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Know your right: racist violence in Australia.

KYRN STEVENS: In this week's program, Know your Right, we take a look at the alarming increase in racist violence in Australia.


TALKBACK ANNOUNCER: You are on JJJ and it is said we are going to do talkback this afternoon, on this Thursday 30 March. And as we mentioned, there's been quite a bit of fuss in the media today about more racist violence that occurred in the inner city over the weekend. Most of you have probably heard that a car bearing a land rights sticker was fire bombed in Glebe on Sunday night, and two prominent Aboriginal activists have since urged land rights supporters to remove such stickers so they won't be victimised. It's certainly a sad state of affairs and not really democracy in its best light and we'd like to hear what your views are on the situation, this afternoon.

Susan, hello.

SUSAN: About gathering information, I thought I should ring in and say that just over a year ago, in fact Good Friday last year, my car was fire bombed and completely burnt out, and that was following about two months of having tyres slashed, and I too have a land rights sticker on the back of my car.

UNIDENTIFIED: The attacks on community organisations in Canberra have been attacks on organisations that have one thing in common, and it's their anti-racist stance.

TALKBACK ANNOUNCER: David, good morning.

DAVID: Good morning, this intimidation by National Action, or those associated with it, is much more sinister I think, than the general community realises, whereas some months ago, at a political meeting in the inner city which was quite a respectable and typical political branch meeting, which was invaded by a number of people who claimed to be from National Action, in quite a violent way. What was sinister about it was that they brought with them a portable radio and they had another bunch of thugs outside so that if the people inside had responded with the violence that the National Action people had brought with them, then they would have called in reinforcements. Now this is just straight Brown Shirt sort of material that existed before 1939 and will exist again if these people are allowed to continue.

Well hi there people, you know me I used to run a little joint called Germany I was number one, the people's choice And everybody listened to my mighty voice My name is Adolph, I'm on the mike I'm going to hit you with the story of the new Third Reich It all began down in Munich town And pretty soon the word started getting around So I said to Martin Borman, I said, hey Marty Why don't we throw a little Nazi party So we had an election, well kinda sorta Before you knew it, hello, new order To all those mothers in the fatherland I said, achtung baby, I got me a plan They said, what you got Adolph, what you going to do I said how about this one, World War II To be or not to be, oh baby can't you see

NORRIE NEWMARK: I agree on the danger of focusing on National Action as just a sort of loony fringe and I think that's another lesson from early fascism, is that it was possible to see, and a lot of liberals did, they though, well the fascists are, you know, this loony fringe and we can control them. It's exactly what the sort of liberal democrats in Italy thought about Mussolini.

TALKBACK ANNOUNCER: Pauline, are you still listening? What do you reckon about all this?

PAULINE: I live in the Wollongong area and there was graffiti painted in my local area, to the tune of No Asians '89, with a logo and I was extremely incensed and I, a conservative person like myself, I took some fairly strong action. I went and changed the graffiti to More Asians '89 and put next to it, No Racist '89.

TALKBACK ANNOUNCER: When you went out and changed it though, were you on your own or did you go with some friends.

PAULINE: I took my son with me, who's twelve years old.

TALKBACK ANNOUNCER: So you had a bit of backup?

PAULINE: Well, yes, but I've never done that sort of thing in my life before, but I was so angry and so put out about the whole thing. But subsequently, I haven't discussed it with very many people because generally, I know a lot of people would think that that would be a pretty stupid thing to do.

TALKBACK ANNOUNCER: Do you think you would do it again?


TALKBACK ANNOUNCER: Pauline, thanks for calling.

MAXWELL NEMADZIVHANANI: The enthusiasm displayed by the police because of the bombings of diplomatic cars of the South African Embassy and the American Embassies, was never translated as far as the question of the bombings of the South African Liberation Centre is concerned or that of 2XX transmitters, or the BLF offices. There have been a dramatic imbalance as far as those issues are concerned.

BETTY HOUNSLOW: Well, over Easter there was a fire bomb thrown at a car in Glebe, which had land rights stickers and on the same night, a car in that street had its tyres slashed, again because it had land rights stickers. So it seems quite clear that the attacks that we've been witnessing over the last six months, are continuing.

ANDREW OLLE: And being escalated, perhaps?

BETTY HOUNSLOW: Well, I would certainly define a home made incendiary device as an escalation on a screw driver stuck in a car wheel. I think it's extremely worrying that it's moved to the stage of fire bombs. We saw it a couple of weeks ago in the eastern suburbs against Jewish premises and I think you have to see a link between the attacks on Jewish people and the attacks on people who support land rights.

KYRN STEVENS: Civil rights activist, Betty Hounslow, talking to Andrew Olle on ABC Radio, 2BL. Betty herself has been a victim of harassment by right wing groups. Organised racist and extreme right wing groups have always been a fact of Australian political life. Apart from occasional headline grabbing actions, these groups have mostly lingered in the background. Since the 1950s, ultra conservative movements like the National Civic Council and the League of Rights have gained prominence, influencing party politics and the trade union movement. But in the last twelve months, right wing groups have become increasingly active, targeting not only Asian and Aboriginal people, but also land rights supporters, anti apartheid activists and vocal advocates of multiculturalism. For the last two years, Sydney's Pitt Street Uniting Church and its Reverend Dorothy McMahon have been the victims of a sustained campaign of intimidation and harassment.

DOROTHY McMAHON: For a while in the early months, they just did particular things like publishing slanderous leaflets against me, and marching into our church service and distributing that in the congregation. Then the phone calls started and they went on, I suppose about once or twice a week for about nine months, and then I had a silent line on my phone so that stopped and then they started knocking on the door in the middle of the night. And then a couple of times in the January, they attacked my house. The attacks on the church itself have been about once a fortnight since August last year, so that's been the most consistent part of it.

But as well as all these things which were direct attacks on myself, they also have somehow got part of our mailing list, our 1986 mailing list, which lists the members of our parish and where they live and their phone numbers, and a number of them have been attacked in this period of time. One household in particular, has been attacked in a very sustained way for about six months now, particularly their car has been bashed and rocks thrown on it and windscreens broken and graffiti all along their front fence, and offensive material and so on. Then in December, they also sent round what was almost a ludicrously absurd letter which purported to come from me and contained pornographic material. I mean, can you imagine any Minister being stupid enough to send pornographic material openly, to his or her parishioners. I mean, it really is quite absurd but they did that, with a letter which was supposed to have come from me so ..

KYRN STEVENS: Why you, and why the Uniting Church and the Pitt Street branch of it?

DOROTHY McMAHON: I sometimes wonder that because I don't think we've been particularly outstandingly active in any of these areas of their concern, but on the other hand, we did have Archbishop Tutu here on two occasions for public meetings and I believe that the beginning of the attacks possibly related to that. We are known for accepting homosexual people in this parish, and there aren't too many churches that do that, and that's one of the other points of their attack. We have also had quite a bit to do with the committee that watches for black deaths in custody and the black rights groups of various sorts, so that we probably have a modest reputation for relating to some of these significant issues in the community. I don't think we've ever done anything very startling but there we are, we must have become some sort of symbol for that.

KYRN STEVENS: So, who's 'they', who do you think is responsible for this campaign?

DOROTHY McMAHON: Some of it is definitely National Action. The leaflets and slanderous material, they put their name to. The stickers in the church had their name on it, so that even though they deny that they've been involved in acts of violence, we would be pretty certain that a lot of the things that have happened, in fact could be attributed to them.

KYRN STEVENS: How come you are so sure that it is National Action in particular? How do you know, what proof have you got?

DOROTHY McMAHON: Well as I said, the literature carries their name and also, in their journals, they in fact announce that they are attacking us. They say they are only using political attacks but I think the recent police arrests have in fact indicated that what we have always suspected, that that is not true, that they are in fact doing more than political attacks. It could not be a coincidence that when National Action puts out something which says, we will target this person, the very next thing that happens is that you get the abusive phone calls or the brick through the window, or whatever. And that's an extraordinary coincidence, if it's not them.

KYRN STEVENS: Are you any clearer on the role of National Action, you have no doubts that they are the perpetrators?

BETTY HOUNSLOW: We have no doubt at all that people associated with National Action are the perpetrators of this. You only have to read their internal literature, which we have, to see that they actually incite people to acts of violence against people who they disagree with politically. And it's no use that organisation attempting to distance itself from it, as its spokesman clearly does when he gets a chance to come on media. It seems clear that that organisation, with its racist and its neo-Nazi philosophy, is at the centre of these attacks, both on the Jewish community and on supporters of the Aboriginal community.

KYRN STEVENS: Serious questions remain about a string of attacks in Canberra. In May 1986, the South African Liberation Centre was gutted by fire. Later that year the office of the Builders Labourers Federation was burgled and arsoned. The union had previously allowed the Pan Africanist Congress, PAC, to establish a centre on their premises. In March 1988, the transmitter of public radio station 2XX was burnt down twice, and then, early this year, the home of African National Congress' Australian representative, Eddie Funda, was shot gunned. There's a feeling amongst members of these organisations that Federal Police has been biased and have failed to thoroughly investigate these attacks. Police files obtained by Channel Ten News in Canberra under the Freedom of Information Act, appear to substantiate their claims. The files on the fire at the Liberation Centre reveal a clear case of arson in which a window was smashed, flammable liquid poured through and set alight.

However, the investigation was closed and no further action taken. The police investigation into the burglary and fire at the BLF office was closed the same day it began. Police claimed that the incident was an industrial matter, not a criminal one, and therefore further investigation wasn't warranted, despite the fact that a window in the office had been smashed and membership records found smouldering in an oven. Charles McDonald, secretary of the ACT Trades and Labour Council, isn't at all happy with the police investigation into the BLF office fire and burglary. He's talking here with Alistair Harris.

CHARLES McDONALD: My understanding is that their very cursory report claims that the union itself set the situation up.

ALISTAIR HARRIS: Is there any reason why the police might say something like that?

CHARLES McDONALD: I think .. I believe that the police have been anti the progressive groups in the ACT for a long long time, ever since I have been in any way involved in activity, considerable union activity in the ACT.

ALISTAIR HARRIS: According to Freedom of Information that we have, the police in fact dropped the investigation about the fire at the BLF office that same afternoon. What are the implications of that for the trade union movement if an attack like that can take place on a union, and there's no police response to it.

CHARLES McDONALD: I think it just opens the door for everyone else. It just says that any of the neo-fascist groups, and no doubt there's plenty of supporters of those around, particularly with the political agenda being driven the way it is, to the extreme right, that it's free for them to pursue whatever action, direct action, that they wish to take.

KYRN STEVENS: In March this year, a house owned by Radio 2XX and occupied by its Aboriginal broadcasters, was destroyed by fire. Liz O'Brien from 2XX is dissatisfied with the Federal Police investigations. According to police files, at least one fire was lit under suspicious circumstances but the investigation was closed and no further action taken.

LIZ O'BRIEN: In the light of the amount of resources, the Australian Federal Police appear to put into other cases, the investigation into a fire in a community radio station was under resourced and less thorough than it could have been. Our concern would be that there has been no attempt since that finding, to provide any sort of protection for community groups who are under these sort of attacks so it's quite clear, in our view, that the fires in 1988 were deliberately set and were set by racist elements in our community. We've had phone calls, harassing phone calls from people along the lines of you know, ha ha ha, we burnt down your transmitter because we hate gays and blacks. And that's the general sort of threat that's been going around and in the context of when it happened in 1988, of course, was very shortly after we'd been very vigorously involved in the bicentennial protest actions and we have been for many years, very vigorously involved in the anti-apartheid movement, and there's no doubt in our mind, that's where the fires came from. There is no doubt that there are secret agents of the racist South African Embassy, all embassies in Australia have secret agents, that those agents operate in our community and that they quite clearly co-operate with all the racist groups in this community. That's where it is as far as we are concerned.

KYRN STEVENS: Some people would say though that 2XX could have a lot of enemies because you've got Turkish broadcasters, you've got Central American broadcasters etc, so why this particular angle?

LIZ O'BRIEN: Because that's their form, that's what they do. And also, I don't think it's true to say that we have lots of enemies. Certainly, we are involved in controversial issues with the groups that broadcast on the station and that support the station. But we cover a very broad section of the community and there has not been any evidence of any other group making this sort of attack on community organisations. The attacks on community organisations in Canberra have been attacks on organisations that have one thing in common, and it's their anti-racist stance.

KYRN STEVENS: You spoke about your suspicions that there might be foreign countries involved in the fire bombings. Who specifically, do you suspect to be involved?

UNIDENTIFIED: This country has very very close ties with Israel, particularly at political leadership level - not so, supposedly, with South Africa, but I believe that there is considerable operation within Australia of both MOSSAD and BOS, the security organisations for Israel and South Africa.

KYRN STEVENS: It is widely believed that Israeli and South African agents have ruthlessly pursued, and in some cases murdered their opponents, based in overseas countries. In the last twelve months alone, a ship destined to return Palestinian deportees was bombed in Cyprus. Just before this, two high ranking PLO officials linked with the purchase of the boat, were killed by a car bomb. The second in command of the PLO, Abu Jihad, was murdered last year in his home in Tunisia. The PAC and the ANC are the two major liberation movements fighting against apartheid. In the last few years, numerous representatives of both organisations have been killed outside of South Africa. Early last year, the ANC's French representative, Dulcie September, was killed by a bomb in Paris. Obtaining information on the activities of foreign secret agents here in Australia is just about impossible. When we approached the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra, we were told they have a policy of not commenting on what are deemed security matters.

NEWS BROADCAST: Australia today offered an unreserved apology for the fire bombing in Canberra yesterday of a car belonging to a South African diplomat, and the Australian Government offered to pay some cost of replacing the car. But Canberra rejected criticism from the South African Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, that it was extremist language used by the Australian Government which prompted the climate for such an attack.


REPORTER: The charges follow a series of police raids last Friday. Detectives confiscated case loads of documents and equipment from the Australian headquarters of the Pan Africanist Congress and the home of its chief representative, Maxwell Nemadzivhanani. His wife's workplace was also searched. In court today, Kerry Anne Nemadzivhanani appeared on ten charges, including two counts of arson and destroying and damaging property. They relate to three separate incidents between April and August this year when diplomatic vehicles belonging to the American and South African Embassies were destroyed by fire.

Belonging to a senior South African diplomat, the car was bombed while parked in the driveway of a house in suburban Manuka. The reaction from the South African Government today - outrage.

KYRN STEVENS: Do you see any difference between police action over the fire bombing of the Embassy cars and police action over the attacks which have occurred in Canberra on 2XX, the Liberation Centre and the BLF offices?

MAXWELL NEMADZIVHANANI: The enthusiasm displayed by the police because of the bombings of diplomatic cars of the South African Embassy and the American Embassies, was never translated as far as the question of the bombings of the South African Liberation Centre is concerned or that of 2XX transmitters, or the BLF offices. There have been a dramatic imbalance as far as those issues are concerned yet the government and the police are more than readily available to protect the apartheid embassy. In as much as that they would authorise raids against the PAC office, in as much as they would authorise the intelligence of organisations who harass us, or intimidate the PAC representative in one form or another, and in as much as they would bug our phones and make sure that they bug all the rooms in the house ...

KYRN STEVENS: You've found bugs in your home?

MAXWELL NEMADZIVHANANI: So far, the information from my solicitor is that they received information from the police that these recordings which are audio tapes included conversations in and outside of the house and we do not believe that the South African Ambassador is subjected to this type of vigilance. And because we are saying liberation movements in Australia would not engage in bombing activities. They are counter productive. We can only be isolated if we engage in such activities. We are here, working through lawful means as a lawful organisation, observing rigorously Australian law because if you come here and break Australian law, we know we will be the first one to lose and will be giving the apartheid regime an advantage which it should not deserve. Why should we be the one to be victimised and subjected to this type of scrutiny and harassment, in our view.

KYRN STEVENS: Maxwell Nemadzivhanani, Australasian representative for the PAC. Federal Police have vigorously pursued the case of the diplomatic car bombings, taking a large number of items from the house of Maxwell and his wife, Kerry Browning. Their house has been under constant police surveillance and hundreds of hours of conversations recorded. Shortly after his arrest, Maxwell was appointed the PAC's chief observer to the United Nations, but was denied a visa to take up his post in the United States because of the charges against him. Recently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Evans, visited Africa, where he met with representatives of the PAC. Soon after his return, the charges against Maxwell were dropped. He is however, still being denied a visa for the US. Kerry Browning still faces some twenty charges in relation to the fire bombings and her unusual bail conditions place her under virtual house arrest, stipulating she must not leave her home between 10.00 pm and 6.00 am. She's also being denied legal aid for the lawyer of her choice and faces massive legal costs. The Federal Police conducted two raids on the house of Max and Kerry and three raids on Havelock House, where Kerry works.

KERRY BROWNING: Now, on October 14, when the police first came to our house in Ainslie, to carry out raids in connection with fire bombings, they took me away to my work place, that is Havelock House, to carry out a search. And the search included searching files, confidential files of residents who are staying at Havelock House, and this we disputed because of the confidentiality of the files and the fact that many residents come here, leaving domestic violence situations and so forth. The search also meant that they took away our photocopier, which is a very intrinsic part of our work, photocopying notices etc, taking away photocopy paper, taking away any political material that they found in the desks etc, taking away textas, rubber bands, and just heaps and heaps of stuff, whatever they could lay their hands on. They took away old Minutes from last year.

KYRN STEVENS: A number of members of the Canberra group, Women against Racism, say they have been interrogated and surveyed by the Federal Police in relation to the diplomatic car bombings. One member of the group claims that she's been continuously harassed by police. In addition, an African who's currently applying for permanent residency here, alleges that when he was interviewed by police over the matter, they threatened to interfere with his residency application. We approach Federal Justice Minister, Senator Tate, to respond to the allegations of harassment and intimidation by the police. His office told us that all complaints against Federal Police are matters for the Ombudsman. We also sought a comment on the police files relating to the fires at 2XX, the BLF and the South African Liberation Centre. We were told however, the Minister couldn't comment because the police investigations into these incidents are currently the subject of an inquiry by the Federal Police internal investigation unit. Maxwell Nemadzivhanani believes that these attacks against anti apartheid groups are damaging Australia's international image.

MAXWELL NEMADZIVHANANI: Internationally, Australia has been seen as a country committed to the fight against apartheid. It has always been renowned for its initiatives within the Commonwealth, as far as the question of punitive sanctions is concerned. Even at the United Nations and when Australia occupies a seat on the Security Council as a non permanent member, Australia emphasised that they will be readily, be willing to impose sanctions which are punitive in nature, against apartheid regime, if and when the Security Council representing the view of the world as a whole, do take such measures. So Australia's image is being tainted and painted badly by the current attacks or the actions of the Australian Federal Police, in attacking victims of apartheid. This raid onto the premises of the PAC, that is the office and the home, and that of the wife of the chief representative, Kerry Browning, Havelock House, now reverses the clock backwards in international attitudes towards Australia and their outlook, particularly issues which happen on their bicentennial year, when the question of the Aboriginal suddenly is being highlighted internationally, and then this is followed by attacks on anti apartheid, or black people from Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: My personal belief, the only way these people will be stopped is not by political or police action, it will be by responding with violence with violence.

ANDREW OLLE:: Well, that's a pretty depressing thing to have to say though, isn't it? I mean, surely what we should be doing is putting the frighteners on the police to go in there and do something rather than having to resort to vigilante tactics.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Well, I agree with that but I just don't think there's any political will to do anything about it because to do something about it and to get the political will, means admitting the strength of these people, and nobody will do it.

ANDREW OLLE: Deborah, hello.

DEBRA: Hello Andrew. I had an attack on my home a year or two ago, a brick thrown through the window, apparently in response to some comment that had been made in an academic context.

ANDREW OLLE: What, you wrote something up, or ...

DEBRA: That's right, yes. The brick just missed my two year old, or three year old, as she was then, child. I'm just ringing in, in fury at the concept that people might be urged to take their own violent retaliatory action, when we have a police force that's meant to protect us. Our experience also, when we called the police, was that they treated us as people who, since we'd had this sort of an attack on our home, must be a cell of some kind of violent or strange people who in some way deserved or called out this sort of attack on ourselves. We were told that Special Branch would be in touch with us and that never ever happened.

BETTY HOUNSLOW: It seems very clear to us that there are elements within the police force, at both headquarters levels and at local levels, who feel much greater affinity with the politics of National Action than they do with the politics of democracy. And I think that that is a very difficult question to handle, and how we deal with it is virtually beyond me.

TED PICKERING: Well, I am most annoyed to hear of such an assertion. I mean, the police force has long since learnt to be the whipping horse but let's not forget, it's the police force that are out there on a daily basis, protecting you and I.

DEBRA: But as far as the police concerned, taking no action, I may be cynical but I don't really believe that it's a case of lack of knowledge or understanding of the situation, on their part. I'm more inclined to think that it's because a police force is basically a racist organisation, particularly in regard to Aboriginals.

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, let's face it, I think that there's enough evidence around to show that anything dealing with Aboriginal people doesn't rate a very high priority with police.

BETTY HOUNSLOW: I think what it is indicative of is the fact that still, the police at headquarters are not properly educating local officers about the systematic nature of these attacks, that they should in fact, be devoting more resources to them than they do to just random acts of vandalism.

KYRN STEVENS: That's Betty Hounslow. The Reverend Dorothy McMahon from Sydney's Pitt Street Uniting Church, is happy with New South Wales' Special Branch efforts over the attacks against her and the church but she also believes improvements are needed at local police station level.

DOROTHY McMAHON: Police have to have hard evidence, and that isn't so easy to get because these people are very much hit and run people, they don't show their faces, they operate in the middle of the night, they're clever, they operate fairly randomly. I think local police could be better briefed and faster off the mark. We of course, are not the only people who've been attacked. I think we've heard from about forty or fifty other people who've also been attacked in similar ways, and some of them have been attacked in a very sustained manner and my feeling is that local police are not well briefed to respond immediately to calls from people. And sometimes if they had moved fast, from often just around the corner, they would have caught these people.

KYRN STEVENS: Are you making any moves towards educating and organising police at a local police station level, to deal with attacks that could be of a political nature.

TED PICKERING: Well, I am not sure that we have to specifically educate police in those terms. Police are properly trained to deal with a whole range of matters that come before their attention. It's a simple fact that we don't have in New South Wales, an adequate number of police officers. It's not only people who think they're suffering from political attack who will complain to me that when they ring the police with regard to a particular incident, they don't necessarily get a police officer round there immediately. And we can all feel at times, that we've been let down by the police force because they're simply not able, under all circumstances, to react to everyone's complaint instantaneously - I wish they could. And so, you should again not draw a conclusion that when you ring up and report something, if a policeman isn't there instantaneously, that the police don't care. It can often mean that the police are too busy.

KYRN STEVENS: New South Wales Police Minister, Ted Pickering. He's satisfied with police efforts over the attacks and believes that a lot is being done by police, to bring offenders to task.

TED PICKERING: I can report to you that Special Branch are taking these matters very very seriously indeed. I get continuous briefings from them as to what's being done, and let me tell you, a lot is being done, and I am pleased to report to you that there are now four people have been arrested with regard to these matters and I would expect there will be further arrests.

KYRN STEVENS: We have interviews with people who aren't very happy with police efforts over these attacks, some of them being victims, and they claim that the police haven't followed up these very serious attacks against them.

TED PICKERING: Well look, they're easy claims to make. Unless police are in a position to immediately arrest someone, you can understand the victim believing that nothing is happening because police are not able to go back to the victim and give them a blow by blow description.

KYRN STEVENS: Some people think the police force is in fact part of the problem in that, at all levels, there are elements within the force who are racist and whose sympathies may even lie with groups like National Action. What's your response to that?

TED PICKERING: Well, I am most annoyed to hear of such an assertion. I mean, the police force has long since learnt to be the whipping horse. But let's not forget, it's the police force that are out there on a daily basis, protecting you and I. It's the police office gets shot when he apprehends someone who's stealing a car, not you or I, and it's very easy for people to make those sorts of broad allegations against members of the police force, very easy indeed. Not so easy to sustain those allegations because I happen to be very proud of the role of the police force in New South Wales. They are, without a doubt, the elite police force in Australia. I am proud of them, the general community is very proud of them, and I am not very proud of people who in a very snide way, would make an assertion like you have just made.

DOROTHY McMAHON: I think also that the recent immigration debate has sparked off activities in the community which would not have arisen because the taboos against them were greater, before that.

KYRN STEVENS: What's your opinion of groups like National Action?

DOROTHY McMAHON: I think that they have to be challenged and stopped and given the information that that sort of behaviour is not the sort of thing that we countenance in this sort of community. They claim to be nationalists and I think we have to say to them, very clearly, that the sort of nation they would want to build, based on fear tactics, is not the sort of nation that most of us want. And that even though building a multicultural society is a struggle, it's not easy, I am not romantic about it, that nevertheless, we are a multicultural community, we cannot go back on that now, even if we wanted to, so we may as well respect our diversities, celebrate the good things that have come to us, and also acknowledge the fact that all of us are migrants, expect Aboriginal people. So none of us has a right to be very self righteous or dogmatic about who should be here.

KYRN STEVENS: That's the Reverend Dorothy McMahon. Norrie Newmark is a lecturer in social sciences at a Sydney university.

NORRIE NEWMARK: I am always wary of saying that a current group is fascist because I think it will never be .. fascism will never probably be exactly the same as it was historically. But I think there's certainly great similarities, probably enough to call them fascist, in certain crucial areas, to do with being nationalist, racist, anti Semitic, and anti authoritarian, which I think is quite important because when fascism first appeared, it had this strange mixture of appeals that .. strange in the sense that afterwards of course, we know fascism to be very authoritarian and very establishment, but that it appealed as a mass movement by having a certain anti authoritarian, anti sort of bourgeois side to it. And I think you can see that happening with groups like National Action, today and that their appeal, their attempt to be a mass movement, is in bringing together all sorts of quite diverse and even contradictory ideologies and ideas, in a way that people don't necessarily perceive the contradictions because what they've recognised as did the early fascists, is that it's a moment of economic crisis, particularly with sort of unemployment and crisis in the welfare area.

And it's a moment of sort of cultural identity crisis and that in moments of that sort of crisis, where people actually experience it individually, what does it mean to be an Australian now, that a group that comes along and says, we know what it means to be Australian, it means to be you know, masculine, whether it's sort of anti authoritarian talk show, Ron Casey type, or even at the extreme bully-boy, National Action. Yeah, we know what it is to be Australia, it's sort of masculine, anti authoritarian, racist and they can go back to a long tradition of racism in this country, but they can use that appeal for people to think, yes, I do know what it is to be Australian.

This is it, you're embodying it and you know, I can respond to that appeal, so in the sense that they have found a ground of appeal that takes in certain existing historical ways of thinking and acting, and responds to a current crisis, then I think they are very similar to fascists, and you know, why not call them fascists really.

TIGA BAYLES: Tiga Bayles, chairman of the New South Wales Land Council.

ANDREW OLLE: Good day.

TIGA BAYLES: Look, it's no wonder that people like this group are allowed to get away with their actions when you see the attacks, the slanderous attacks made by the Government of New South Wales and made by the Opposition Leader, John Howard, the Federal Opposition Leader. Howard's remarks in relation to a treaty, how he would tear it up - the comment, well the attacks from the State Government here, on Aboriginal people in New South Wales, it is no wonder. I believe these people are in fact, in a way that maybe they're not aware of, but I think they're inciting people like this to take action ...

ANDREW OLLE: Well, I am sure they wouldn't be aware of it. Seriously, it would be a slightly long bow to draw, wouldn't it, to suggest that the Liberal Party is responsible for this?

TIGA BAYLES: Not intentionally. But when they make their attacks on Aboriginal people in public, this does encourage people, I believe, to get out and do things and they know that action against Aboriginal people is not a high priority with police, so there is very very little chance of them being persecuted or being prosecuted, penalised, for their actions. But I believe when people in such a high profile as Howard, Greiner, Murray, make attacks on Aboriginal people in public, you encourage people like these dogs to come out, in the dark, and attack the supporters of Aboriginal land rights.

KYRN STEVENS: Jock Collins is the author of the book 'Migrants Hands in Distant Lands'. He believes that public leaders like John Howard are fuelling the racist fire, when they make statements against Asian immigration and multiculturalism, a debate which was triggered by Professor Geoffrey Blainey in 1984.

JOCK COLLINS: The whole debate was re-ignited this last year, the bicentennial year, when John Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, basically took up the Blainey view, bouncing off a report into Australian immigration, headed by Steven FitzGerald, which was critical of multiculturalism. Howard then added to that the Blainey anti Asian critique and in what was perhaps the most decisive and perhaps the most dangerous development in immigration policy, Howard broke from the immigration consensus, in other words, hitherto the major political parties had agreed on the immigration stance. Today, that consensus has broken.

KYRN STEVENS: Did it go beyond just John Howard?

JOCK COLLINS: Well, the significant fact of the move by Howard is that here you have a mainstream political party, a political party that has dominated government in Australia in the post war period, taking the view that Asian immigration might need to be reduced - no other immigration, not you know, sort of South African or not Latin American, but Asian immigration might need to be reduced, and that multiculturalism was no good. And that particular move, I think, really was sort of saying, well, you know, to the Australian people, it's not just Professor Blainey or it's not Lieutenant Colonel Ruxton or you know, General Casey saying this, it's in fact the leader of a major political party, little John Howard, who we know is a very sincere man. And I think the subsequent results that we've seen, and I think there is a noticeable one, an evident and documented increase in racism and in particular, attacks on Asians and other people. I think that must be linked to the legitimisation of previous isolated far right views, that legitimisation that they've been given, by the mainstream political parties under John Howard.

IRENE MOSS: I think that racist violence, which is racism in its most extreme forms, only takes comfort where the climate allows it, where there is a level of acceptance or tolerance of this type of activity. We think that should not be, we should do something about it before there is comfortable acceptance or tolerance of racist violence.

KYRN STEVENS: That's Human Rights Commissioner, Irene Moss. She's heading the Commission's national inquiry into racist violence. The inquiry will be looking into the extent of racist violence and formulating policies for government to combat it.

IRENE MOSS: We are looking at the organised forms of racist violence and those organised forms, as I say, appear to be affecting more the ordinary, average Australian person, who might stand up and speak on the issue, perhaps the journalists or politicians or community workers, we're getting quite a number of submissions from them. But that's to be differentiated from the sporadic attacks, or attacks against either person or property, against Aboriginal people or Asian people, people of non English speaking background. The problem with the latter group is that there are many, we believe, who are victims of racist violence, but who will not speak up about it. We call them the silent victims and we very much want to appeal to them to lodge submissions. We certainly can assure confidentiality, if that is required.

NORRIE NEWMARK: I agree on the danger of focusing on National Action as just a sort of loony fringe and I think that's another lesson from early fascism, is that it was possible to see, and a lot of liberals did, they thought, oh well, the fascists are you know, this loony fringe and we can control them. It's exactly what the sort of liberal democrats in Italy thought about Mussolini, you know, and the danger is not to see, okay, they may be an extreme, that a lot of people would not participate in that activity but they're also mobilising values around racism and sexism and nationalism, and you know, all those sorts of things we've talked about. They're mobilising values that a large part of the population is going along with and that's the danger, that's the danger of just focusing on a couple of activities or actually not a couple, a lot of activities of bashing people up and a lot of liberal people say, oh yes, I agree that's terrible, and that's the end of their thinking about it. What we need to think about is the climate where that's .. it's not just lunatic, it's actually quite possible, it is happening.