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Cover story: report on Australian extremism.

HELEN DALLEY: Over the past couple of weeks a new term has entered Australia's political vocabulary - CIR, standing for citizens' initiated referenda. The idea of citizens forcing laws on government has been sponsored by the former Deputy Liberal Leader, Peter Reith. But now Reith has been gagged by his leader, Alexander Downer. Indeed, gagged so effectively that Reith pulled out of an interview with Sunday just as we were setting up the cameras to record it.

What's making Downer so nervous about the referenda issue is the involvement of far Right-wing groups like the League of Rights. If that sounds like paranoia, Sunday's Janine Perrett has found extremism and prejudice are flourishing in Australia.

JANINE PERRETT: Six o'clock, Friday night, in the aptly-named Victorian outback town of Nhill - not much happening except for a small gathering at the local bowls club. But this isn't just any bush social, this is a meeting of the infamous extreme Right political organisation, the League of Rights.

JOHN DE FREDERICKS: What is the League of Rights? It is radical, racist, Right-wing, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, toxic organisation led by that terrible Eric Butler and his geriatric skinheads.

DAVID GREASON: The League isn't a Nazi organisation, the League isn't a violent organisation, the League isn't the sort of organisation that will either firebomb your home or be likely to have people elected to Parliament in the next few years.

GERARD HENDERSON: It's anti-Semitic, it's anti-Asian, it's anti-Asian immigration to Australia, it's nasty, it's sectarian, it's doctrinaire and it's bigoted.

JOHN DE FREDERICKS: Look around you. Who and what do you see? My guess is there's not many skinheads and things around. The people you're looking at are generally helpful. There's a friend in need by any one of you if you're in trouble. They are trustworthy; you can rely on their word, explicitly, and they are practising Christians trying to obey the 10 commandments. In other words, they're the backbone of the country.

JANINE PERRETT: And the man behind Australia's longest-running far Right group is Eric Butler who founded the League in 1946, although its roots go back even further to another time of depressed economic conditions when the farmers were rebelling against the banking system and vulnerable to groups offering radical solutions.

ERIC BUTLER: The League of Rights came out of the social credit movement which was a major political movement in the '30s in this country; had a tremendous impact and not only of course in Victoria but right around the nation.

JANINE PERRETT: In the 1930s, towns like Nhill in Victoria's Wimmera region were home to secret white armies full of thousands of Right-wing sympathisers. Today this area is still a breeding ground for rural discontent, but now the numbers of the hardcore will be lucky to reach the hundreds.

It's difficult to define exactly how many members the League can muster these days, given the secrecy with which it shrouds itself. Despite their paranoia, the League allowed Sunday's cameras to film their meeting. On the surface, it seemed harmless enough.

JOHN DE FREDERICKS: It's a Christian-oriented, service organisation that's fully supportive of the flag and our system of the constitutional monarchy.

DAVID GREASON: I mean, they present themselves as a remarkably patriotic organisation of dear people who wave flags, you know, like the Country Women's Association with a bit of politics. But they're not like that. They do have an agenda and it's an unpleasant agenda.

JANINE PERRETT: Indeed, you don't have to look far to find a very different picture of the League, and in this case you can judge a book by its cover.

ELMA BUTLER: We sell thousands of books through the mail, and of course through our supporters who subscribe to our journals. We have thousands of them.

JANINE PERRETT: Butler, and his wife Elma, take their propaganda directly to the people. But the best selection can be found back in Melbourne at the League front, the Heritage Bookshop.

ERIC BUTLER: Things come and go in accordance with what's going on out in the community, the issues.

JANINE PERRETT: The bookshop is reaping a bonanza from the decision of the Australian Government to ban the League-sponsored tour by David Irving, the British historian turned holocaust denier.

DAVID IRVING: I am not prepared to accept that anybody saw Jews being herded into gas chambers, and anybody who does say that, I'm afraid I'm going to have to say at rock bottom they are liars.

ERIC BUTLER: Well, we come here to David Irving.

JANINE PERRETT: Is he popular?

UNIDENTIFIED: With certain people, yes. Yes, he certainly sells. He's a steady seller. His Hitler's war, of course, is his major work. I find a lot of people talk about it and criticise it but I generally find none of them have read it.

JANINE PERRETT: Butler himself has been a controversial author over the years. Perhaps his best-known work is the 1946 diatribe, The international Jew. It was, according to long-time League critic, the late Ken Gott(?), the vilest anti-Semitic book ever issued in Australia.

EXTRACT

UNIDENTIFIED: The international Jew and his tools must be challenged everywhere, and quickly. We did not fight World War 2 to introduce world slavery; we fought it to protect our sovereignty.

ERIC BUTLER: Now, The international Jew was produced in a hurry at the end of the second World War, and I would say apart from developing my views about the matter, they have not changed at all.

JANINE PERRETT: Well, do you still think there is a Jewish domination of the financial industry?

ERIC BUTLER: There's no doubt about it. There's a tremendous influence Jewish influence in the role of finance. In the same way, there is an enormous amount of Jewish influence running right throughout the communist movement. There's no question about that. And, understand that you've got to go back to the philosophical roots of this whole question.

JANINE PERRETT: The Human Rights Commission report into racial violence in Australia called the League the 'legal face of anti-Semitism'.

ERIC BUTLER: Well again, you see, that observation is a reflection on what I'll call the cultural breakdown of our times, where language itself has degenerated to the stage that it's not used to try and describe reality. And so today we've reached this situation where anyone in this area you don't like, you just call him an anti-Semite.

DAVID GREASON: Here's an organisation with a bloody big hang up about Jews, and it's just remarkable that every time you say: Bit funny about the Jews, Eric? Oh no, no, no, no, we sell lots of books, you know. And I think: Oh, come off it.

JANINE PERRETT: David Greason has intimate knowledge of the League's philosophy and he's just revealed all in his provocative new book I was a teenage fascist. As a 14-year-old he began visiting the Heritage Bookshop and struck up a close relationship with the Butlers.

DAVID GREASON: I'd been going to the bookshop quite a few times and I was considered this weird little kid who takes such an interest in patriotic matters. And they took me to see Eric, and he was charming and he just wowed. He was a guy who had met Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister - not everyone's pin-up boy, and not even mine necessarily - but he was someone who was important. And the League presents itself as an organisation that says stuff that's hardline and: We don't mess about, we're not frightened boys. And something in me was attracted to that.

JANINE PERRETT: Greason eventually grew out of the League, but instead of growing up he moved even deeper into extremist politics. He helped set up an Australian branch of the notorious neo-Nazis, the National Front.

DAVID GREASON: I'm looking at the screen, full of flag and flagpoles coming towards me, right into the camera, right through the camera even, this wall of flags and there's this drum beat, and I'm thinking these people can do it. And I don't even know what 'it' is. I mean, I'm only 13.

It could have been a case where had the Communist Party got to me first, or the Jehovah's Witnesses or whatever, I was looking for something to believe. I wanted something to belong to.

JANINE PERRETT: For all the humour in the book, Greason is only too aware that Right-wing politics is far from funny.

UNIDENTIFIED: In the case of one certain journalist that smeared National Action as a neo-fascist organisation, we interviewed that journalist in her own home in the matter in which she attempted to interview us.

JANINE PERRETT: One of his colleagues in the National Front breakaway group, National Action, was Jim Salim. He's now serving time for a shooting incident involving the Australian ANC representative.

NEWSREADER: These were some of the ugliest scenes of violence London has seen this year.

JANINE PERRETT: Violent extremists have never gained a foothold in Australia like in the US and the UK. Reading Greason's book, you might believe they're really not bright enough to be a threat; however, there have been enough isolated cases to cause concern.

UNIDENTIFIED: To save our nation, Van Tongeren and his neo-Nazi group, the Australian Nationalist Movement, orchestrated a campaign of terror against Perth's Asian community. In the space of eight months, five Chinese restaurants were firebombed; a sixth was blown up.

JACK VAN TONGEREN: What we're on about is basically Australia for the Australians. This is our nation, our people developed it as they saw fit. It was a European nation and we intend to keep it that way.

UNIDENTIFIED: When ASIO tapped the headquarters of National Action, they were trying to neutralise a possible security threat. Instead, what their bugs picked up became Australia's first murder on tape. Hurry up and die ... you thought you were pretty smart; bad luck to you, you police informer, now we got to get rid of that body.

GRAEME CAMPBELL: I make it clear I don't endorse the League.

JANINE PERRETT: Despite his denials, the Labor Member for Kalgoorlie, Graeme Campbell, did in fact endorse the League by being one of the few politicians in recent times to publicly address a League meeting.

GRAEME CAMPBELL: I said guilt by association says more about the media and about journalists than it says about me.

JANINE PERRETT: You'd reject that you're anti-Semitic, presumably?

GRAEME CAMPBELL: Well, I certainly would reject that. But then, I don't hold the Jewish lobby in any high regard, either. I mean, it's not a lobby I would kowtow to as is the wont of both the leadership of the Liberal and the Labor Party.

JANINE PERRETT: Is that one of the reasons, perhaps, you decided to stand on the platform and speak?

GRAEME CAMPBELL: No, it wasn't. I think it's a very small part of the League's position these days.

DAVID THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr Deputy Chairman, and good evening ladies and gentlemen.

JANINE PERRETT: David Thompson is the new face of a rapidly ageing League of Rights. He's replaced 78-year-old Butler as National Director of the League.

DAVID THOMPSON: I guess the members are looking to the future. You're going to need some kind of a shift to another generation at some stage and perhaps this is the attempt to do it.

JANINE PERRETT: Do you .... the same as Eric Butler or is there a different approach you're taking?

DAVID THOMPSON: No, I'm not exactly the same. I'm another generation. I don't have his experiences. I don't carry the same generational outlook, I suppose.

JANINE PERRETT: Well, would you support going back to the white Australia policy?

DAVID THOMPSON: If necessary, yes.

JANINE PERRETT: The idea of putting up a fresh face, even if underneath it's the same old message, might be part of a push to move the League away from its pariah image.

Would you like to see that change in the future? Would you like to see the League more accepted?

DAVID THOMPSON: Well, from the point of view of getting results, yes, I would like to see the League more accepted.

GRAEME CAMPBELL: The point I make is this: There are people out there much, much more extreme than the League of Rights and if these people, if the reasonable voice of concern isn't listened to, you're going to find that the unreasonable voice will be.

HELEN DALLEY: One of the most bizarre Right-wing groups in Australia is the CEC, Citizens' Electoral Councils. Based in Melbourne, it's linked to the American extremists, Lyndon LaRouche, a former presidential candidate just out of gaol for fraud and tax evasion. LaRouche preaches that the world's financial system is about to collapse. His tirades against socialists and bankers, his demands for lower interest rates and subsidies for farmers has won him followers, especially in rural Australia.

Among LaRouche's other ideas, the colonisation of Mars and the earthly conspiracy behind classical music.

JANINE PERRETT: A rare glimpse inside the shadowy world of the Citizens' Electoral Councils. The CEC is so many sinister conspiracy theories they even lurk behind the morning singalong.

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: We're part of the Schiller Institute, which is an international organisation, and we have been on a campaign to reintroduce the lower-pitch tuning of CT-56. Mr LaRouche some years ago discovered that the pitch of the music had been increased since 1814. The Council of Vienna made a political decision to increase the pitch of the music up to the higher pitches we have today.

This is totally political. You talk people to who have never sung in their life before. It's a very, very powerful experience to show people that we can actually change, we can change economic policy, we can change social policy. Because why? We can change the way that we see ourselves through singing.

JANINE PERRETT: The CEC political pitch is targeted against organisation like the United Nations, disrupting meetings like this one in Melbourne last month.

CONRAD BLACK: After three weeks and a book tour I can take almost anything, but not references to Lyndon LaRouche.

JANINE PERRETT: Canadian publisher, Conrad Black, was a target when he launched his book last year.

CONRAD BLACK: I'm all for free speech, but I'm afraid Lyndon LaRouche is not.

JANINE PERRETT: The CEC has adopted similar aggressive tactics in their dubious fundraising activities, imported from the US.

Lyndon LaRouche, perennial presidential candidate, convicted fraud and purveyor of pernicious propaganda.

LYNDON LAROUCHE: .... area of foreign policy, the Government of the United States is either criminal or insane. You may be prejudiced, you may have been worked up, you may have been soaked up by the bunch of lies like many people in the media have, but you don't really know a thing about me. Look, you guys are a bunch of liars. How can I talk with a drug-pusher like you?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: I'm very proud to be associated with Lyndon LaRouche because he's being framed up by powers that oppose the fiscal economic policies that he promotes. The big banks, the idea of free trade, he oppose all of that and so do we.

JANINE PERRETT: Craig Isherwood, National Secretary of the CEC, is a devout LaRouche convert.

Do you have any US LaRouchites out here working for you here?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: We have people coming over and we have people going over to the United States.

JANINE PERRETT: Are you the Australian arm of Lyndon LaRouche?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Yes, we are, in the sense that the we have the responsibility for the philosophical idea of what I've just elaborated down here.

JANINE PERRETT: It's a far cry from the early days of the CEC in 1988 when Isherwood and his Kingaroy colleagues were pushing for rural reforms through citizens' initiated referenda. CIR is a sort of people power for the masses to have a direct say in democracy.

TREVOR PERRETT: They decided that there had to be a better way than the party system, so they called a public meeting and they decided to form the Citizens' Electoral Council.

GRAEME CAMPBELL: Well, at that stage it was a grassroots movement and the CEC that backed me was the very first one that was elected anywhere in Australia. And it was very ordinary people working for a common cause. However, further down the track it was hijacked by radicals, extremists.

JANINE PERRETT: Trevor Perrett, no relation, was the Independent candidate backed by the CEC who achieved the unthinkable and won the safest National seat in the land. But even one day after the election, Isherwood unwittingly revealed the problems ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED: But how do you keep your Member honest? You make him write a letter of resignation before he leaves for Gomorrah. Now, your committee holds Trevor's resignation from his political position, doesn't it? Would they use it?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Well, it's up to Trevor.

UNIDENTIFIED: If I was your representative I'd be very nervous, I guess that's what I'm saying.

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: No, he's got nothing to fear.

GRAEME CAMPBELL: Two or three people within the CEC organisation wanted total control over me. Now, this included telling me how to vote. It was my duty to represent the people of that electorate and not represent the extremists and the ratbags that jumped upon the bandwagon of the CEC. Therefore I found it impossible to work with them.

JANINE PERRETT: So Trevor Perrett joined the National Party and Craig Isherwood moved the CEC to suburban Melbourne. He now had a new message from an overseas messiah which didn't go down well in rural Queensland.

LYNDON LA ROUCHE: She knew they were pro-Soviet. Why did she get in the same bed with them, persistently?

JANINE PERRETT: Many of his theories are extremely controversial, some would say offensive. I mean, do you hold with his argument that the Queen is an international drug pusher?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: No, that slander was never made. What he has said, to clarify the point, is the Queen of England has the power to stop the international drug trade if she so chooses.

JANINE PERRETT: Well, do you think the Queen could stop the international drug problem if she tried?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: I think a lot of people could stop the international drug problem if they wanted to.

The royal family was involved in the opium wars back in the 1850s and so forth.

JANINE PERRETT: And today?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Well, I don't know what they're involved in today.

GRAEME CAMPBELL: Some of their stuff is quite off the planet. One of the differences between the League and the LaRouchians is the LaRouchians are, for some reason, extraordinarily well funded; the League is not.

JANINE PERRETT: The thing that makes the CEC stand out in this country is the amount of money it's raised. The group's 1993 electoral return reveals that it received $370,000 last year.

Where does that money come from?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: It comes from selling subscriptions.

JANINE PERRETT: $370,000 worth?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Yes, we sell subscriptions on a full-time basis.

JANINE PERRETT: There's no truth to the allegations that that money comes from the US?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: No, there's no bags of money come in at all. But can I ask you the question: Why is the interview heading this way?

DAVID GREASON: You've also got groups like the Citizens' Electoral Councils which politically I believe are insignificant but which have a lot of money to play with - $300 or $400,000, which is unheard of in Australian far-Right politics. I mean, the League of Rights runs on a shoestring of like 70,000 bucks a year and does a lot with that.

JANINE PERRETT: The CEC's ability to raise huge amounts and the methods they use to do it is a source of consternation to other conservative groups. For example, the Reverend Fred Nile's Call to Australia Party would be lucky to raise about 10 per cent of that, but that didn't stop the CEC from trying to tap his members.

FRED NILE: A young man rang me to say that his grandmother had been harangued on the phone by the people saying they represented the CEC, calling from Melbourne, and they used my name. So the lady assumed that I had actually authorised the call. Now, when I heard that I was very angry because they wanted from this lady, who was quite elderly, her bank card number and an amount of up to $600 that they would transfer from her account. And she did give them the bank card number.

JANINE PERRETT: What the funds are used for is another area of deep concern to the CEC's critics or, as Isherwood calls them, the enemies. And they have ways of dealing with them, too.

Do you use private investigators here in Australia?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Yes, sometimes.

JANINE PERRETT: Why?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Just to find out, you know, who a person is, that's all.

JANINE PERRETT: Why do you need to use a private investigator?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Well, sometimes they have access to ... we're not private investigators, we're journalists.

JANINE PERRETT: But you said you're a journalist. I don't use private investigators. It's not the usual tactics, is it?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Well, it depends on what you're trying to find out. If you're trying to find who's ....

JANINE PERRETT: Well, what are you trying to find out?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: .... who's into tax evasion, for example, right, then you would use someone who's got investigative skills.

JANINE PERRETT: What are you going to use this information for?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: Make it public.

JANINE PERRETT: You don't use it for any kind of blackmail purposes?

CRAIG ISHERWOOD: No, not at all.

JANINE PERRETT: The real danger with the extreme Right would be if it increased its political influence. Both the League and the CEC boasted to us that they regularly meet with Federal politicians here in Canberra. Those meetings have to be secret because no mainstream politician can afford to be linked publicly with them. So, when the image-conscious political leaders dismiss these groups as irrelevant and fringe groups, that doesn't necessarily mean that their policies aren't being heard.

UNIDENTIFIED: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this seminar on direct democracy.

JANINE PERRETT: When the far Right crossed over into the mainstream recently, it caused predictable shock waves through conservative politics.

PETER REITH: The seminar has been organised beyond party politics ...

JANINE PERRETT: The occasion was a conference organised by Liberal frontbencher, Peter Reith, in support of citizens' initiated referenda the direct democracy concept used in Switzerland and the US. And it also attracts a diverse range of Australian authors.

BRYCE COURTENAY: If we don't take up citizens' initiated referenda into our lifestyle, God help the republic. Thank you.

MORRIS WEST: Let the debate range as widely as it possibly can, but let it be a debate which pays ultimate respect to dissent.

THOMAS KENEALLY: Gough Whitlam once said to me when I put citizen initiated referenda to him, having read Professor Walker's book and been enthused, he said: Well, if you want to be a pack of boring, bourgeois ... like the Swiss, you're welcome to it.

JANINE PERRETT: But CIR is also the platform of far Right groups, and the warning bells had been ringing even before the conference.

GERARD HENDERSON: Peter Reith doesn't represent those kind of groups, but I think it's politically unwise to get into this, because once you open this up the League of Rights, the CEC and all these marginalised Right-wing groups in Australia will come flooding in.

JANINE PERRETT: And in they came. Trevor Perrett and other former CEC supporters, Right-wing ACT politician Dennis Stevenson and other League backers, and of course the head of the League himself.

JOHN HYDE: One of the reasons that this proposal for citizens initiated referendums has copped some flak in the last few days from quarters that I didn't entirely anticipate, I suspect because of fear of an organisation called the League of Rights. But if anyone thinks the sort of racist garbage that an organisation like that comes up with is going to get past any referendum whether citizen initiated or not, think again .... I expected that interjection, I was looking for it.

DAVID THOMPSON: Behind the debate, both in the meeting today and in the national press over the last couple of days, there has been something like a shadow if you like, the unmentioned question of the League of Rights. And that did come up today in John Hyde's comment, and I told Mr Hyde afterwards that it was unjustified, unfair and completely untrue.

JANINE PERRETT: New Liberal Leader, Alexander Downer, recognised the danger and quickly gagged Peter Reith from any further debate on CIR. According to Eric Butler, Downer is extremely conscious of the danger of Liberal politicians sharing platforms with the League.

ERIC BUTLER: Yes, he was very young, but nevertheless he knew about the League, he was invited to participate in a South Australian seminar on constitutional matters. I was there and I took the opportunity of saying that I was pleased to see him there.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: You will never, never find me tolerating in any shape or form any type of racism at all, ever, ever. If I've been on a platform, if I've been on platforms ... I'm sure I've been on platforms where there have been people from the League of Rights around, but I have never given any support to the League of Rights.

JANINE PERRETT: Despite Downer's denunciation and his move to gag Reith, Gerard Henderson for one thinks the Coalition needs to come out even more strongly against the far Right.

GERARD HENDERSON: I think it's important that leading figures in the Liberal Party and in the National Party come out and publicly criticise and expose these groups. To the extent to which they're identified with them, their political credibility will also suffer.

ERIC BUTLER: In my opinion, this nation now is faced with the greatest crisis and one that's deepening by the hour that it has ever faced. You are part of a special group of people that's seen something that other people haven't seen. Therefore you've all got a responsibility and I'm going to leave you all to face up to it as individuals: What is my responsibility in the battle that's going to come? Over to you, thank you.

HELEN DALLEY: Sunday's Janine Perrett with that report.