Australia

Meet the people attending Australia's first conservative politics mega conference

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SBS News talked to some Australians who are attending the country's first Conservative Political Action Conference.

They are the people who Mark Latham jokingly called "a magnificent audience of deplorables".

Hundreds of Australians are gathering in Sydney for the country's first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which will run until Sunday.

Inspired by its US counterpart event, it's being billed as one of the largest conservative gatherings in Australia.

A sign at CPAC.
A sign at CPAC.
Nick Baker

Some have paid up to $600 (for the "Ronald Reagan VIP Freedom Pass") to attend the three-day celebration of all things conservative.

True believers wear Make America Great Again hats and Margaret Thatcher T-shirts. The bookstall offers titles such as John Howard's biography and a paperback called "the Climate Caper".

Tony Abbott during his address at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Tony Abbott during his address at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
AAP

They came to hear from speakers including controversial British politician Nigel Farage, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the man Labor tried to have banned from the country, Raheem Kassam. All received standing ovations.

And while the attendees identified with different strands of conservatism, they have one thing in common - a deep pride in conservative politics and its ability to change the world.

'Trump's great'

Amir Ali from Sydney's Mount Annan said he decided to come to the conference as "I really believe in freedom of speech, conservative values and right of centre politics".

Mr Ali told SBS News he feels like Australians from diverse backgrounds get "a lot of pressure" from the left when they disagree with them.

Amir Ali talks to SBS News.
Amir Ali talks to SBS News.
Nick Baker

"The left is not willing to listen, if you go against anything they believe, especially more extremes of the left, they're very quick to shut you down as a Nazi or a racist or being homophobic. They're not very tolerant," he said.

Mr Ali said he was from "Islamic descent" and "if I say anything critical of Islam, it's not received very well [by the left]".

He said the conference was a welcome break from these sentiments and he could freely make his opinions known.

"If you say anything supportive for Trump, you're labelled a racist," he said.

"I think Trump's great. He's exactly what the US needs. He broke through the establishment they had for so many years. He says it like it is. He's a strong leader. He's genuine."

Sick of 'identity politics'

Jacob, who requested his last name not be used, travelled from Melbourne to volunteer at the conference.

The 19-year-old said he came from "true blue working class roots" and was attracted to conservative politics after moving out from home.

Jacob talks to SBS News.
Jacob talks to SBS News.
Nick Baker

"I realised how expensive things are, like power bills. A lot of this is to do with regressive policies that hurt both workers in industries like coal and working families," he said.

Jacob said his conservative beliefs were hardened while at university where he claims he was accused of having "white privilege".

He said he's had enough of "identity politics" as "I think we need to move beyond [this] and look at the contents of someone's character".

Ross Cameron, Mark Latham and Rowan Dean at CPAC.
Ross Cameron, Mark Latham and Rowan Dean at CPAC.
Nick Baker

"I feel that hard work is the only thing that got my family ahead and nothing to do with the characteristics of my skin colour," he said.

"We conservatives tend to be less ideological, we're more pragmatic … We're middle Australians, we're the silent people."

An Iron Lady pass

Sasha, who also requested her last name not be used, opted for the "Margaret Thatcher" multi-day general pass to the event.

"She's the Iron Lady. She's amazing," Sasha said, showing off her pass named after the right-wing former UK prime minister.

Sasha at CPAC on Saturday.
Sasha at CPAC on Saturday.
Nick Baker

Sasha looked through her notes and read out a Thatcher quote that featured on day one of the conference.

"Socialism is great until you run out of other people's money," she read.

"I thought that was fantastic."

Like others, Sasha said she came along as it was a "great opportunity to hear a bunch of views without argument or interruption".

Sasha's Trump badge.
Sasha's Trump badge.
Nick Baker

"It gets to the point now where we don't sit around at dinner parties and have political conversations because people of the left are just too offended and upset when someone has an opposing view," she said.

"People just whisper they like Trump, they don't say it out loud. So it was good to be in a room where you could talk about things without being bullied or being shouted at ... It's kind of a safe space.

"It was nice for a change."

CPAC organisers have already said they hope to make the conservative mega conference an annual event, meaning this so-called "safe space" could be a fixture for years to come.

Opposition to CPAC

On Saturday, a handful of protesters gathered outside the venue in opposition to the platform the event gives.

"It represents an attempt to make society radically worse for LGBTI people, for Indigenous people, Muslim and others," rally organiser Hersha Kadkol told SBS News.

One woman was arrested by police after throwing coffee on a conservative supporter.

Labor has remained steadfast in its condemnation of the event with Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles scathing of "send her back" chants directed at his US-born colleague Kristina Keneally.

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Nigel Farage takes aim at ‘snake’ Malcolm Turnbull
Nigel Farage takes aim at ‘snake’ Malcolm Turnbull

"I think that chant says everything about the thoughtfulness or lack of it which is going on ... there is an imported extremism which is going on here and that chant is an example of it," Mr Marles told Sky News.

Senator Keneally has attracted the ire of CPAC attendees for her efforts to block conservative figure Raheem Kasam from entering the country.

"The idea that we have this ... in Australia, there really is no place for it in our country," Mr Marles said.

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