The ABC fact-checking unit could do something useful if it checked what passes for facts on the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster.
Last Monday, Q&A announced at the start of the program that the voting intention of its audience was as follows: Coalition 40 per cent, Labor 40 per cent and Greens 12 per cent.
This statement was quite misleading since the ABC has no way of knowing the real political inclination of Q&A audiences. It simply accepts what potential audience members say.
In view of the fact most Q&A programs are recorded in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Ultimo — close to the University of Sydney, the University of Technology, Sydney and Greens-voting Newtown — it’s not surprising that most audiences contain a substantial green-left contingent.
The easiest way for a green-left supporter to get a seat is to claim to be a Coalition voter. They get to fill part of the pro-Coalition quota, an easier task than competing for slots within the Labor and Green quotas.
So it came to pass on Easter Monday when the clear audience hero was Vanessa “Van” Badham — cultural critic for the leftist Guardian Australia and self-proclaimed Marxist reviewer of consumer products.
Singer Nana Mouskouri was also a crowd favourite but she had little to say that was controversial.
Presenter Tony Jones led with his executive producer’s pick for the first question. It was from Lea Vesic, who expressed concern at the Reclaim Australia protests, and the counter-demonstrations, that had taken place in Australian cities on Easter Sunday.
Jones called on Badham to make the first response.
To the delight of the audience, Badham immediately weighed in with what she had “learned from history”. It was this: when “there are cultural tensions and the language of cultural division”, they are exploited by “opportunistic people”, namely the supporters of “neo-Nazism and fascism”.
Badham added: “We have an extremist element on the very far Right. They are tiny but they are feeling quite emboldened by a lot of divisive language that’s been used against particularly the Muslim community and in the debate around asylum-seekers.”
It is true that there has always been a small right-wing extremist group in Australia. Years ago I invented the term lunar Right to describe them.
But, as Badham acknowledged, the contemporary lunar Right is tiny. Even she conceded that in Melbourne the counter-protest movement outnumbered the Reclaim Australia demonstrators by 10 to one.
When most Australians viewed the Reclaim Australia demonstration they would have seen small groups of low-profile Australians complaining about the growing prevalence of halal food here and railing against the (remote) possibility that sharia law might be established in the Antipodes. That was about it.
However, to Badham, it was all about not only fascism but Nazism.
She declared: “I was there to put my body in front of neo-Nazis and fascists and to stop the spread of their ideas because what we’ve learned from history. And the incident I always recall is the one in 1936 — the Battle of Cable Street — where the Jewish community and the progressive community in London banded together to stop a march of the Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts …”
The reference was to the British Union of Fascists which was founded by Mosley in 1932 in the midst of the Depression.
Mosley was a well-connected Brit who was a member of the House of Commons between 1918 and 1931, initially as a Conservative, then as an independent and finally as a Labour Party member.
Mosley was an unpleasant anti-Semite and a fascist ideologue. He was an appeaser of Adolf Hitler before appeasement became the rage in the mid-1930s. However, as is evident in Mosley’s 1931 book The Greater Britain, his economic agenda reflected the opinions he held when a Labour MP.
Mosley’s influence peaked at the Battle of Cable Street on October 4, 1936. Soon after, the British parliament passed the Public Order Act, which banned the provocative marches of the Blackshirts through East London and elsewhere.
The BUF performed relatively poorly in the 1937 local government elections and Mosley’s support waned as the British economic recovery took place.
As Robert Skidelsky wrote in his 1993 collection Interests and Obsessions, “between 1932 and 1940, the BUF failed to establish itself as a serious contender for power”.
It failed not because of counter-protest movements but on account of Britain’s democratic parliamentary institutions.
Clearly, Badham knows little about Mosley or his BUF.
For a brief period in Britain in the early 30s, Mosley’s BUF was a significant extreme right-wing political movement. There was no equivalent organisation in Australia. As Paul Hasluck documents in the official war history The Government and the People: 1942-1945, Inky Stephensen’s Australia First Movement was “neither coherent nor purposeful”.
Hasluck described the detention of 21 Australia First Movement personnel by the Labor government in World War II as “undoubtedly the grossest infringement of individual liberty made during the war”.
In Australia two decades ago, lunar Right groups such as National Action engaged in a degree of crime and racially motivated violence.
But the individuals concerned were dealt with by the criminal justice system and had scant impact on Australian society.
Contrary to Badham’s hyperbole, which enjoyed widespread acclaim from the Q&Aaudience and was not contested by the presenter, there is not — and never has been — a significant neo-Nazi or fascist movement in Australia.
Without the leftist counter-demonstration on Easter Saturday, it is unlikely that the Reclaim Australia protesters would have obtained significant attention.
To this extent, Badham and her comrades were engaged in counter-productive activity, some of it of an aggressive nature — a not uncommon occurrence when middle-class radicals get active.
What Badham, Jones and the Q&A audience failed to observe is that, while the intelligence security community monitors Left and Right alike, it is only Islamists who presently are in prison for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.
They are the only important “extremist element” in contemporary Australia.
But the leftist Badham won’t speak their name on Q&A.