Main Image

16 November 2021

Thank you for having me here tonight on the land the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations.
Hello, I’m Bill Shorten. 
And I hope to be the Minister for NDIS and Government Services in the future Albanese Labor Government.
Depending on who’s speaking or what chat room or site on the internet you have stumbled into, you may know me as Shifty Shorten, Unbelieva-Bill, a faceless man or a man with too much forehead, the grim reaper, a member of the illuminati, one of the lizard people, the killer of weekends or worse …
Now I want to play a little game of guess the year.
Petrol prices are rising.
An unbelievably incompetent Liberal Government is in power.
A New Zealand bred horse won the Melbourne Cup.
ABBA has a new album out. 
And people who should know better are obsessed with reading codes and conspiracies into completely explainable events. 
No, it’s not the end of 1971 or the beginning of 1972. 
It is, of course, now — the end of 2021, the beginning of 2022.
And too often the internet is not the bringer of light and rationality and progress that we thought it be. It is the opposite
I’ve been invited here tonight to launch Van’s most impressive new book about QAnon conspiracies and the murky interiors of the internet. 
A word about our author. Van is a warrior. 
She hates fascists and wants to fight Tories.  She is humble and modest and does not realise how much she is loved and respected. 
And she can write. Wow, can she write! What a book. 
Like Alice in Wonderland, we have all fallen down the rabbit hole of the digital world that is the internet at some time or another.
For some though, they keep burrowing— many without the ability to stop — and people find themselves in the most dangerous of places, surrounded by the most evil and sickest of people.
I am not a doomscroller by any means. I am lucky enough to have enough self-preservation not to follow every trail on the internet to every dark place. 
However, that does not in any way mean to say I am unaware or immune to its siren song, its pitfalls and its realities.  
I have seen the most heinous things written about myself, my family, friends and acquaintances and it has taught me there is a lot of sadness and madness in our world. 
I am also in no way suggesting that I am a victim of some vast conspiracy and there must be room for robust political debate online. 
However, post truth political theories and QAnon-style conspiracies do share a lack of reality.
The room tonight is full of true believers. We all know the universe does not grant reruns, something I have learnt the hard way.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to search for answers so we can do things better the next time, no matter the situation or the outcome. 
In the washup of the 2019 election, one of the most staggering truths that emerged was the astronomical — in Aussie terms anyway — amount of money Clive Palmer spent to slander all and sundry. 
$83 million— including $8 million in the last week of the election campaign alone.
He bought full page ads in legacy media on pages that have never been sold before.
He used his time and money to plot and plan for power. 
He’s not Robinson Crusoe there, but on the unique scale and speed he’s a unique beast in Australia. 
He may have not won a single seat but by Clive did win his own little war on democracy.
He has reared his big ugly yellow billboards again, already having spent $2.6 million for online ads in recent months.
His protégé Craig Kelly has also been out and about, talking nonsense in Melbourne this weekend and online almost hourly.
This was a recent Kelly tweet.
“Safe & effective” they say
“Benefits outweigh the risks” they say
“You’ll be protected from serious illness & death” they say

BUT what do YOU say when you hear the actual medical evidence at an Inquest into someone’s unexpected death?
My Body, My Choice”
That’s where we are at, my friends. Craig Kelly feeling body shamed.
We used to say we don’t have American style politics in Australia.
That Trump was a phenomenon you would only see in the US.
The billionaires of the Koch brother variety could never swarm elections here with tens and tens of millions of dollars
We naively thought we were different.
We also never thought American conspiracy theories would infect the Australian political bloodstream.
We were wrong then and we would be wrong to ignore what Van is saying now.
Just last night down the road from here on Spring St in Melbourne, footage of protestors who have camped out to demonstrate against Victoria’s pandemic laws showed a car pulling a wooden gallows for full effect. 
This was an act of demonstration as disgusting as it was disturbing.
Whether it’s far-right extremists, QAnon theorists, anti-vaxxers or mask refuseniks, the plethora of weird coalitions and even stranger bedfellows is a signal we should be very concerned about our increasingly untethered connection to reality.
It’s extraordinary.
A recent Redbridge poll in Western Sydney showed that almost 20 per cent of votes would go to the United Australia Party if an election was held now. 
The study identified a serious move away from the federal government across the three federal electorates it polled.
A scary thought and hopefully one that does not become a broad trend. 
The two-party system, that has made Australia among the best democracies in the world, seems to be under pressure.
What worries me about the minor parties in UAP and One Nation, is not that they exist — it’s a free country after all. It is that they target thepeople who feel what I would describe as “status anxiety”.

Perhaps they’re older men who don’t like the sense they’re being bossed around. They could for example be second or third generation offspring’s of migrants who are earning $80,000 or more, but feel a loss of sense of identity of place in the world.
They like to get their news from alternative sources, the internet. They assert “I will believe in what I choose to believe in, I won’t believe in the so-called mainstream experts.”
I think our movement needs to not reinforce the myth that Palmer and the UAP appeal to the truly dispossessed/poor/downtrodden. It is not the people who are doing it truly the hardest who are attracted to the right-wing third parties, rather a group, mainly men, who feel that their status has been eroded over time.

People who Van has carefully detailed in her book — who are looking for meaning in all the wrong places. 
When several fans were killed at US rapper Travis Scott’s concert recently due to poor event management, the internet was abuzz with people reading hidden signs that it was a deliberate satanic sacrifice.
Also, last week in Dallas, Texas, hundreds of QAnon supporters gathered to see the return of JFK Junior, who died 22 years ago. 
JFK Junior was to return to announce Donald Trump was to be reinstated as President.
Van has beautifully offered some understanding and empathetic guidance …

Don’t give up on the people you care about who have gone down the rabbit hole …
They will need you when they pop their heads out the other side. 
The great English journalist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem Recessional, which included our beloved war remembrance ‘Lest we forget’, in 1897.
The phrase became common in Australia after the Great War and has remained an adage to this day.
Lest we forget was conceived as a promise to remember. 
And an instruction, a command to future generations. 
Do not forget the generation who gave their lives so we might live ours in peace. 
And do not forget what they fought against. 
Do not forget the dangers of fascism and tyranny.
Do not forget the poisonous politics of inciting the majority against a minority. 
Of targeting people for persecution on the basis of where they were born, what god they worship or who they love. 
Do not forget the ruin and death and devastation that lies at the end of that road. 
The confronting question before us now is - have these post-truth protesters forgotten? 
Do they not know the death and hate and pain and misery those swastikas and salutes represent? 
Or do they not care? Are they sufficiently disengaged from reality to think these words and symbols are just a neat little shorthand for their grab-bag of grievances?
Either way, this is a serious threat to our social cohesion and one that needs to be taken seriously. 
It needs to be examined (as this book does) and it needs to be called out and confronted. All of us have a role to play in that. 

Van has shone a light in a very dark place, which we hoped in our moral superiority and our sense they we’re an island we would never have to shine a light to.

She is a clever, kind, she’s fearless beyond belief.
She genuinely wants to find out what makes people tick, even people whose truth is not her own. 

After two terrible years where we are been forced to practically live online to connect, there is no more important moment to look where we have lived for the last year and a half.
Van warns us to start taking the theatre of disinformation seriously… She’s right. 
Van warns us that given the growing activism of foreign governments in the disinformation space, this is a matter of national security…. She’s warns us.
Van warns us it is a dangerous mistake to believe that the forces that created QAnon are a problem with a definitive solution or that they’re merely passing transitory phenomenona … Van’s right.

And on this final note, I want to end with a short passage from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which I think fits the tenure of our times:
“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."

"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Thanks for having me and congratulations, Van.