Conservative Australia’s flirtation with fascists

January 11, 2019

This article was published in the Australian Jewish News on 11 January 2019 - Click here

I wish the ugly scene on St Kilda beach last Saturday was a freak isolated incident.

But the group of bigots who were so confident that they felt they could salute the 'Sieg-Heil' in the heart of St Kilda was just the latest episode in the rise of the far-right in Australia.

A Nazi salute at the racist rally in St Kilda

Since Saturday, I've had several of the far-right attendees contact me trying to convince me that their rally was a peaceful protest. That they were simply fighting for the safety of everyday Australians. They asked me, "what is wrong with that?"

Of course, there's nothing wrong with that.

But that’s not what Saturday was.

I responded to one particularly uninformed attendee that his "peaceful protest" was organised by a well-known neo-Nazi, Blair Cottrell.

Cottrell once called for a picture of Adolf Hitler to be hung in every classroom as well as copies of Mein Kampf given to Australian children. The other organiser, Neil Erikson, was convicted for harassing a Melbourne Rabbi.

And it was organised to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the formation of the German Workers Party, the predecessor to the Nazi Party.

As I said to my new ignorant friend, "Sorry mate, but you didn’t go to a peaceful protest. You went to a Nazi rally."

But these oblivious attendees were exactly what the organisers wanted. They wanted to capitalise on people’s ignorance.

The organisers of Saturday’s rally want a bigger support base. They wanted people who may not be as extreme as them to find common ground. They want to grow their racist movement and make it more legitimate.

So, it was especially disappointing, but not at all surprising, that the rally was attended by Queensland Senator, Fraser Anning.

We all remember Anning creating headlines for his maiden speech where he expressed his desire for a ‘final solution’ to Muslim immigration.

But we also cannot forget that after his final solution speech, Liberal and National members of the Senate lined up to shake Anning’s hand.

Liberal Senators line up to shake Fraser Anning's hand after his maiden speech

At the same time the Liberal and National Members actually walked out of Jewish MP for Wentworth, Dr Kerryn Phelps' maiden speech. Apparently Anning's final solution reference was more palatable to Liberal and National MPs than Phelps' message of calling for action on climate change.

Regardless, we cannot also forget that shortly after the Liberal Party and the National Party Senators congratulated Anning on his speech, they voted with Pauline Hanson to support her 'it’s ok to be white' motion.

Of course, they later came out and said that it was an "administrative error" and that a staff member made that mistake.

That doesn't explain the numerous Coalition federal MPs who then spoke publicly to defend their vote – reaffirming their support for Hanson’s racist motion.

But even the most forgiving supporters of the Liberals and Nationals couldn't then deny that there was a trend developing after the sensational revelations that extreme-right groups were organising and infiltrating the National Party.

Of course, who did the ABC reveal was closely linked with the new far-right members of the National Party?

Blair Cottrell - our Hitler supporting organiser of saturday’s rally.

Here in Victoria, we saw the Liberals run a relentless campaign on the 'out-of-control African crime gangs' that was encouraged by Federal Liberals - most notably Peter Dutton who repeatedly claimed Victorians were too scared to go out for dinner for fear of gang violence.

Despite the Liberals' dog whistling being resoundingly rejected at the recent Victorian election, the Liberals have been sending a powerful and clear message to the people who turned up on Saturday in St Kilda that it is ok to point the finger.

Matthew Guy and Peter Dutton led the Liberal Party's fear campaign on "African crime gangs"

Let me take a moment to acknowledge that the Liberal Party and the National Party have some very good people in it.

I acknowledge that Josh Frydenberg has always stood to represent the interests of the Jewish community.

But Josh Frydenberg is not the Liberal Party. And Josh Frydenberg is certainly not the National Party.

This was reflected in the Prime Minister’s brief statement on Sunday that simply referred to ‘ugly racial protests’.

Not only did the Prime Minister fail to explicitly condemn or single out the blatant Nazi activity, his use of the plural 'racial protests' was reminiscent of Donald Trump’s 'blame on both sides' response to racist rallies in Charlottesville.

We cannot entertain the idea that there is moral equivalence between fascists marching with Nazis and those marching against their bigotry.

I am not saying that the Liberals and the Nationals are responsible for far-right extremism – but when you start playing politics with race, no one can be surprised when racists use it as a green light to spout their views.

Finally, I wanted to note that John Safran, whose book Depends What You Mean By Extremist saw him spend extensive time with people from the far-right, has remarked frequently in recent interviews that scratching the surface of these groups almost always turns up hatred of Jews.

Today the far-right may be targeting Africans and Muslims publicly, because they consider targeting these groups are more palatable to the public, but they continue to harbour anti-Semitic hatred of us too.

We all remember Niemöller’s poem, "First they came for the…", well on Saturday they did.

They came for the so-called African gangs.

And we must speak out.

Thousands of Australians died fighting against the Nazi regime and many Holocaust survivors found refuge in our beautiful county.

It's time those on the conservative side of Australian politics stopped flirting with neo-fascists and their dangerous ideas.

Because if they don’t, it will get out of control. Again.