On the fringe
October 3, 2004
Reporter :Jana Wendt
Producer : Kirstine Lumb
Anarchism is a centuries-old radical philosophy which stands for a world without rulers. In the Australia of 2004, it translates to anarchist Joe Toscano standing for election to the Senate while advocating the abolition of our system of representative government. While this may sound like a contradiction, Toscano is standing in order to urge electors to vote informally. He and fellow anarchist Steve Reghenzani believe that a substantial informal vote would bring into question the legitimacy of the government.
Reghenzani tells Sunday, "I believe that if enough people voted informal, say 10 per cent of the population, the Electoral Commission would call for an inquiry and wonder why so many votes were being wasted and that would give Joe and I an opportunity to get up and say, well maybe people are sick of being lied to and patronised and treated like fools.”
Toscano says representative democracy places too much faith in the politicians we elect every three years. “People believe that the politician they’re going to elect at the next federal election in a week or two will do the right thing by them. That’s faith. I don’t believe in faith. As an anarchist, you take personal responsibility for what you do.”
Both Toscano and Reghenzani believe that people’s freedom has been so curtailed by government that sooner or later they will demand to govern themselves. They advocate a democracy model which would see community groups directly deciding on the issues that affect their lives. Wealth in this anarchist society would be held in common, with production limited to servicing the needs of the community.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Sunday looks at the extreme right wing, the Citizens Electoral Council. Based in Melbourne, the party is fielding 106 candidates around the country. Its guiding principles can be found in the conspiracy-based philosophy of American Lyndon Larouche. A key LaRouche target is the British monarchy. It is seen to be responsible for much of the world’s ills, a view echoed by CEC's National Secretary Craig Isherwood and his wife Noelene, who is the party's National Chairman. Noelene Isherwood tells Sunday that the Queen “is the figurehead for a network of oligarchical powers that influence very much the shape of the drug trade and other less savoury industries that are carried out around the world.”
In line with the statements of their guru Lyndon LaRouche, the Isherwoods also charge that the September 11 attacks on the United States took place with the collusion of senior US officials. According to Craig Isherwood, “…this could not have been done by an al-Qaeda operation without collaboration of some sort with the highest levels of military intelligence and so forth within the United States”.
Lyndon LaRouche’s US organisation is often accused of anti-semitism. Whether or not that description should attach to the CEC is an open question. However, the party certainly adopts an anti-Israel position and has chosen to particularly target the Victorian seat of Melbourne Ports, which has a large Jewish population and is represented by the only Jewish MP in the federal parliament.
Despite the fact that the CEC has registered a meagre vote in previous elections, it is one of the biggest political fundraisers in the country. Last year, according to the Australian Electoral Commission, the CEC raised $1.4 million. Much of its fundraising is achieved by soliciting funds via phone calls in which its members deliver the party’s conspiratorial take on world events.
One of the most disturbing claims made about the CEC is that it operates as a cult, brainwashing its members and compelling them to make large donations. Federal Labor MP Michael Danby tells Sunday, “They’re mainly a money-raising organisation to keep the people in the cult in Australia; to run candidates in elections is not particularly important, but they fly people backwards and forwards with the one and a half million that they raise to America so that they can be brainwashed to stay inside this American cult.”
Amber Griffith, whose mother, Marlene Harbottle was a CEC member for 10 years, claims the party did operate as a cult. She tells Sunday, “They socialise together, they eat, they live together, they work together, they’re encouraged to marry within and they’re basically not allowed a lot of contact with the outside world as such. It’s us and it’s them.”
Craig Isherwood, the CEC's National Secretary, denies they are a cult. “A cult means group thinking, essentially. We’re completely the opposite. We say ‘figure it out for yourself, work it out, think it through, come up with individual discoveries about the ideas we represent’.”
Curiously, the LaRouche philosophy also expounds the merits of a classical education. Consequently, the CEC recruits at party headquarters in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg begin the day with a burst of classical song. Bach and Beethoven, they say, help them to better deliver their political message.