The St Kilda rally isn’t an aberration. It is the natural conclusion of the moral and intellectual collapse of Australian conservatism.
Scott Morrison deserves some praise. It’s not often a half-hearted condemnation of neo-Nazis deserves plaudits, but achievement is relative – among Australian conservatives, unequivocal criticism of the far right now puts you well ahead of the pack. That’s about the lowest bar that you can set, but rather than stepping over it, much of the commentariat takes it as an invitation to a limbo contest. The same people always claiming that “everything is racist now” seem to have decided that nothing is, not even Roman salutes.
This is why Scott Morrison can attack the gestures on display on the weekend, but he can’t attack the sentiments: because they’re shared by people on his front bench. “I have repeatedly asked of the crime-plagued Sudanese in particular: who let them in?” asked Andrew Bolt, and that’s the loudest voice on the Australian right.
It’s true that not every local conservative is like this. But the exceptions are marginal, or powerless, or paralysed, or can’t seem to wrest the megaphone away from the bigoted.
The left-wing caricature of the right-wing is that their ideas are just a series of shoddy disguises for sexism, racism and homophobia, that conservatism is the natural home of “homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers”, to quote the federal minister for women, Kelly O’Dwyer.
Who can say, here, that this wrong, when so many are determined to prove it? Where else, in the English-speaking world, is still having controversies over Sambo drawings in the 21st century? If recent years are anything to go by, the difference between the right and the far-right in Australia isn’t some ideological gulf. Too often, it’s what people are willing to say after they’ve had two beers.