US backers of rightwing Australian conference say CPAC event won’t be one-off

The powerful US backers of a conservative conference being held in Sydney next week say they are committed to making the event a “multi-year, forever-type project” aimed at galvanising the right wing of Australian politics.

The organiser of the first Australian Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, says the event will “not be a one-off” and that its US backers, the American Conservative Union, had committed to holding the event long-term.

“We’re all looking at having this event running many, many years down the track,” Andrew Cooper told Guardian Australia, “and we have a vision for this that has thousands and thousands of attendees, not hundreds and hundreds.”

The conference will feature Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro and New South Wales’ One Nation politician Mark Latham.

Tickets for the three-day event range from $599 for a “Reagan VIP pass”, which gives attendees access to a speakers room and VIP lunches, an “Iron Lady general pass” for $349, and a “Menzies three-day pass” for $149. All three ticket categories include an “activism bootcamp” on the final day of the conference.

On Tuesday night in the Senate, the event was attacked by Labor senator Kristina Keneally as a “talkfest of hate”, with particular focus on the attendance of one speaker, Raheem Kassam, a former chief advisor to Farage and editor-in-chief of Breitbart.

Speaking in parliament, Keneally called on the government to block Kassam’s visa over comments the former UK Independence party leadership candidate has previously made on Islam and women. She also questioned why two Liberal party MPs – Craig Kelly and Amanda Stoker – were also appearing at the event.

Donald Trump Jr responded to Labor’s calls with a tweet saying “one of the major political parties in Australia is trying to silent Raheen Kassam because of his conservative views. The insanity needs to stop!”

On Wednesday Mathias Cormann labelled Kassam’s comments “disgraceful, highly objectionable and completely outrageous”, but reports suggest the government will not move to block his visa and Cormann defended MPs speaking at the event.

“I would make the general point that just because you are at an event, you’re not expected to agree with everything that everybody says at that same event,” he said.

Found by the American Conservative Union (ACU), the CPAC conference has been running in the US since 1974 when former US president Ronald Reagan gave the inaugural keynote speech.

Closely affiliated with the US Republican party, the conference attracts tens of thousands of people each year. The Sydney event is CPAC’s second foray outside of the US since it held an event in Tokyo last year.

Cooper, the president of the Liberal Democrats who runs conservative campaign group Liberty Works, said he first raised the idea at a meeting with the ACU’s executive director Dan Schneider last year.

“I felt there was a need for this rallying point to exist for that broad right side of politics in Australia and I approached the American Conservative Union last November,” he said.

“I met with their chief executive Dan Schneider and we had a meeting of the minds.

“He had already dipped his toe in the water so to speak with the CPAC conference in Tokyo and loved the thought of getting something happening in Australia.”

The conference will have a heavy US influence, including Schneider and ACU chairman Matt Schlapp, but Cooper said the agenda had been driven by Australia.

“It will include a lot of discussion on free speech, and what I would call the authoritarian left’s opposition to it,” he said.

While the conference is being organised by Cooper and the ACU, two of the event’s major sponsors are the rightwing thinktank the Institute of Public Affairs and the conservative campaign group Advance Australia.

In a statement released after Keneally’s speech, the IPA called Labor a “complete joke” and “utter hypocrites on freedom of speech”.

“Who else does Senator Keneally want to ban from entering Australia because they have different views to her?” Daniel Wild, the IPA’s director of research and a speaker at the event said.

“Senator Keneally only wants to hear the views of those with whom she agrees. This is yet another example of how Labor wants to stifle free speech, open discussion and dialogue in Australia. This is a threat to democracy.”

But the IPA did not respond to questions about how much it had contributed to the event, and Cooper said he did not want to “talk specifics” about the deal.

“They share the vision,” Cooper said of the IPA’s involvement.

Asked whether the ACU saw an Australian conference as a financial opportunity, Cooper disagreed. “My perception of the ACU is that they are looking to spread their message,” he said.

“If anything they are going to be investing in us for a long, long time.”

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