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Tag Archives: free-speech
Posted: February 20, 2017 at 7:44 pm
Thousands of Canadians took part in a massive protest against President Trumps travel ban on Muslims during the National Day of Action against Islamophobia and White Supremacy in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on February 04, 2017. (Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Jol Lightbound didnt much want to talk with me last Friday afternoon. But the rookie Liberal MP happened to be on duty in the House, after most MPs have headed home for the weekend, and he agreed to step out of the mostly empty chamber into the almost entirely empty foyer of the Commons. When I told him I wanted to ask him questions about what he had experienced since six Muslim men were shot dead in his riding on Jan. 29, while they were praying in the mosque called the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec, Lightbound replied in a flat, fatigued voice that he was sick of talking about it.
We sat down anyway on a stone bench in an alcove off a nearby hallway. Lightbound is a good talker. Everybody had seen that in his TV interviews outside the mosque after the shooting. And he again stood out in the often bitter debate in the House this past week over whats called Motion 103, introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. Many Conservatives opposed the motion on the grounds that the word Islamophobia isnt well defined, and thus the motion might somehow stifle legitimate criticism of Islamic extremism.
RELATED: Liberal MPs, Muslim community face verbal attacks over M-103
Lightbound was first elected MP for the Louis-Hbert riding in 2015. He was born in Toronto, but grew up in Sainte-Foy, where he returned to try his hand at politics following a stint working at the Montral firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, after he graduated from McGill Universitys law school. This is our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
I think its been for me the most challenging weeks of my life. Thats for sure. Not only was our community as a whole in Quebec City, and my riding, affected, I was affected personally. I have friends who go to the mosque; my very good friends mother left 30 minutes before the shooting. So just the shock of it, not just as a politician, but as a human being. It was it was a big shock. And having to deal with all that comes with it. As a politician it was also a challenge for sure.
I think Quebec City, if you look at the statistics, is not as diverse as metropolitan areas like Montreal or Toronto, for instance. But there are neighborhoods, and if you look, youll find that there is great diversity. In my neighborhood where I grew up it was particularly evident. I was raised in an apartment buildingand this is something I said in the Housewith Bosnians, with Muslim friends, Arabs, Asians. So it was very diverse. It was like the UN, my apartment building where I grew up.
Well, I think, on the one hand, I was very pleased by the reaction in my immediate region and in my community. I think weve seen an outpouring of support and solidarity, and people starting to talk to one another and reaching out to one another and focusing on the humanity that unites us, instead of that differences sometimes we get distracted by. Weve seen the vigilsthousands and thousands of people. In my office, weve received countless messages and phone calls of solidarity for the community. So this has been this has been very pleasing to see. Regardless of perhaps the tone of the debate that weve had in the House this week, I still think that some light might shine out of all of this.
RELATED: The Tories approach a point of no return
I was surprised and saddened to some extent that weve had this debate this week in the house about a motion which should have garnered the support of all members, just like it did back in October when the House unanimously condemned Islamophobia. And what sickens me most is there has been such misinformation spread about this motion, which is not a bill and does not restrict free speech. Its more of a symbolic gesture than anything else. I thought for once that we might unite than not have anyone try to use this for political purposes. I think this should rise way above partisan politics.
For sure. In a country where free speech is enshrined in the Charter, we can always have these debates, so long as theyve done in a responsible manner or not so as to spread fear, intolerance, and hatred. The motion isnt in any way, shape or form restricting free speech. So I fail to see why weve had this big argument.
RELATED: In Quebec City, a moment of painful truth
Well, I think for the Muslims in my community and my Muslim friends, theyve told me about this way before Jan. 29, 2017. So this event in Quebec City was a tragedy that occurred, but the problems that theyre facing, they faced for years. What theyve observed is that theyve kind of been taken hostage by a minority who claim to be acting on behalf of Islam but are not. A lot of generalizations have been pushed, sometimes by mainstream media, sometimes on social media, sometimes by politicians. Theyve seen the world change around them for the worse over the years. I think it probably started on 9/11. Weve had all sorts of incidents happen around the world and weve been fed easy answers to complex questions.
When I was thinking about this whole event, and how I think there has been a climate where Muslims face growing ostracization and stigmatization, I reflected on when I was a kid. We didnt see Muslims. We didnt perceive them as such. We saw our friends, our coach, our neighbours. And I think there is a collective reflection to be had on what kind of prejudices weve allowed to take hold within us. The majority of the population is open and tolerant, but we have were not immune to these feelings which weve observed around the western world. Yes, in the U.S., but around the western world.
No. I think for the most part, we won on these values. Prime Minister Trudeau has always been very adamant in his defense of openness and pluralism and tolerance, and we won a majority government. And I think the NDP shares the same values. I can speak for my generation. Im a millennial, and I can see from the support that I get from millennials across Quebec, I think we share an openness to the world.
Posted: at 7:03 pm
UCLA is preventing students from registering for a conservative professors free speech class for the spring semester, says the professor who teaches the course, The College Fix reports.
Keith Fink is charging that his department head is blocking enrollment in the his free speech on campus study because the members are politically hostile to his ideas.
But the head of the UCLA communications department says student enrollment in the class is limited to ensure reasonable class sizes and not based on any political assessment.
That reasonable size is limited to 150 students.
The students say they just want to sign-up for the professorsCommunication Studies 167: Sex, Politics, and Race: Free Speech on Campus.
Taryn Jacobson told The College Fix that she has repeatedly tried to register for one of Finks classes but is always turned away because the course is supposedly full.
This is one of my last quarters at UCLA and this class is crucial to my preparation for law school, Jacobson stated in an email. It will also strongly guide my decision (either by affirming or dis-affirming) my aspirations to attend.
Even though the class was closed to further enrollment, Jacobson went anyway with a permission-to-enroll (PTE) form that Fink gave her.The form was subsequently overruled by UCLA.
The Daily Bruin reports that Fink seems to be the only professor who cant get a PTE form approved by the university.
I am a voice of a teacher whos not going to go away, Fink told the UCLA college newspaper. When I see an injustice toward students, I am going to fight.
Fink blames Kerri Johnson, the new chair of the communication studies department, for also blocking students from enrolling in another one of his classes that focuses on free speech in the workplace.
Austin Kaidi, a former teaching assistant in Finks classes, told The College Fix: For the past five years, Professor Fink has been able to educate large numbers of students without any problems. However one quarter after the Communication Studies appoints a chairwoman with incredibly left-leaning ideals, Professor Fink, the only outspoken conservative in the department, is singled out, his PTEs are revoked, and his future classes are limited.
Kaidi said she was not even aware of Keiths political opinions when she was taking his classes.
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Posted: at 7:03 pm
WASHINGTON The Virginia Senate has passed a bill that supporters say promotes campus free speech. But some lawmakers wonder why the law is needed when the U.S. Constitution already provides the First Amendment guarantee.
By a 364 vote, the Senate has followed the lead of the House of Delegates and passed the bill which reads, Except as otherwise permitted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, no public institution of higher education shall abridge the freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty and other employees, and invited guests, to speak on campus.
I wish this wasnt necessary, said Sen. Mark Obenshain, a Republican representing Virginias 26th District, the chairman of theCourts of Justice Committee.
Weve got examples that abound across the country of colleges and universities that have been unilaterally making decisions as to whats appropriate political speech on campus, he said.
During the brief debate in the Senate chamber, no one could offer an example of any such conflict pitting free speech against political correctness occurring on any Virginia campus, leading some members to wonder whether the bill was needed.
It seems to me that its akin to saying the sky is blue except on cloudy days, even on college campuses, but Im not sure why we need to put that language in the Code of Virginia, said Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat representing Virginias 25th District.
But Senate supporters of the measure insisted that the bill was necessary to encourage healthy debate on the commonwealths campuses.
Free speech is uncomfortable at times, and it has to be a two-way street in order for it to be able to work, Obenshain said.
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Posted: at 7:03 pm
There is an increasing amount of noise surrounding freedom of speech, fake news, and everyones right to be heard. This has particular bearing on the gaming community, where the term freedom of speech is often used incorrectly.
On the other hand, online personalities are often playing a role in game marketing, and issues with GamerGate and other hate groups latching onto gaming means that games, studios and publishers are confronted with the task of moderating community and forum posts and interactions while being told they are censoring others. Hence, depriving someone of their right to free speech.
As an entertainment attorney with over seven years of experience in a practice dedicated exclusively to gaming culture and industry, this has been an ongoing cause for concern. Its an issue my clients face daily.
Legally, theres no argument to be had. Let me explain why.
Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, blamed the press immediately after apologizing for his bad judgement, which brings up some interesting legal points about his situation.
He seemed to be operating under the assumption that the Wall Street Journal and mainstream media intentionally destroyed his business relationships. However, based on his own explanation, its more than likely he broke his contract under any number of contract theories, as well examine below.
This was my first notice of PewDiePie, so Im not bringing any baggage into this debate. I dont like him or dislike him. I just know hes being widely discussed, and Im familiar with the legal aspects of these situations.
His departure from Google and Disney seems like a no-brainer to anyone with a basic understanding of entertainment contracts. His first mistake likely came from his presumption that either Google or Disney have a sense of humor, or value him for his comedic chops.
Companies typically wont support you when doing so will harm their brand or otherwise expose them to liability
The contracts he signed with Google (through YouTube) and Disney (through Maker Studios) should have made it apparent that they do not. Any tolerance on their part would be based on financial interest, not out of any respect for his freedom of expression or his budding career as a rookie comedian. That is not the business they are in, as evidenced by how quickly they dropped him when his humor became a liability.
You may not submit or upload User Generated Content that is defamatory, harassing, threatening, bigoted, hateful, violent, vulgar, obscene, pornographic, or otherwise offensive or that harms or can reasonably be expected to harm any person or entity, whether or not such material is protected by law.
Or, if youd like a more direct example from one of my own agreements:
Influencer may not: [.] engage in conduct or a pattern of behavior that may: (i) diminish Influencers reputation as a personality in the gaming community; or (ii) as a result of [Companys] association with Influencer, harm [Companys] reputation.
Typically a non-disparagement clause wont act alone to limit influencer conduct in an agreement. Some agreements will include strong moral clauses, broad warranties and representations, and at will termination as additional means of controlling the influencer or providing backers a buffer if the Influencers conduct creates a problem.
For example, a moral provision may prohibit an influencer from engaging in behavior in his or her private life that may amount to a scandal, while almost any reps and warranties provision will include a proviso prohibiting content that is defamatory or otherwise subject to legal action. The goal is to make sure, if you get into a scandal, you can be cast off quickly and with little legal repercussion.
In the interest of fairness, it is possible that the relevance of such provisions werent made clear to Kjellberg. In an effort to court lucrative talent, backers may treat such verbiage as boilerplate until and unless something triggers it. Ive heard they said we dont need to worry about that part, from more than a few clients.
This doesnt absolve responsibility on the part of the talent. You should read and treat as enforceable anything you want to sign. If youre not sure, consult an attorney and save yourself trouble down the road. However, its generally common sense that companies like Google and Disney are in this for two main reasons: it helps their bottom line, and its good for brand building.
When an influencer under contract does something that harms that brand, that influencer is materially breaching their contract. That means termination.
Its possible that the relationship can still be repaired. However, he broke the rule any competent attorney would advise in a matter concerning an open dispute: the less you say, the better. An eight minute diatribe placing blame on third parties and treating your business partners as complicit in the conspiracy against you probably isnt going to help smooth this out.
Thus my surprise when Kjellberg admitted that his content was offensive and he crossed the line, that he exhibited poor judgment and that his amateurish attempt at comedy was a failure. He effectively admitted to breaching his contracts with Disney and Google, and then immediately sought to blame the press.
The context for his joke, and whether mainstream media took it out of context, never really had anything to do with it. Its reasonable for companies like Disney and Google to consider mainstream media as the litmus test for what is considered offensive; their respective brands cater to a far broader demographic than PewDiePies followers, after all.
Welcome to the wonderful world of entertainment, Felix. Youve joined an elite club of performers, comedians and artists who crossed the line. No one is entitled to a platform, and your platform is a privilege that you will lose if you breach the terms under which that platform operates. In all likelihood you broke your contract. You even explained how you broke that contract in a video. Its irrational to conclude that a third party is responsible for the failure of your contract.
More alarming is the response by supporters, or rather, the response against detractors. The idea that companies or institutions are infringing on someones freedom of speech is commonly expressed, often in very strong language. When Twitter banned Milo Yiannopolous, we heard the same refrain. Kjellberg himself has already confirmed that a subset of his fan base consists of white supremacists. As many of us have witnessed, that particular subset is known to be more vocal about a perceived injustice than your average netizen.
Let me go ahead and get this out of the way:
A private individuals right to tell you to shut up, and a companys right to censor your offensive content, are both protected by the first amendment.
If a client of mine terminates a players subscription because they violated a games code of conduct by spamming a chat channel with anti-Semitic rhetoric, they are well within their contractual rights to terminate that subscription. Your participation on a platform like Twitter, YouTube or one of the excellent games offered by my clients, however, is not. That is strictly governed by the Terms of Service or EULA you agree to when you sign up.
If you are an Influencer, your continued support from your backers is contingent on your compliance with whatever non-disparagement language youve agreed to. Almost every platform available to you is offered by a private entity. Surprise! Welcome to Capitalism!
The first amendment isnt prohibitive against society at large; it protects society from government action. This typically shouldnt be a point of confusion, as the text itself is clear and unequivocal:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The context of free speech, in roughly every territory where free speech exists, is uniformly a limitation on government power to suppress that right. Your personal feelings about censorship notwithstanding (or mine, for that matter), your only recourse against censorship on a platform provided by a private company is to not use that platform. There is no legal recourse. In fact, if there were, that really would violate the First Amendment. Clearly no one wants that.
When someone decries censorship and claims free speech, they generally are not talking about the right to say what they want. They are talking about the right to say what they want wherever they want to share it, and that is a distinction that crosses the line between fundamental human right and moral rationalization.
No one is morally obligated to listen to another persons opinion. No one should feel morally obligated to offer a platform for someones message when they consider that message offensive. Freedom of speech does not place one persons rights above another persons right, simply because the other provides the platform. That rationale subverts the fundamental right to freedom of speech generally.
We like to see the Internet as an open platform for the free exchange of ideas. Many of the companies who make the Internet possible, and they are each and every one private corporations, do their best to make that a reality.
But as we begin to recognize the risks associated with that free exchange, companies must take measures to safeguard the privacy and happiness of their consumers. This necessarily means censoring the content shared online. We are comfortable with censorship intended to protect us (e.g., prohibitions against sharing your personally identifiable information, passwords, etc. online), but we are less comfortable with censorship designed to protect others (e.g., codes of conduct).
The bottom line is that when you engage in free speech online, you typically do so as a consumer of the platform you are using. Normally you wont have the opportunity to negotiate the contracts you are bound to (whether it be a ToS or EULA) when you use those services.
Even the most successful influencers, Kjellberg included, are bound by provisions that limit their behavior. Ironically, they are often subject to greater restrictions because of their influence on the brand. The reality is that your right to free speech may directly conflict with the agreement youve entered, and engaging in some kinds of speech will almost certainly cost you a contract.
Mona Ibrahim is a Senior Associate at Interactive Entertainment Law Group. She is an avid gamer and has dedicated her career to counseling the video game industry and indie development community.
Posted: at 6:54 pm
The rights of Milo Yiannopoulos were violated. Angry about his politics and uncomfortable with his trolling, violent protestors kept him from delivering scheduled remarks in a public venue. His right to free speech was categorically infringed.
But that was more than three weeks ago at UC Berkley and it bears zero resemblance to the current controversy surrounding Milo’s CPAC speech. In reality, there’s little threat to his First Amendment rights.
For those unfamiliar with the obnoxious populist provocateur, Milo has made a career of exposing liberal double standards. The operating procedure of the Breitbart writer is pretty simple. He mocks the pieties held by many on the Left, trashing in particular the special treatment afforded to individual groups.
And Milo puts on a good show. Normally his antics are more entertaining than his arguments are incisive. But he’s always aggravating on purpose. That’s gotten him kicked off of Twitter and college campuses, all the while catapulting his career.
But his comments about pedophilia are beyond reprehensible. In a recently surfaced January 2016 video, Milo speaks fondly and even defends “relationships between younger boys and older men.” Later he makes light of the sexual abuse that rocked the Catholic Church, quipping that he’s “grateful for Father Michael” and adds that he “wouldn’t give nearly such good head if it wasn’t for him.”
Is all of this terribly offensive? Absolutely. Is it protected speech under the First Amendment? Yes. Does that mean that CPAC will violate Milo’s rights if they cancel his speech? Not at all.
As a private organization, CPAC can give a venue to whomever they please. Whether they cut or keep Milo in the speaking line-up for this week’s conference in Washington, D.C., is completely up to them. Whether he speaks or is silenced, his rights won’t be violated.
There’s only one way the Berkley episode can be replayed this Friday. If a violent mob rips him from the stage or the government bars him from speaking. Clearly, there’s little chance of that happening.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.
Also from the Washington Examiner
Yiannopoulos’ book deal was worth a reported $250,000 and was expected to be released in June.
02/20/17 5:45 PM
H.R. McMaster replaces Mike Flynn as Trump’s national security adviser.
By Caitlin Yilek, Kelly Cohen
02/20/17 3:03 PM
Posted: February 19, 2017 at 11:02 am
Bill Maher sat down with Milo Yiannopoulos on Friday’s Real Time to talk free speech, religion and the controversy surrounding the self-proclaimed internet troll.
In explaining why, despite the uproar surrounding the Breitbart editor, Yiannopoulos was invited to the show, Maher said, “I think you’re colossally wrong on a number of things if I banned everyone from my show who I thought was colossally wrong, I’d be talking to myself.”
Maher who at one point compared Yiannopoulos to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno character and Yiannopoulos also discussed what they have in common: Their belief in free speech and the fact they’ve both been banned from the University of California. “We have both been disbarred at Berkeley,” Maher said before Yiannopoulos interjected, “Much more dramatically, I’d just like to say. They just disinvited you. I had riots. People got beaten up.”
After making disparaging remarks about Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer and how they’ve become the face of the Democratic party, Yiannopoulos admitted, “I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll.”
Yiannopoulos’ appearance on Real Time was so controversial that guest Jeremy Scahill, who was booked on Friday’s episode, dropped out because Maher offered Yiannopoulos “a large, important platform to openly advocate his racist, anti-immigrant campaign.”
In a statement following Scahill’s cancellation, Maher said, “Liberals will continue to lose elections as long as they follow the example of people like Mr. Scahill whose views veer into fantasy and away from bedrock liberal principles like equality of women, respect for minorities, separation of religion and state, and free speech. If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims and he might be nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.”
On Real Time Friday, Maher and Yiannopoulos briefly touched on Scahill’s absence. “Stop taking the bait, liberals. The fact that they all freaked out about this little impish British fag,” Maher told the audience.
Maher then read some borderline racist, troll-esque jokes from the mouth of Joan Rivers, a comedian who was universally revered despite her predilection for provocative, offensive humor.
However, the conversation or debate never really found its footing, as each question Maher asked resulted in a meandering Yiannopoulos response that forced Maher to reposition and bring up something new, resulting in another unanswered question. Just when Maher stumbled on Yiannopoulos’ most paradoxical position his unabashed love of Donald Trump the 10-minute interview concluded before the audience could get an explanation.
Yiannopoulos also took part in the “Overtime” segment where he butted heads with panelist Larry Wilmore over transgender rights:
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Posted: at 11:02 am
Typical behavior of the neoconservatives is to suppress First Amendment free speech rights, right to assemble, voting rights and a litany of other rights, when it applies to others who do not agree with them.
The El Pueblo History Museum drama is a prime example. Two self-appointed Catchers in the Rye decide they are the arbiters of what constitutes free speech. The Chicano group or any other group that rented the museum has every right to express their political views as they see fit. The objections of state Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, and Brian Mater have no legal standing.
The effigy of a Donald Trump pinata is free speech. Pinatas are made to be broken. So when the Trump pinata was struck and broken, that was offensive to Navarro and Mater. If the pinata effigy would have been of Hillary Clinton, you would not have heard a peep out of them.
The definition of effigy is a sculpture or model of a person, animal or object. The crucifix Jesus nailed to the cross is an effigy. There have been numerous times when a prayer group, a Mass or benediction have been held with a large crucifix or other effigy present at the museum and other publicly owned buildings.
The First Amendment free speech clause, does not differentiate between repudiation or adulation:
The Orwellian big sister and her mini-me are now monitoring the situation; so are the righteous citizens of Pueblo and the American Civil Liberties Union.
No apologies are needed from Museum Director Dawn DiPrince. Wake up. Its free speech.
It’s free speech – Pueblo Chieftain
Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:42 am
The most controversial figure in the Victorian Liberal Party, Marcus Bastiaan, had his audience enthralled as he thundered about the need for change.
Radiating confidence, and with his past as a bellicose Brighton Grammar debater on display, Bastiaan told his Sydney listeners that the Liberals had been overrun by “lobbyists, political staffers or people who have worked in government the entirety of their careers”.
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27-year-old Marcus Bastiaan and his outspoken partner Stephanie Ross have torn like a tornado through the Liberals’ Victorian branch, aligning with figures such as Michael Kroger along the way.
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One of Melbourne’s most notorious mafia figures faces prison and will likely be deported after an old friend he violently tried to extort turned against him.
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CCTV footage shows two black vehicles speeding around a corner near a car park. Courtesy Echo Taskforce detectives.
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Possible getaway car used by one of the two suspects wanted over an armed robbery at an Elsternwick jewellery store in September.
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Virtual reality technology like this will feature in the TAC’s new traffic school, dubbed a Road Safety Education Complex, at Melbourne Museum.
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A giant archangel is set to walk the streets of White Night, sending messages of love, understanding and compassion.
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A woman has been freed from a mangled car after a multi-vehicle smash that left two others injured and shut down three lanes of peak-hour inbound traffic on the Monash Freeway on Wednesday morning.
27-year-old Marcus Bastiaan and his outspoken partner Stephanie Ross have torn like a tornado through the Liberals’ Victorian branch, aligning with figures such as Michael Kroger along the way.
As Tony Abbott watched at the Octoberforum organised by figures from the Liberals’ right wing, Bastiaan said the future of the party founded by Menzies lay in reconnecting with abase “let down by our party’s failure to represent them”.
Bastiaan fashions himself as the Liberals’ new great hope, one of the few in party ranks capable of re-energising disenchanted members by thrusting the party further to the right. Bastiaanalso wants to sweep out state MPs he regards as dead wood. The handsome, wilful 27-year-old has torn like a tornado through the Liberals’ Victorian branch, aligning with figures such as Michael Kroger along the way.
As one senior supporter says: “The Liberal party at a state level is a gentlemen’s club, Marcus is a brutal operator. Labor are cutthroat, so are the Greens. We need to get tougher; we have to sharpen our spears.”
Not everyone is happy. Far from it.
Some senior Victorian Liberals say Bastiaan’s campaign to push the party to the right is a Trojan horse. His ultimate mission, critics say, is building an empire while undermining Matthew Guy and Malcolm Turnbull.
More damaging are claims of unethical tactics. His enemies in the party and there are many point to allegedly rampant branch-stacking aimed solely at delivering long-term power and control to the Bastiaan group.
Fairfax Media can reveal that senior party figures are overseeing a confidential vetting committee into Bastiaan’salleged branch-stacking aimed at removing non-genuine members and curtailing his influence. There are also claims that Bastiaan is an ideological wind-sock, prepared to point whatever way the political windsblow.
On Saturday, his partner, ultra-conservative political aspirant Stephanie Ross, 25 -who believes that women who have been raped should be denied abortions-will challenge the oldest man in state parliament, 65-year-old Gary Blackwood, for the safe Warragul-based seat of Narracan. Blackwoodwon Narracan from Labor in 2006 and turned it into a safe seat.
If Ross gets up, it will be the second Bastiaan group figure to win, with James Newbury being pre-selected earlier this year in the seat of Brighton, held by outgoing MP Louise Asher.
Like her partner, Ross believes that too many state MPs are unskilled and out of date. Bastiaan’s allies point to the fact that Labor has been in state government for all but four years since 1999, and the Baillieu-Napthine government lasted just one term.
Bastiaan’s use of social conservatives to build hisbase have many scared about the damage to the Liberal brand in progressively minded Victoria, with concerns the Bastiaan group’s insurgencyis imperillingGuy’s hopes of becoming the next premier.
“Theirplan is for Guy to lose the next election and then take over. Guy is furious,” says one senior Liberal.
The divisions are coming at a testing time for the party in Victoria.
In an unrelated development, a internal financial dispute has seen business community supremo and fundraising vehicle chairman Hugh Morgan withholding $500,000 from the state branch.
In an extraordinary letter to president Michael Kroger, Mr Morgan says the board of Cormack foundation has identified “fundamental gaps” in the branch’s governance.
The governance dispute and the divisions sparked by Bastiaan are spot fires that insiders say risk destabilising the party at a time when the focus should be on exploiting Premier Daniel Andrews’ bumpy start to the year.
“We should be focusing on Labor rather than obsessingabout our own internal problems,” says an MP.
Twenty-five-year-old Ross hails from a conservative Catholic Church in West Gippsland and has made a name for herself campaigning against abortion.
As the preselection date has drawn closer, so has pressure on her to withdraw from those in the party because of the damage she is causing.
Critics highlight her lack of political, business or life experience. Like Bastiaan,she claims to be focused on returning the party to its members and challenging a parliamentary team that has abandoned its values and lost touch.
To her supporter base, which includes a group from the St Thomas Aquinas community, she has ralliedagainst the Safe Schools program “that is teaching radical gender theory and warped graphic sex education centred around promiscuity”.
She has warned Gippsland locals that Australia was “seeing the destruction of religious freedom, free speech, a push towards gay marriage (which won’t stop there!) and euthanasia”.
“There is a state/nation-wide push to bring conservative politics back into fashion! People like Corey [sic] Bernardi in SA, Andrew Hastie in WA, George Christensen in Qldand Kevin Andrews in Vicare all fighting and need our backing.”
Last year, Ross hosted a gala fundraiser for conservative MP Kevin Andrews where the main attraction was former PM Tony Abbott. The Bulleen dinner featured a latin grace and a rendition of God Save the Queen.
She, like her partner Bastiaan, attack Guy’s parliamentary team. Most recently, she lashed out at the Coalition’s decision to support the Andrews’ government ban on fracking and conventional gas exploration.
The Bastiaan camp is privately talking down Ross’s chances, perhaps mindful that many senior Liberals are running a furious behind-the-scenes campaign to deny her the prize, fearing Bastiaan would use it as proof positive of his theory that the party’s future lies in arresting the decline in membership by proselytising views that resonate with a disaffected base.
But the challenge has sparked fears in the party establishment, with Guy throwing his weight behind Blackwood, pledging a new Warragul hospital (an announcement that would normally be reserved for the election campaign). MPs are lobbying preselectors and the Hawthorn-based shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto will serve as Blackwood’s scrutineer.
Bastiaan’s ascension from just another wannabe glad-handingoldies at branch meetings to a figure of intense discussion and intrigue across the party has included a familiar rite of passage for many Victorian political aspirants an alliance with veteran Liberal king-maker Michael Kroger.
A federal cabinet member told Fairfax Media that Kroger, who is still regarded as a “political animal of real substance” even by his enemies, believed Bastiaan (currently on the state’s powerful administrative committee) would help entrench the veteran’s power, not least due to Bastiaan’s membership recruiting prowess.
If this is so, Kroger was only half right.
Bastiaan has excelled at recruiting members which equate to votes during key party battles, including those that decide pre-selection but appears not to be wedded to Kroger. Bastiaan is forging his own path, with a focus on seizing greater control at state council.
“It’s like Frankenstein’s monster. Kroger has lost control,” says an observer.
A three-time university dropout, Bastiaan got into business with the aid of his father, dabbling in an antiques dealership while at university, before moving into a software design business.
He nowspends his time leaping betweenan e-commerce start-upandpolitics.
His party operation is under close scrutiny. In the seats held by former treasurer Kim Wells and shadow frontbenchers Nick Wakeling and Heidi Victoria, a vetting committee has been formed to scrutinise the surge in memberships in Melbourne’s east that began in the middle of last year but have recently tapered off.
A well-placed source says the committee has identified a small number of members who say they did not pay their party fees or sign the necessary forms. There are many more cases of new members who have no interest in the party beyond casting votes when needed. The vetting committee’s work has led to several prospective members being blocked.
The powerful party administrative committee, of which Bastiaan is a member, is aware of branch-stacking claims but has not conducted a formal audit.
With just 12,500 members, many of them “ageing”, Kroger has on several occasions publicly praised Bastiaan’s work to recruit fresh blood, despite the allegations of branch stacking.
Another supporter, state partyofficer Paul Mitchell, says attacks on Bastiaan are factionally driven.
“Marcus has not just talked about the membership crisis in the Liberal Party, he has gone out and done something about it and the overwhelming majority of party members respect and admire that,” he said.
Bastiaan appears to have built his base by making use of membership discounts provided to students and couples. Ultra-conservative churches have also provided a fertile recruiting ground.
“I’ve had people from different churches approach me and say I’ve had Marcus ask me to join up. I’ve got nothing against people who go to church,but this is a blatant stack,” says a Liberal MP.
A legitimate recruiter aligned with Bastiaan is medical doctor Ivan Stratov, who once ran for the Family First Party.
A prominent member of the Mormon church, Stratov won’t say how many new members he has recruited (there is no suggestion Stratov is doing any branch stacking) or how closely he is working with Bastiaan.
But Stratov says some of Victorian’s Mormons “are getting politically aware” and he’s encouraging them to sign up. This is being made easier, he says, because of anger over the safe schools program, the push to legalise assisted euthanasia and other progressive policies. For instance, Dr Stratov says there is plenty of support for his views on abortions.
“I wouldn’t agree with the vast majority of abortions in this country. I think there arefar too many,” he says.
Supporters say concern about the growing influence of ultra-conservative church groups in the party is vastly overstated and servesas a means for underperforming MPs threatened by Bastiaan to create a sense of outrage and unease.
Others see the Bastiaan group’s efforts as a genuine “insurgency” that is using conservatives as a rallying point.
Federal Assistant Treasurer and Deakin MP Michael Sukkaris another supporter of Bastiaan.
“The most important take out from the Deakin campaign was the importance of grassroots members and supporters. Modern campaigning is labour intensive andwith ageing and shrinking membership many in the party are grateful of Marcus’ efforts to grow the party,” Mr Sukkar said.
“I don’t seriously believe anybody can seriously argue that Christians can no longer be welcome in the Liberal party.”
The Bastiaan group’s emergence, championing of right-wing views and divisive nature reflects the battle playing out in federal party ranks, with Abbott and other conservative warriors keeping Turnbull on something of a leash.
Next month, Abbott is the headline guest at a Liberal Party fundraiser organised by Bastiaan.Few doubt Abbott’s commitment to long-held conservative values.
But several Liberal MPs say Bastiaan’s efforts to portray himself as a conservative warrior is more about political opportunism than any deeply held ideal.
Some Liberals also say thatBastiaanhas privately backed same-sex marriage, a view he wasn’t prepared to challenge when quizzed by Fairfax Media.
Blackwood, the group’s preselection target, is himself a socially conservative MP and other arch-conservatives including the outspoken Bernie Finn are also in the Bastiaan camps sights.
The risk for Matthew Guy and the party inthe long term is that while conservative views may energise some of the Liberal base and a new generation of members, they won’t win an election in Victoria.
The Narracan preselection battle will be a test of Bastiaan’s success in organising numbers.
Regardless of whether Stephanie Ross wins or loses, Bastiaan is expected to be appointed vice-president of the state branch in April, a key step to realising his ambition of becoming president.
The most considered political observers say Bastiaan is not the problem.
He’s simply using unreconstructed right-wing rhetoric to try to fill a void created by mainstream parties struggling to connect with cynical voters. It’s this disconnect that is at the heart of the Bastiaan phenomenon and, to a far greater extent, political movements overseas.Whatever Bastiaan’s fortunes, the broader politicalproblem is not going away.
“This is about the failure of mainstream parties to connect. It’s not just us but Labor as well,” says a senior party stalwart.
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