by Leon Gillingham, Alligator exclusive
What must be borne in mind again and again and again when considering the Morrison government is that they are tough, efficient and utterly utterly political. The chaos and circus of the Abbott government lulled us all into a false sense of- well, not security. But the fact that Abbott threatened much by way of transforming Australia, and delivered little made it seem as if the Australian right was incapable of following through on its threat to remake the country.
With the Morrison government’s recent move against ‘foreign agents’ shows that can no longer be sustained. This is a law that purports to crack down on arrangements by state governments, local councils (potentially) and other state organisations that might make arrangements with foreign governments. They’re not talking about Liechtenstein of course. It’s China, it’s Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative, and its the universities.
Above all the universities. That may seem surprising given everything else. But this government is nothing if not cultural-political. They’re right-wing Gramscians, who believe that culture is upstream from politics. Control the culture, and you set the politics further down the line. The right took a long time to adjust to this, but they’ve taken to it above all other strategies.
What do they want out of the new ban on foreign agents? To destroy Chinese government backing of the Confucius Institutes, and anything else which gives universities a line to separate funding. Indeed the aim is the lucrative Asian-oriented international student industry, which supports the Victorian Labor government.
What would that do? With the parallel introduction of Dan Tehan’s choking rise in tuition fees (now gone to an inquiry), there is going to be a gap in funding for scholarships, that would get people to Uni. Cue the Ramsay Centre, whose deep pockets – indeed it potentially has hundreds of millions of the Ramsay Foundation to draw on – can fund Ramsay Centres around the country, and then expand them. With humanities students having to pay the highest fees for an arts degree, the Ramsay, with its right-tilted ‘Western civilisation’ degree will look increasingly attractive.
The aim? The Right want to break what they see as the core of progressivism, the arts faculties. They have bigger aims than minor political victory. They want to wind things back to a pre-Whitlam time, and reroute it back the way it ‘should’ have gone. It’s more than a little crazy, but there it is. If you doubt it, think again. This is not the old ramshackle right. It’s not even the smoother Howard-Costello centre-right. It’s politics as war and kulturkampf, it’s everywhere, and it is going to be on all fronts for quite a while.