will be some time until the Senate count is concluded. However, it is certain that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will obtain at least one Senate seat — since Hanson polled more than 9 per cent of the primary vote in Queensland.
Hanson, for the first time, has won a seat in her own right. In 1996 she was disendorsed by the Liberal Party shortly before the election but appeared on the ballot paper for the seat of Oxley as the Liberal candidate.
When Hanson enters the Senate she will be accompanied by staff members and supported by the money obtained under the public funding provisions for political parties. This will be significant due to One Nation’s relatively strong showing, for a micro-party, across Australia.
From her base in southern Queensland, Hanson and her supporters may be able to run an operation against the Coalition similar to what Nick Xenophon and his team did in South Australia this year. This could cause special problems for Malcolm Turnbull if Hanson attacks the Coalition from the right on such issues as national security, border protection, immigration and economic policy.
The Turnbull-led Coalition is an easier target for a One Nation attack from the right than would have been the case if Tony Abbott were still leading the Liberal Party. The Nationals, under the leadership of Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash, polled well in this election. In effect, the Nationals’ strong performance in northern NSW against Independent candidates Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott made it possible for Turnbull to form a majority government.
Next election, One Nation is likely to target Coalition seats in Queensland. It’s possible that in these areas the Prime Minister will be a softer target than the Deputy PM, since Joyce presents as a conservative whereas Turnbull comes across as a small-l liberal.
As John Howard has pointed out for at least three decades, the Liberal Party contains both a conservative and a liberal component. The Nationals make no such claim. On social issues, the junior partner in the Coalition presents as conservative. In view of this, Bernardi’s proposed conservative movement within the Liberal Party could be helpful to the government in general and Turnbull in particular.
The most significant moves against the Coalition on July 2 took place in northern Tasmania and western Sydney. In neither area did voters, who once supported Howard and Abbott, turn away from Turnbull because he was perceived as being too conservative.
The Senate poll, Australia wide, indicates close to two million people who would properly be regarded as right of centre voted for candidates other than those on the Turnbull team. This is the group of voters in One Nation’s sights.
Bernardi’s conservative movement, if established, would hamper any temptation by the Liberal Party leadership to drift to the left. This would be unlikely to do any harm to the Coalition. After all, as in 2016, the next election will be won or lost in Australia’s outer suburbs and regional centres, not in inner-city areas where self-declared progressives on both sides of mainstream politics prevail.
The likely outcome of this year’s double dissolution will be an increase in economic populists among independents in the Senate including at least one One Nation and two Nick Xenophon Team senators plus Jacqui Lambie.
An unintended consequence of the double dissolution strategy has been the end of the political careers of Family First’s Bob Day and the Palmer United’s Dio Wang. The Liberal Democrats’ David Leyonhjelm could also lose his seat. This trio was more likely than other independents in the Senate to support the Coalition’s economic reform agenda.
Economic populists Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus lost their seats as did John Madigan (whose term was due to expire in mid-2017). But they have been replaced by One Nation and NXT economic populists and Lambie held her seat. The Victorian celebrity Derryn Hinch, who did not run on economic policy issues, is also likely to be in the Senate.
Economic populism is rife in western Europe and North America. There will be nothing unusual about the composition of the new parliament. Australia’s problem is that, as a trading nation with a relatively small population, it needs economic reform more than most other Western democracies.
The new Senate will have the likes of Hanson on the right and the Greens’ Lee Rhiannon on the left. Rhiannon is a former supporter of Eastern European communist dictatorships and Hanson is on the right of politics.
But no one in the new parliament deserves the title Lunar Right.