Two sides of the same 'West': the radical right wing in Australia and Portugal

Australia and Portugal are separated by thousands of kilometres and many different economic, social, political and historical factors. However, writes David Pimenta, both countries share the ethnic identitarian radical right-wing politics found in the 'West'

A referendum doomed to fail

Lloyd Cox, a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University, claimed in a recent interview that it would be highly improbable for the ‘yes’ camp to win the Australian Voice referendum. He turned out to be right.

The referendum was an attempt to change Australia's Constitution. 'Yes' supporters wanted the establishment of a formal body to give greater political rights to Indigenous people.

Australia's Labor-led government pushed forward the referendum amid economic and social problems related to soaring inflation. Radical right-wing parties, including Pauline Hanson's One Nation and the United Australia Party were, as expected, in the 'no' camp. Yet, the 'no' supporters were led by the major centre-right wing parties – the Liberals and the Nationals.

During the recent Australian Voice referendum, the major centre-right parties led the 'no' camp

One main argument of the ‘no’ campaign was that if ‘yes’ won, Indigenous people would be treated differently. The Voice, they argued, would give Indigenous people more rights than the rest of the Australian population.

Portuguese radical right-wing party Chega operates the same logic. Chega frequently argues that no other ethnic group should be treated better than the Portuguese people. It opposes, in particular, specific economic support, or other aid, for Portuguese Roma and for immigrants. Chega’s leader, André Ventura, often claims that initiatives like the Australian Voice referendum only pretend to fight racism and race-based inequalities. In reality, he argues, they are a distraction created by left-wing politicians to make people forget Portugal's real problems:

A turn to the right

Today's most prominent Australian and Portuguese radical right-wing figures and parties originated in the political centre right. Hanson came from the Liberal party; Ventura started his political career at the social democratic PSD, which incubated the Chega movement before it became a party.

Radical right-wing politics, with ethnonationalism (or nativism) at its core, is, of course, the stock in trade of parties like One Nation and Chega. But we see it, too, in the parties of the centre right. Indeed, after One Nation's early success in the 1990s, the Australian Liberals felt impelled to take a turn further to the political right.

Ethnonationalism is not limited to radical right-wing parties

Two former Liberal Australian Prime Ministers adopted stances typical of Western radical right-wing leaders. John Howard’s Pacific Solution aimed to transport asylum seekers to detention centres on a Pacific island. Tony Abbott became a leading member of The Ramsay Centre; a notorious foundation, ostensibly dedicated to the study of Western civilisation, that in fact – according to Henry Maher, Eda Gunaydin and Jordan McSwiney – perpetuates a white supremacist ideology.

In contrast with European parties like the Portuguese PSD, there is no cordon sanitaire around Australia's One Nation. Instead, the Liberals are now working together with One Nation in the Australian Senate.

The Portuguese centre-right PSD may not yet be following the same path as the Australian Liberals. But its leaders, Luís Montenegro and Carlos Moedas, have argued for more selective immigration policies. In so doing, they echo the actions of historical PSD leaders Passos Coelho and Cavaco Silva. This suggests Montenegro and Moedas are aiming to entice Chega voters previously loyal to PSD.

Extreme connections

The distinction between radical right-wing and extreme right-wing is not always crystal clear. Chega was recently subject to a media investigation into its members' connections to extreme right-wing organisations. In response, Chega leader Ventura restated his willingness to expel extremists from the party.

Australia's One Nation party has a longer historical connection with the extreme right wing. Former party grandee Fraser Anning is notorious for his ties with extremists. His infamous ‘final solution’ speech, appealing for race-based immigration restrictions, is paradigmatic.

Australian mainstream politics and media also have links with the extreme right. Former Liberal MP Moira Deeming was expelled from the party after neo-Nazis attended her speech at an anti-trans rally; TV channel Sky News Australia offered a platform to the leading Australian far-right figure Blair Cottrell.

Looking to the future

The far right is on the rise in many European countries. Considering Portugal's current political situation, a future PSD centre-right government may need Chega support to acquire and/or maintain power. Ventura’s party is likely to maintain its strong position in Portuguese politics while remaining the powerhouse of radical right-wing politics, particularly where ethnonationalism is concerned.

In Portugal, a future centre-right government may well need the support of radical right-wing Chega to maintain its grip on power

The Australian case is different. The White Australia immigration policy, applied by both Labor and Liberal administrations, ended only 50 years ago, and bipartisanship is the name of the game. In this sense, it is nigh-on impossible to imagine One Nation gaining power. Instead, the Liberals will probably embrace more and more policies you'd expect to find in a party like One Nation. There are parallels between Australia's Liberals and the present-day US Republican Party. The Liberals are led by Peter Dutton, a former police officer from Queensland, Australia's most conservative state. Dutton is also the leader of the so-called National Right – the Liberals' most conservative hard-right faction.

Overall, the distinct Australian and Portuguese cases represent the heterogenic reality of radical right-wing politics. It is a phenomenon which now seems to embrace the entire 'West'.

I’d like to thank Lloyd Cox (Macquarie University), Henry Maher (University of Sydney) and Jade Hutchinson (Macquarie University), for the insightful talks on Australian politics which contributed greatly to the writing of this article.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of David Pimenta
David Pimenta
PhD Candidate, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon / PhD Fellowship-Holder, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia

He is also a Researcher at the Observatory of the Quality of Democracy and a columnist for the newspaper Público, where he writes on politics, international relations, and history.

David has held several management positions in a variety of organisations.

His research interests include comparative politics, nationalism, far-right politics, populism, ethnic conflicts, and geopolitics.

He tweets @DavidJDPimenta

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