After four unsuccessful attempts, colourful former Labor MP Belinda “Iguanagate” Neal has finally landed a spot on the Amnesty International Australia board.
It didn’t come easy, with Neal getting elected during an occasionally fiery nine-hour annual general meeting held over Zoom on Saturday.
But not everyone in the organisation is thrilled about Neal’s second act as a human rights crusader. After all, as a politician, she’s best known for allegedly uttering the devastating words “Don’t you know who I am?” during a career-ending altercation with bar staff at Central Coast nightspot Iguana Joe’s in 2008. She subsequently denied using that phrase.
But time passes, and sources told CBD Neal entered the meeting all but certain to end her losing streak. This year, there were three, rather than two spots up for grabs. And a campaign, aided by her husband, former NSW Labor powerbroker John Della Bosca, that was run a lot like a preselection push, certainly gave Neal an advantage.
Still, her win went down like a lead balloon among some on the Zoom call, with Amnesty chair Mario Santos looking particularly stony-faced. Neal, who did not return CBD’s calls on Sunday, will serve a three-year term, with CareSuper boss Michael Dundon and Santos’ pick Anne Wright also getting up.
It’s been a particularly unsettled time for Amnesty, recently caught lead-footed when dealing with a data breach. So despite all the baggage surrounding the “Clintons of the Central Coast”, as Neal and Della Bosca were colloquially known, her election was not even the most controversial moment at Saturday’s meeting.
Amnesty is still dealing with the fallout from a 2022 statement accusing Ukrainian forces of endangering civilians, which was quickly jumped on by Moscow as vindication of Russian atrocities and has understandably evoked considerable outrage.
That lingering outrage played out during Saturday’s meeting, where human rights activist, anti-Chinese Community Party campaigner and inveterate stirrer Drew Pavlou showed up with a contingent of Ukrainian, Uyghur and Tibetan activists.
A motion brought by local Ukrainian activists, and supported by Pavlou’s entourage, urging Amnesty’s Australian branch to support a full retraction of the report was narrowly voted down after nearly three hours of heated discussion.
The motion, opposed by some of Amnesty’s domestic leadership, did get backing from supporters of Neal, who was backed by Pavlou in her successful board tilt, but it just wasn’t enough.
On Saturday, The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan penned a particularly fawning ode to Hungary’s far-right government, arguing that Western liberals had simply misunderstood poor Viktor Orban.
The Hungarian PM, a self-described “illiberal democrat” is best known in these parts for his bare-chested nationalism, and hostility to press freedom, the LGBTI community and immigrants, with a recent rant about how different races should not mix causing a close adviser to quit in disgust.
But for Sheridan, Orban’s Hungary is the victim of absurd demonisation, and an inspiring example of a conservative revival to which Australia’s struggling Liberals and Nationals should look for inspiration.
Now, any readers able to stomach the rhetorical gymnastics and deft whataboutery that allows Sheridan to swiftly downplay Orban’s anti-LGBTI crackdown, for example, are greeted with a disclaimer at the bottom of the article – the author spent a week in Budapest as a visiting fellow at the Danube Institute.
What the disclaimer doesn’t say is the institute gets funded by Orban’s Fidesz Party government, and by drawing right-leaning figures from around the Western world to Budapest, is part of a campaign to make Hungary the ideological beating heart of the new populist right.
We wondered what, exactly the fellowship involved, and how it left people with such a powerfully rose-tinted view of the Hungarian government, but Sheridan sadly did not return CBD’s calls.
He’s far from the only conservative talking head enthralled by Orban. Tony Abbott, who as PM once considered making his old uni mate Sheridan Australia’s ambassador to Singapore, has also given a few speeches at the institute, and is a big fan of what’s going on in Budapest.
From the darkest days of the pandemic emerged a new type of social media star, who built huge brands out of their vigorous, and often very irritating defences of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews and the ALP.
We wondered what would happen to the likes of PRGuy and Victoria Fielding once lockdowns ended, and they were forced to put down the iPads and reintegrate with society. Now, one of their most prominent is attempting to put the truism that “Twitter isn’t real life” to the test.
Belinda Jones, known online as Bee, built a large following as a #DanStan and has put her hand up to run as an independent candidate for Fadden, the seat vacated by permanently embattled former Coalition minister Stuart Robert.
Jones, who did not respond to CBD’s requests for comment, is a Gold Coast grandmother, a casual retail worker, and an occasional writer for free left-wing news outlet Independent Australia. Somewhere among that she’s found time to do more than 151,000 tweets. We’re sure she’s just what the good electors of Fadden are after.
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