Golden Dawn supporters protesting in Brisbane. All photos by Pak Yiu
I had never heard of the Australia First Party until they held a rally in support of Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement in Brisbane last Friday, so if their goal was to get my attention they succeeded, I guess. By any other metric the event was a complete failure: Only about ten supporters of the party, which has about 500 members, showed up to rally outside of South Brisbane's Greek Club (they had documentarian John Safran was in tow, for whatever reason).
The plan was to march across the city to picket the offices of the consul general of Greece, but that idea was scuttled by a counter-rally composed of the typical left-wing mix of socialists, students, antifascists, and about 150 or so union members, all of whom were eager to shout down the "nazi scum."
Unimpressed counter-protesters mock the rally from across the street.
So on one side of the street was a rather forlorn-looking contingent of Golden Dawn sympathizers, plus John Safran, and on the other was a sea of beards and dreadlocks, with police in the middle.
Outnumbered and faced with very vocal opposition, the Golden Dawn opted to take a cab (since there werent't that many of them, after all) to their destination rather than going to all the trouble of marching across town.
There were a few minor verbal skirmishes as the protesters departed, but the police were fairly proactive in keeping the two groups apart.
Counter-protester Mitchel Rodwell, who followed the fascists on foot to the offices of the consul general, said, "Pretty much as soon as [the counter-protesters] arrived we scared them off. There were a good 200 people shouting 'Nazi scum, off our streets!'”
OK, so this was a pretty silly and disorganized event that served mostly to annoy police. But Andy Fleming, a longtime antifascist activist, told me "a successful rally in Australia would send a message to Golden Dawn in Greece that they have support elsewhere" and that it would "help legitimize Golden Dawn's presence in Greek politics."
That obviously did not happen. But what about Australian politics? Is the Australia First Party going to become a force to be reckoned with?
In a word, no. The party has had a limited, almost laughable, electoral impact. In the 2013 federal election it won 7,412 first-preference votes or 0.06 percent of the total. One of its candidates, Maurice Girotto, managed to win a local council seat in Sydney, where most of the Australia Firsters are, but he quit the party a year after being elected.
Though the party is a pathetic failure, its leader, Jim Saleam, certainly has some sinister credentials: In 1991 he was sentenced to prison for helping to organize a 1989 attack on the home of African National Congress representative and anti-Apartheid campaigner Eddie Funde.
The Australia First Party's Aaron Heaps addresses the rally.
Aaron Heaps from the party's Queensland branch concedes the group faces an uphill battle in terms of electoral success, and for that he blames the two major parties.
"They will censor us as much as possible,” he said. "The two parties ganged up to bring down [defunct nationalist party] One Nation—it's the tall poppy syndrome."
The party has a predictably anti-multiculturalism and anti-immigration platform, and the racist notions that underpin their policies are pretty much par for the course. According to Heaps, being Australian means being of European heritage. “We are a European people mostly,” he said. “Our people that have come to Australia out of Europe; that’s who we are.”
He doesn't think of himself or his party as racist, just made up of proud white people of European heritage who want to stop non-European people from coming to Australia.
"We like immigration from Europe, America, or those other countries with a shared cultural heritage, because they're like us. The Chinese say we are proud to be Chinese, and people go, 'Fantastic.' But if we say we are proud to be white Europeans, people say, 'You’re racist.'"
The Australia First Party gets support from Stormfront, the openly racist site that has been dubbed the murder capital of the internet, and the Islamophobic Australian Defense League. Heaps has no objection to this sort of support as long as everyone works towards a “united patriotic front.”
So what is an Australian nationalist party doing supporting a Greek political party? Heaps said there's a degree of solidarity between the Australia First Party and Golden Dawn. But Australia First agreed to support Golden Dawn only so long as the Greek right-wingers don’t try to establish their own political presence in Australia.
“We are not prepared to deal with them coming into Australia and starting their own thing, because this is Australia, not Greece,” said Heaps.
Golden Dawn does have support in areas of Melbourne with high concentrations of Greek-Australians, but Professor James Arvanitakis, from University of Western Sydney, said that the party isn't viable. Golden Dawn is being largely ignored by the Greek community, just as Australia First is being ignored by everyone else.
That doesn't mean everything is fine in Australian politics. Fleming told me he thinks Australia First has performed so poorly because the two major parties are already tapping into xenophobic sentiment by way of their hard-line policies against refugees. He thinks if Australia First poses any threat it comes from community-based activism, not electoral success. “They have potential to influence things on the street,” he said.
At least, if they don't get shouted down every time they make themselves known.
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