On Sunday night, we watched in utter disbelief as the systemic corruption, running rife within the Victorian Labor Party, was laid bare for all to see on 60 Minutes.
Forged signatures, laundered money, shady staffers; it was the antithesis of what politics should be about. Long gone are the days of the tireless community advocate, putting their hand up to represent their people at a local, state or federal level. Now, it seems as though those who are able to manipulate, abuse and cheat the system end up in the highest places. But this is something Australians have known for some time.
Trust in politicians nationally, and indeed in the rest of the western world, is at an all-time low, owing to conniving backroom deals and blatant pork barrelling. Whilst sinister, meticulously coordinated and widespread, this Victorian Labor Party saga is just another corrupt political scandal, right? Wrong.
The coverage of Adem Somyurek’s disgusting behaviour centred solely around the content of his actions, words and stranglehold of the Labor–Right faction within Victoria. Yet the media seemingly glossed over the fact that roughly two-thirds of the state’s ALP members had been coerced or brought to the party through this elaborate scheme.
These people are victims. Call them pawns, muppets, stooges or whatever else you like, but they are victims all the same. More to the point, these victims all seemed to lack basic Australian political knowledge and, not only that, but many lacked an ability to speak English at all. Herein lies the issue: Victorian Labor’s branch stacking campaign targeted immigrant communities.
Somyurek, himself a Turkish-Australian, utilised sections of his Turkish community, alongside Indian, Chinese, and Greek communities, for his own political gain. Many of these poor, innocent people, barely spoke a word of English and had little to no interest in politics. But that didn’t stop Somyurek and his gang of conmen, who ran a targeted campaign with ethnic leaders to wield influence over these groups and take advantage of them.
When quizzed about the Premier of Victoria, one of these Labor members had simply no idea. A second person was found cluelessly trying to remember the name of their local member of parliament and another lady was unaware she was even a member in the first place. Folks who are not akin to our political culture and the dirty business of Australian politics, see the actions of an individual like Somyurek, a powerful Victorian state minister, and think he must be acting in goodwill. They comply because they believe his actions to be in good faith and common practice. But what neglects to be appropriately mentioned is that these ministers are abusing their positions of power to manipulate impressionable and supremely oblivious people. Metaphorically speaking, Somyurek and his band of thugs are no different to Harvey Weinstein and his enclave of Hollywood directors who use the “casting couch” for their own sleazy sexual gain. An extreme analogy perhaps, but is it that far from reality?
And this wasn’t the Labor Party’s first rodeo. Disgraced Senator Sam Dastyari claimed that “branch stacking was a common practice”. He went on further to point out that “It was about getting giant ethnic communities to join up, on bulk, to beat other communities and other candidates”. And there we have it. Any guise that the heinous practices within Victorian Labor were a simple blip on the radar have undoubtedly slipped. Need I also remind you that Sam Dastyari was a Senator for New South Wales, not Victoria. He was referring to high-density ethnic communities in Western Sydney, not Somyurek’s hunting ground in the outer suburbs of Victoria.
So how does all of this come about? It’s abundantly clear that the answer lies in identity politics. This tactic, overwhelmingly utilised by left-wing political parties, seeks to cast people of a particular religion, race or social background into exclusive political groups to move away from the ideals of traditional individual-based politics. It’s wrong, it’s patronising and its corrosive to our very democracy as we know it. This is being observed the world over with 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, recently pronouncing to Americans that “you ain’t black” if you voted for his opposition in the general election, being Donald Trump. Any shred of individuality that migrants have when they arrive on our shores, is being denied to them by folks like Somyurek, who are hell-bent on lumping them into the same boat on any given issue.
60 Minutes managed to merely scratch the surface of the issue that we face in dealing with this matter. The abuse of our hardworking immigrant communities by power-hungry political warlords, is one of the saddest things affecting our democracy, simply because the victims feel defenceless, confused and are blissfully unaware of the injustices being committed against them. It’s time for us to rewrite the narrative that the Labor Party, or indeed any political party, treats first-generation Australians with the respect, dignity and help they deserve. Simultaneously, we must also defeat the rhetoric that stricter immigration policies are against the best interests of migrants living in Australia today.
Conservatism, due to its inherent belief in individualism, does not try to patronise immigrants. At its heart, conservatism recognises them as equal members of the Australian family with their own aspirations, encouraging them to contribute to a vision of a united Australia for all Australians. It’s not some torn up tapestry of ethnic groups being rallied into rooms to sign forms based on the ambitions of a warlord who couldn’t care less about them. This kind of behaviour must stop. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s quintessentially un-Australian. Immigrants are a vital part of Australian culture and they deserve better than to be used as pawns in the political game.
Barclay McGain is a writer from the Gold Coast and University of Queensland student. He interns with the HR Nicholls Society and coordinates the Queensland branch of Students for Liberty.
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