marcus westbury

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Eric Abetz? WTF?

August 26th, 2009 by marcus

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There is something truly weird about getting even peripherally involved in electoral politics. It seemingly makes you fair game for just about any kick or bullshit that a politician might want to throw at you. I somehow ended up on the receiving end of a bizarre if not slightly deranged personal attack from Liberal Senator Eric Abetz last year, and i find myself trying to work out exactly what he was on about.

It’s not at the top of my CV, but i did some work in 2007 for Getup. I managed a project for them called howshouldivote.com.au, which was designed as an online questionnaire that matched voters to candidates and was intended to create personal how to vote card based on the degree of commonality between your answers and the candidates in your seat.

It was a good idea. Most people who only engage with politics peripherally or occasionally do not necessarily understand the full range of political options that are available to them. They may have some understanding of the major parties — often based on personality rather than policies — and they may not have any idea about the minor parties, or how preferential voting works, or of many other factors. Anything that improves the understanding of the political process and options is generally IMHO a pretty good thing.

It was also problematic. In hindsight it was problematic for a number of reasons. For it to truly work effectively it needed the buy in of all the political parties and that was obviously difficult to achieve when the proponents of it (in this case GetUp) are associated with politically campaigning around other issues. I’d like to think that the approach and the experience could be applied in future elections but that it would ideally need some kind of non-partisan entity to maximise it’s legitimacy and effectiveness. In 25 words or less, the Liberals didn’t participate and then complained that they weren’t represented.

In hindsight it was probably stupid of me to think that they would have done anything but. It’s actually a genuinely complex area for discussion and an interesting learning experience. Personally, I’m always up for speaking frankly about the limitations and problems encountered in pretty much everything I’ve ever been involved with. It was certainly never a bodgy exercise although in the end the fact that most liberal and national candidates boycotted it meant that it was flawed in execution and didn’t achieve what i would have hoped.

Nonetheless it came as a great surprise earlier this year to discover that Senator Eric Abetz had embarked on a very personal and rather disingenuous rant that singled me out personally the his speech to the young Liberals conference.

The full text of his speech is here.

I’ve left for a long while but I thought it actually might be worth my while to post a correction to some key points. I assume that someone in future will google it and the rather bizarre claims with go undisputed if they’re not corrected or contested.

So here  is what Senator Abetz said of me with a little additional commentary:

Marcus Westbury – “anarchist idealist anti-authoritarian cynical youth”  [umm, that would have been tongue in cheek and ten years out of date, but sure…]– and creator of the bodgy vote generator [OK, your opinion appears to be established there]

But was it independent in the sense that it all was at arms length from the ALP, or really conceived as the objective exercise it claimed to be?

It is pertinent to look at Marcus Westbury – the person responsible for howshouldivote.com.au.

Mr Westbury is actually an anarchist artist, [huh? WTF?] but I will come to that.

Circa 1993, at the age of 19, Westbury was on the NSW Democrats state executive. [this is true. Not sure where he found that fact. But yes my dodgy ALP connections are clearly demonstrated by having briefly been involved with the democrats]

At University in 1995 Marcus Westbury was a leading light of the so-called Non Aligned Left (NAL) – as was now former Senator, Kerry Nettle. [If anyone remembers me as a “leading light” in anything at the time i’d be surprised but i did go to NUS student conferences. The NAL was most notable for being the main NON ALP faction lefty faction at the time so not sure what the point of that is…]

Westbury actually contacted the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement to publicise the NAL’s success at that year’s NUS elections.  And Workers’ Solidarity Movement, No.47, Spring 1996, dutifully reported ‘Anarchist Students Win in Australian NUS Election’ [Weird. I can confidently say i that i never contacted the “Irish Workers Solidarity Movement” about anything! They may have quoted an email i wrote or an article i contributed to. I was out of uni by 1996 …]

…By 1998 Marcus had begun a career in spam. He created and circulated a list of politicians’ email addresses, which was later used to circulate the following email:

“Write to any of these politicians via email! Keep returning the email. Flood their mailbox, let ’em know without a shadow of a doubt that the Australian community won’t stand for more uranium mining nor the wider nuclear fule (sic) cycle.”

[Actually,  I created the first list of Australian politicians email addresses back in the days before they were published on the parliament house web site and circulated it. Whether you see this as an exercise is spam or encouraging democratic participation would be largely dependent on whether you think politicians should be contacted or not. I didn’t write the particular paragraph above which came from one of the many groups/ individuals who used the list and it would be a bit of a stretch to attribute it to me]

By 2001 Marcus had graduated to teaching cyber activism.

He was a panellist in a session entitled “Sabotaging the New World Order (hacktivism and other social technologies)” which was part of a symposium at the College of Fine Arts in Paddington, in Sydney.

[Yes, i participated in a discussion panel about political hacktivism. From memory several conservative politicians also spoke on panels at the same event.]

Another session in the same festival was titled “Tactical media – How to make trouble and influence people.”

[Ok, catchy title. Shame i wasn’t on that one]

Interestingly, future and now former Senator Nettle featured was also a panellist at the same conference.

[I think David Oldfeild from One Nation was as well from memory.]

The following year – 2002 – on a Yahoo! Groups website, Westbury said this:

“…i would love to be involved in a process of reinvigourating (sic) the ALP. I preface what follows by saying this: I am not very interested in helping to devise a strategy by which the ALP can win the next Federal Election, but rather i am interested in the long term positioning and role of the Labor Party in Australian politics.

[Yes, i joined an online forum sponsored by Online Opinion and began by explaining that i WASN’T interested in helping the ALP get elected]

Now I think I’m starting to get a picture about this bloke and somehow “independent” just doesn’t seem to come into it.

[Ok, you lost me there… exactly who am i attached to?]

So fast-forward to 2007 and Marcus Westbury, now a slightly known artist, decides that his contribution to the 2007 Australian Federal Election will be to develop and project-manage howshouldivote.com.au.

[Umm, have i EVER claimed to be an artist, anywhere, ever? Case of beer to the first person who can find me claiming to be an artist!]

Now I’m sure I told you that Mr Westbury considers himself to be an artist.

[Huh? See above. There’s a case at stake!]

Yes, an artist, but not a particularly smart artist (although I’m sure I’m close) because in July 2007 he “found” Kevin Rudd’s page on Facebook, signed up as one of Kev’s friends and duly publicised this all on Crikey.

[I wrote what i thought was a mildly amusing piece about whether Kev’s team knew whether they were on Facebook or not that you can still read here.]

I know friendship is cheap on Facebook, but you know what?  I recently checked and Marcus is still a friend of Kevin’s.

[Cheap alright, he forgot to mention Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop and Lindsay Tanner and Natasha Stott Despoja and Bob Brown and probably about a dozen other pollies that i’m facebook friends with]

I can’t imagine why.

[Damn. Why stop now, when your imagination is firing on all cylinders?]

Now we all should realise that Mr Westbury’s bodgy vote generator is totally excusable.   It is not a con.  Why?    Because Mr Westbury is an artist.  Not a con artist.  An anarchist artist – an “anarchartist” if you like.

[Aha.. ok… Read that as “antichrist” the first time which had me feeling pretty nervous indeed]

This means that anything, whether it’s writing The Hand that signed the Paper, or making trouble and influencing people, it’s all excusable. Why?  Because it’s art.

[Umm, you’re losing me here…]

Oh, and also because he’s young.

[At 35..?]

Seriously though, I think it is important to see howshouldivote.com.au for what I suspect it is to Mr Westbury – a delicious study in subversive art.

[Never thought of it that way. It may have made the whole tedious experience and the bizarre backlash  far more enjoyable if i had. Or perhaps if i’d done it as interpretive dance?]

Interviewed on radio about it he positively revelled in justifying the patently unjustifiable.  Indeed, I suspect this is all part of his art.

[sadly lacking a link here so i have no idea what he’s talking about]

Oh, did I mention?  Despite not applying to go, Marcus Westbury received a “wildcard” invitation to the Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit.Right out of the blue it was.  Must be because he is so “independent”.

And I’ll give you one guess as to which stream he participated in.

That’s right, the “creative” stream, headed by Kate Blanchett.

Naturally, because Marcus is an “artist”.

[WTF? it’d be the self proclaimed “artist” thing and the “dodgy vote generator” for sure…  what other reason could there be for inviting me to a cultural summit? ]

In all seriousness, i’d genuinely welcome the chance to discuss the flaws and strengths of the HSIV experience. If Senator Abetz, the Young Liberals, or anyone else who has a genuine interest in the subject wants to invite me to speak about it i’d be happy to.

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20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 marc Aug 26, 2009 at 1:58 am

    wow. just. wow.

    abetz really has a complex relationship with facts, doesn’t he.

  • […] Hilarity: the apparent anarchartistic developmental lifespan seen from the completely random and fictious […]

  • 3 Tara Pattenden Aug 26, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Hey marcus, – about the how should I vote site. This type of site is offered in Finland and it seems to be widely used during elections – I’m not sure who creates these polls but I think it is a neutral site – well that is how it is viewed.

  • 4 liz patrick Aug 26, 2009 at 5:55 am

    That is awesome!

  • 5 Stephanie Aug 26, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Hi Marcus,
    I was a student in Canberra when the ACTU stormed through the riot police and smashed down the doors to gain entry to the foyer of parliament house in 96.
    My friend and I were standing peacefully out the front, having participated in the march over commonwealth bridge.
    Some time later, my friend’s stepmother was being interviewed for the job of privacy commissioner, and they asked her about her ‘anarchist’ step daughter citing evidence of her being at that rally. Ironically she doesn’t engage with politics in the slightest and is more interested in fashion that bringing down the system.

    Anyway I don’t think I’ll be attending a young liberals conference anytime soon so thankyou for this insight – I love how he uses the word ‘artist’ as a dirty word.

  • 6 kate Aug 26, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Anarchartist, according to Liberal orthodoxy, is a tautology, surely.

  • 7 sancz Aug 26, 2009 at 9:24 am

    you doth protest too much, marcus. everybody knows that TINA really stands for ‘This Is Not Abetz’…

  • 8 Kathryn Crosby Aug 26, 2009 at 9:42 am

    HSIV was a great idea and absolutely should be done, but GetUp! is the wrong vehicle for it. They have failed dismally to establish themselves as an independent organisation (and lately, as a credible one).

    Regardless, Abetz’s speech is completely unjustified.

    You could perhaps start your own NFP that just does that, provides media driven tools to help voters access information about their candidates?

    The Democrats are rebuilding BTW – you’re welcome back any time 😀

  • 9 Jason Aug 26, 2009 at 10:13 am

    This kind of ad hominem stuff is par for the course from the hard right. Marcus, you’ll know I worked for GetUp!, a fact that I don’t expect to live down as I attempt to participate in public debate. My account of Mr Bolt of the Melbourne Herald Sun’s deployment of this information is available here

    http://newmatilda.com/2009/08/18/why-are-we-paying-andrew-bolt

    These kinds of incidents are pretty entertaining to me personally – but then I’m in a relatively secure job, etc. etc. It raises profound questions for all of us about the differences between character of public discourse in this country as it is, and as we might like it to be.

  • 10 iona Aug 26, 2009 at 10:24 am

    This is one of the many problems I have with some on the conservative side of politics. Are they engaging in tautology, oxymorons, or just chatting with their imaginary friends?

    Clearly a logical, and evidence-based argument is too much for Senator Abetz.

  • 11 Alex Aug 26, 2009 at 11:02 am

    …o.O

    I mean, I knew the man was nuts, but seriously, wtf? XD

  • 12 Simeon Aug 26, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Just incredible! I wonder how much public money was spent on one of his staffers digging up the Macarthy style Westbury file? Way too much irrelevant detail there, loses the argument, wanders all over the place to try and establish some lack of credibility for the howishouldvote site. I used that site at the time and had no idea such a formidable antichrist (sic) was behind it.

    Here I paraquote:
    “Seriously though, I think it is important to see the Young Liberal for what I suspect it is to Mr Abetz – a delicious study in subversive politics!”

  • 13 Shannon Aug 26, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    A nice demonstration of the widespread political contempt for the arts. ‘Artist’ was the worst smear he could think of.

  • 14 Deborah Aug 26, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Here are some verifiable notes on the charmer… so you know where he’s coming from:

    1992 Deputy Chairman of the Association of Christian Parent Controlled Schools. (HR Nicholls Society)
    Abetz’s children attended Calvin Christian School, Kingston, Tas. (Senate Hansard, 26 November 1996)
    1996 Began developing close ties with Salt Shakers, a Melbourne-based fundamentalist Christian group. Abetz opened Salt Shakers’ office in 1998, endorsing and commending their work (New Life, 24 December 1998) and was the featured speaker at the organisation’s inaugural dinner in August 2005 (Josh Gordon ‘Senator hits out at heads of church’, Melbourne Age, 29 August 2005)
    1997 Both Salt Shakers and Focus on the Family (American-linked homophobic ‘pro-family’ group) strongly supported Abetz for his work on two Senate committees, one of which examined the Sexuality Discrimination Bill (seen by Focus on the Family’s Bill Muehlenberg as ‘granting special rights for homosexuals’) and Kevin Andrews’ private member’s bill seeking to overturn the Northern Territory’s voluntary euthanasia legislation. Muehlenberg told his readers that Abetz had ‘fought tirelessly’ against the first bill, and in favour of the Andrews bill:
    ‘Please write to or call Eric and give him your warm support and encouragement. Please pray for him as well.’ (Family Forum, April 1997, 5)
    1997 Succeeded Chris Miles MHR as Chair of the Lyons Forum, a now-defunct group of socially conservative Coalition MPs. (Lynette J. Dumble ‘The New Testament according to the Lyons Forum: an Australia bereft of abortion rights?’, Political Environments #5, Fall 1997)
    1999 Scheduled speaker on the Sexuality Discrimination Bill at Endeavour Forum (ultra-conservative women’s organisation) public meeting, 11 February (meeting chaired by Bill Muehlenberg). (Endeavour Forum Newsletter, February 1999, 1)
    1999 Speaker on ‘the family’ at Family Council of Victoria (a ‘front’ group dominated by the National Civic Council’s Australian Family Association) public meeting. (Salt Shakers Newsletter, May 1999, inserted flyer)
    2000 Speech on Christianity and the millennium prominently reprinted in Festival of Light Australia’s Light magazine (February 2000, 12), one of several times Abetz has been promoted by this long-lived ‘moral reform’ group.
    2003 Abetz provides a letter of support for the Fatherhood Foundation (conservative pro-‘fathers’ rights’ organisation) in its (ultimately successful) application for tax-deductibility status. He writes that, ‘[I]n order for the Foundation’s great work to continue and grow it is imperative that funds are raised.’ (Fatherhood Foundation email newsletter, 28 April 2003) In 2004, the Australian Christian Lobby and Australian Family Association played a key role in pressing the Howard Government to amend the Marriage Act to exclude same-sex unions.
    2004 Australian Christian Lobby (social conservative lobbyists) claims Abetz and fellow Tasmanian Liberal Senator Guy Barnett as ‘some of our strongest supporters’. (Australian Christian Newsletter, September 2004, 2)
    2005 Opening speaker at the Right to Life Australia (major anti-abortion group) Conference, Melbourne, 9 July. Abetz addressed the audience on the anti-voluntary euthanasia Suicide-related Material Offences Act’. (Right to Life Australia News, July-August 2005, 7)

  • 15 Kristefan Nov 25, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Thanks for the read. Abetz is a clown, its hilarious. I think I recall the conference he is referring to in 2001. You were on another panel as well with with some senior political advisors (Oldfeild was 1) about politics being marketed like products. It was great, hot debate, at times verbally aggressive, and you certainly had their measure.

  • 16 Gary Jan 5, 2010 at 12:37 am

    To have an idea of where this freak (Abetz) comes form, look in Wikipedia.

  • […] as the Greens, environmental groups such as The Wilderness Society and pro-democracy groups such as Get Up! his mortal enemies. He’s even had a go at esteemed author Richard Flanagan for supporting the […]

  • 18 Lolapop Feb 9, 2012 at 4:12 am

    What lies you spew. I personally know of a few Liberal MPs and candidates that sent their policies to the Howshouldivote site (in time for program collating), yet they say they were never published. First, the site’s owner said they weren’t received “in time” for the system, now someone else (you) say they (the Liberals) never participated or sent anything at all, when THEY DID!!!!! You are clearly LYING. Abetz is an extremist loony, but he is telling the truth on this. It is a fact that the Liberals DID want to contribute and they DID (personal evidence of this) yet you ‘conveniently’ say, ‘oh, we didn’t receive anything’, lol, oldest trick in the book. You, the site and GetUp are lying; pure, clean and simple.

  • 19 marcus Feb 9, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Lolapop, It’s nearly five years since HSIV and this is literally the first time i’ve ever heard this complaint. It wasn’t an allegation made to the media or the electoral commission at the time which makes me suspect this comes from someone getting their wires crossed many years after the event. If you know an actual person to whom this happened please have them contact me or comment here under their own name and i would be happy to respond either personally or publicly or however they feel appropriate.

  • 20 Dermott Banana Oct 19, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    When I was involved in politics in the ACT in the late 90s, early 00s, I knew several student politicians at the two main universities in town and it was a well-known game to see if student politicians could get Abetz to name them in Hansard.
    He’s a loon who thinks everyone is involved in some vast anti-Abetz conspiracy involving secret meetings and plotting. Seriously, his level of paranoia makes Stalin look sane. Noone, even amongst the Libs, takes him seriously.
    This made me chuckle though.