There’s nothing like seeing an event that you personally witnessed, written up in the mainstream media to realise how inaccurate and biased news reporting can be. We know on an intellectual level that we’re likely not getting the whole story when reading something from the mainstream news, but when you see it happen with something you have had a personal experience with, the bias and inaccuracy is stark.
Over the weekend I attended the Australian Libertarian Society Friedman Conference and since returning home, have so far read two articles that seem to have been written with the intent of casting the conference and libertarianism in general in the worst possible light.
In the Sydney Morning Herald an article that focused on Senator Cory Bernardi’s talk, told us that the audience was ‘overwhelming young and male’ with a ‘handful’ of MAGA hats on display. I can attest that the claim of ‘overwhelming’ young maleness is factually incorrect, and why are a mere handful of MAGA hats mentioned if not to give the impression that there was some kind of Trump down under phenomenon occurring under the banner of Australian Libertarian Society?
In The Age, the original headline read “‘Make Libertarianism Sexy’: Far right ‘outsiders’ see they have an image problem”. Don’t you just love the not so subtle inference that libertarianism is a far-right movement? The conference was later described as ‘a three-day freedom fest, extolling the virtues of guns, drug legalisation and eliminating taxes’, ignoring the depth of the program which included panels on home-schooling, policy ideas, identity politics, harm reduction, compassion, innovation, health regulations, free speech, courage in politics, economic reform and tax and trade.
They also ignored the diversity of the speakers who were by no means all white or male and included those who are self-described ‘left-libertarians’ or supportive of positions that are politically left in areas such as immigration.
This misrepresentation is either a deliberate attempt to discredit a movement that is gaining traction, or it’s a case of simple ignorance about libertarian philosophy. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. There is no evidence in either of these articles that the authors spoke with the organisers or attendees to try and understand what the libertarian philosophy is, or what motivates the hundreds of diverse people in attendance.
The authors of these articles see a libertarian conference with Cory Bernardi, Mark Latham and Ross Cameron as speakers, and immediately assume that the libertarian movement is some sort of sinister right-wing uprising. There may well be libertarians with right-leaning views on many issues, but libertarianism as an ideology isn’t focused on the left/right political paradigm. In a very small nutshell, it’s about freedom versus authoritarianism built on the morally consistent philosophy of property rights. No matter if you lean left or right on any issue, what is key is that libertarians will not try force other people to do things by using the power of the state.
Libertarians are famous for arguing with each other about the finer details of libertarian philosophy and although it makes us our own worst enemies at times, it is also our strength, and partly explains why libertarians are happy to hear speakers that we may only agree with on one or two issues. The movement is alive with passionate people, sometimes passionately disagreeing, but also united by the desire to break free of oppressive government regulation, taxation and meddling in our personal lives.
The other reason that libertarians embrace speakers like Cory Bernardi, Mark Latham and Ross Cameron, of course, is that we are for the principle of free speech. We don’t turn away speakers who have something of value to contribute to the quest for more liberty, but with whom we may disagree on some other issues. We don’t play the identity politics game they like to play at The Age where it is noted, as if it has some significance, that all the members of one panel were men. Why is this fact worth mentioning if not to somehow paint libertarianism as the purview of the privileged white man? At the conference we heard from many female speakers and (gasp) not all of them were white.
To these writers at The Age and the SMH, the idea that you can support same-sex marriage and drug legalisation while listening to Cory Bernardi talk because you might be interested in what he has to say about the growth of government, taxation and regulation, is beyond comprehension. His mere presence, plus four or five MAGA hats is justification to describe a diverse liberty conference as ‘Trump-tinged’.
It’s understandable that the mainstream media is perplexed by the growing libertarian movement in Australia, especially when they try and understand us through the lens of the old left versus right political spectrum.
It might seem threatening when speakers like Bernardi, Latham and Cameron are invited to speak at a big event that attracts people young and old from diverse backgrounds, and perhaps they feel the need to rush to portray libertarianism as a sinister far-right movement dominated by white men in the hope that the general public will get scared off. But they need to stop with the knee-jerk reaction and look deeper.
As the saying goes, libertarians want to take over the world and leave you alone. That’s not so scary is it?
Nicola Wright is a senior writer at LibertyWorks