LNP blocks Gerard Rennick recruits as party seeks to ‘keep out the cookers’

Liberal National party increasingly alert to attempts by the rightwing fringe to build influence since May’s federal election

Diane Demetre gained some notoriety as an author of a series of erotic fiction novels and a couple of murder mysteries. But her most recent writings strike a very different tone.

Demetre, who ran for the Liberal Democrats at the 2022 federal election, claims in social media posts that Covid is a “behavioural conditioning experiment” and warns about “the totalitarian rule of a group of globalists who want to play god”.

She also urges her followers to get involved in party politics and help sway preselections.

“We must take action now, recruit, pre-select, endorse and vote for candidates who will not be corrupted … act now, get involved and make your internal vote count,” she wrote on Facebook last year.

In October, the Gold Coast businesswoman invited the Queensland Liberal National party senator, Gerard Rennick, to speak at an event hosted by her new networking business, dare2care Australia, which also runs get-rich seminars and presentations by those hostile to commonly accepted climate science.

Rennick addressed about 200 people at the Gold Coast Croatia Sports Centre hall at Carrara. In his speech he encouraged the crowd to become more politically engaged and have “a seat at the table”.

He also brought a pile of LNP membership forms.

Guardian Australia understands multiple people who attended the meeting, including Demetre, subsequently attempted to join the LNP but were blocked by the party administration. Sources say LNP officials have become increasingly alert to attempts by the rightwing fringe, since the federal election, to build influence within the party.

Also blocked have been membership applications from multiple people known to have campaigned for minor parties at the 2022 election, as part of a stronger stance taken by the new administration to – in the words of one source – “keep out the cookers”.

Gerard Rennick speaks at a dare2care Australia event on the Gold Coast, organised by Diane Demetre.
Gerard Rennick speaks at a dare2care Australia event organised by Diane Demetre. Photograph: Diane Demetre Facebook page

Bernard Gaynor, a controversial former party member linked to several small rightwing political movements, and who has made anti-gay and anti-Muslim statements, was also refused membership.

Particular concerns have been raised internally about Rennick, who is expected to struggle to win LNP preselection when his term ends at the next election, but whose public following and online presence has grown substantially after claims that people had suffered side-effects from Covid-19 vaccines. Claims shared by Rennick have previously been disputed by expert medical bodies such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Stronger stance on vetting potential members

Political analysts say the 2022 federal election result, the rise of centrist independents, and the fracturing of the political right presents a broad ideological challenge for the LNP as a mainstream force – one that is more acute given the party was already struggling with an identity crisis.

Many minor political actors who had splintered rightwards – including conservative Christians and anti-lockdown protesters who gravitated to a coterie of unconventional small parties – have been picking over the federal result, having failed to make a significant impact from the fringe.

Duncan McDonnell, a professor of politics at Griffith University, says the border “between the edge conservative right and the radical right” is often porous.

“It’s not an unusual phenomenon,” McDonnell says.

Liberal Senator Alex Antic And Liberal Senator Gerard Rennick.
Gerard Rennick with Liberal party senator Alex Antic, who ran a Christian recruitment drive in South Australia. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

“There are people who would have been involved in One Nation, the Lib Dems who would have been disillusioned [by the federal election result] and they’re looking at what are their options in terms of efficacy and translating activism into results.

“That’s a problem for the Liberal party nationally because [shifting further right is] not a winning strategy electorally.”

The former LNP state leader, now mayor of Goondiwindi, Lawrence Springborg, last year assumed control of the party administration from a group, known internally as the “cabal”, which included officials with ongoing ties to the billionaire Clive Palmer. That Palmer controlled his own fringe political party became a fundamental problem.

One of that group, the former LNP president Bruce McIver, has previously said that social conservatives who didn’t like candidates “should get all their mates to get involved [in the party]… that’s what democracy is”.

Under Springborg, sources say, the party is taking a more active approach to vetting potential members.

However, this presents a particularly acute challenge given the way some existing members of the LNP operate in broad conservative circles. One party member said there is “a lot of discomfort” about the way these circles operate, including the extent of crossover with notional political rivals and those deemed persona non grata by the LNP.

Last year, former senator Amanda Stoker spoke at an event hosted by the Australian Taxpayers Alliance, a group with links to the Liberal Democrats and which employs Barclay McGain, who was forced to resign after a series of offensive social media posts.

A group of LNP members known internally as the “Christian Soldiers” – having recruited widely in recent years – are still licking their wounds after Stoker was relegated on the ticket at the 2022 election. She subsequently lost her seat.

Some eyebrows were raised within the party when the Australian Christian Lobby hired as its Queensland director Rob Norman, a Pentecostal pastor from Adelaide who has previously told parishioners it was their “mission” to join political parties. InDaily reported that Norman argued party membership gave churchgoers “the right to vote at meetings, and that will include the preselection of local candidates”.

South Australian Liberal party senator Alex Antic, who had run a “believe in blue” Christian recruitment drive in the state, was present for that speech.

In the immediate aftermath of the federal election, Norman wrote on his personal blog that he held “particular concern” for the conservative side of politics.

“Whenever we have a weak Liberal Party, conservatives tend to splinter into a multitude of pieces,” he said.

“For Christians who care about the economic, social, and moral state of our nation we must be prepared to enter the political world as ‘prophets’ and ‘missionaries’, bringing truth and redemption.”

Speaking to Guardian Australia, Demetre said she couldn’t explain why members of her networking group were rejected by the LNP, but confirmed she had applied for membership “to give a voice to mainstream Australia”.

“As far as I know it was knocked back because I ran for the Liberal Democrats,” she said.

“If the Liberal party is looking for strong female candidates, they’re not getting what they need, they’re not getting female candidates who have run for other parties who want to work with the broad church party.”

The LNP, Rennick and Gaynor declined to answer Guardian Australia questions.


Ben Smee

The GuardianTramp

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