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Victorian Liberals are dogwhistling to conspiracy theorists to win votes. It’s not working

Victorian Liberals are dogwhistling to conspiracy theorists to win votes. It’s not working thumbnail

After a video emerged of “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery boasting about how Victorian Labor won’t reform its upper house group voting system, Liberal member for Caulfield David Southwick responded to the news by posting to social media about referring the matter to the state’s corruption commission. 

“#BREAKING: Daniel Andrews and Labor have been referred to the corruption commission over vote rigging,” he wrote.

Southwick’s “vote-rigging” claim is a lie. Even if Druery’s claims are proven, Labor’s ongoing support for the much maligned group voting tickets is based on taking advantage of the system as it’s designed and not illegally interfering with an election. The post itself is inscrutable — it doesn’t even mention the video’s claims or Druery — unless the reader is immersed in online, right-wing and/or conspiracy spaces where claims of unfounded or untrue claims of corruption and election rigging are commonplace.

It’s Victoria’s own version of Trump’s “Big Lie”, laying the groundwork for a “stolen election” claim. And now the Liberal Party candidate taking on Dan Andrews in the seat of Mulgrave, Michael Piastrino, is reportedly calling for the election to be postponed on these grounds.

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The Victorian Liberals have frequently indulged in everything from nods to full-blown embraces of conspiracy theories and extreme rhetoric, as previously covered by my colleague Bernard Keane. The opposition’s treasury spokesperson Louise Stanley was responsible for catapulting into the mainstream the sordid rumours around Premier Dan Andrews’ fall.

They kept Bernie Finn in the party while he compared Andrews to Hitler and claimed that Donald Trump was “improperly” removed from office (although they did expel him over anti-abortion comments). Many of their members attended events run by anti-vaccine groups like Reignite Democracy Australia.

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Their election campaign in particular has tried to court the minority of voters who are anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown. The party’s platform explicitly rules out lockdowns, vaccine mandates in the future (twice!) and enshrines the right to protest during a pandemic. Liberal Leader Matthew Guy had to defend an election ad that said “Andrews forced us to get the jab or lose our job”.

Unfortunately for them, the audience most attuned to this message — online groups for conspiracy, anti-vaccine and freedom movements — are not buying it. 

Some posted about their suspicions about Guy’s sudden attempts to appeal to them. Anti-vaccine group Reignite Democracy Australia wrote an open letter to the Victorian leader: “You care about freedom now? Where were you when we needed you?”

Others took issues with the Liberals’ other policies, like former MP Craig Kelly’s broadside against the party for its electric vehicle policy: “How long until the Liberals promise a free pair of Birkenstocks for each voter?” he posted online. 

Members of groups also lumped Guy in with Dan Andrews, alleged he was corrupt (with reference to the lobster scandal) and spread anti-Semitic rumours about him due to his support of Israel.

Instead, the leaders of these movements and members of their groups have continued to endorse candidates who more explicitly support their beliefs, like the Freedom Party (with one prominent far-right account advocating to vote for them because of their candidate who called for Dan Andrews to be hanged), One Nation, UAP and the Liberal Democrats. 

In one conspiracy Telegram channel with thousands of members, a user asked the group who they were voting for. The Victorian Liberals weren’t even listed as an option.

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