Other people’s lies

Hollie Hughes speaks in a monotone. Her lines are rehearsed. “If we want to consider 32 per cent of the primary vote a mandate, we might need to have to review what a mandate looks like…” the Liberal senator says. “So that’s the first thing – 68 per cent of people voted for somebody else.”

About the time Hughes was talking, the former leader of the Proud Boys was charged with seditious conspiracy over his role in the Capitol Hill riots. Others in the group have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and assault charges. Enrique Tarrio’s defence lawyer says her client is “as innocent of these charges as the ones that had already been pending against him”.

These two events are connected. Hughes is borrowing an American lie: that the new government is somehow illegitimate. Donald Trump propagated this myth before extremists marched on Washington in January 2021. It is a grievance that undermines democracy and must be condemned. It makes mischief of the preferential voting that put Hughes in office.

Increasingly, Australia has drawn on the worst of American politics. Scott Morrison tried it with his failed voter identification bill, which came from the same place as Hughes’s comments. He tried again with his failed campaign against transgender athletes, which contributed to his loss at the election.

The lack of talent and imagination in the right-wing parties has seen the Coalition ape the nativism of the Republican Party. They play mindless dress-ups, pretending that America’s politics are our politics. They forget the fundamental differences of our health and education systems, the inescapable security of social welfare.

Also this week, Hughes said climate action was “almost like a luxury issue for some people”. She repeated the lie that Australia doesn’t greatly contribute to emissions and so cannot take a lead in cutting them. She mocked Labor’s targets and said you “could shut everything down tomorrow and all go live in trees” but it wouldn’t make a difference. Worst of all, she said this as shadow minister for Climate Change.

It is almost as if the Liberal Party hasn’t realised it lost. Scott Morrison is yet to come down to the ballroom. Josh Frydenberg is still on television not conceding. The object lessons – the brutal repudiation of the party’s meanness, its incompetence, its inaction on climate change and integrity – have not been learnt. That haven’t even occurred.

This is nothing to celebrate. The party’s foolishness will only make it more desperate. Although Labor will not have to negotiate on policy, it will find itself responding to a fringe that has claimed the dignity of opposition. It will be forced to fight over the obvious. It will be less bold.

All of this is because people such as Hollie Hughes regard it as a game. The rhetoric about “mandates” is play. She can’t really mean it. Instead, she sees politics in such narrow terms she doesn’t consider the consequences of what she is doing. She swings on the clothesline and doesn’t understand why it is broken.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 11, 2022 as "Other people’s lies".

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