WHILE world attention may still be focused on U.S. President Donald Trump’s new protectionist America, a simmering issue playing out in the Western Australian city of Fremantle this week, and a state election to follow, looks set to unearth how deep the influence of Australia’s own far-right movements run.
While much of Australia has been counting down to its national day today, the Fremantle council has not. In a controversial move that has angered far-right groups they have decided to hold a “culturally-inclusive alternative” two days later.
The decision moves the date away from commemoration of the arrival of European colonists – an event Australia’s indigenous population do not celebrate.
Fremantle Mayor Dr. Brad Pettitt said, “This family-friendly event will contribute to the nationwide conversation on celebrating our country and its people. Fremantle is offering Australians another day to celebrate – together.”
While the decision has been criticised by the Federal Government and Fremantle’s business community, far-right group Reclaim Australia have organised a rally in opposition of the “communist council” that organiser Dennis Hutts said is “full of traitors” and seeking to “undermine our historical, national identity”.
Reclaim Australia Rally – Western Australia posted on Facebook: “They are trying to change history by moving our Australia Day in Fremantle to 2 days after. WE NEED YOU TO STAND UP FOR OUR CULTURE.”
Dennis Hutts said in a video post that the council “want to try to shut us down. Organisers are being threatened and demanding we apply for permits…
“There’s a growing agenda in this country to attack our national institutions and it seems that Australia Day at the moment is public enemy number one.”
A Fremantle resident who responded to the post saying they were proud of the council’s decision was told to “pack up and leave”.
Reclaim Australia garnered popular support with rallies “to show the people of Australia we have had enough of minorities not fitting in and trying to change our Australian cultural identity”. Their rallies in 2015 attracted violent protest.
It was from this group that the United Patriots Front (UPF), a far-right street protest movement, was formed. The UPF have recently announced the birth of a political party called Fortitude whose policies oppose immigration, multiculturalism and Islam, and whose leadership team member, Thomas Sewell, claims sits further to the right than Donald Trump.
Another emerging group is The True Blue Crew who are pro-Australian and “against Islamisation, open border policies, refugees, asylum seekers and the left wing”.
He told the ABC, “They claim that the ‘real’ people in countries—the honest, hardworking silent majority of citizens—are not represented.”
While these groups remain movements, nationalist, right-wing populist parties like One Nation have made inroads into Australia’s political arena on a platform of protectionism and opposition to political correctness.
One Nation won four senate seats in the 45th Australian Parliament and will field 60 candidates at the March 11 state election in Western Australia.
Leader, Pauline Hanson, told press on the steps of WA’s State Parliament, “even to this very day, I will be and I am a threat to their power (major political parties), their corruption, their lies, and treating people in this country like mushrooms.”
Hanson was previously disendorsed as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Australia for comments made about Indigenous Australians. Hanson said she welcomes people to Australia of any origin, but does not want their cultures to overly influence Australia.
One Nation policies include “balanced, zero net immigration” which replaces those leaving Australia with new migrants.
A poll published by The West Australian suggested One Nation might secure 11 per cent of the vote.
Hanson told The West Australian, that just like the Trump election, there would be “sleeper voters” who came out in support of them and the results could be even higher.
While it might not be enough to secure power it can give a minor party the balance of power, as happened in the 2015 Queensland state election when Labor won 42 seats and the Liberal National Party (LNP) 41 with Katter’s Australian Party’s (2 seats), Independents (3) and One Nation (1).
Katter’s Australian Party member, Robbie Katter, told the Brisbane Times, competition was needed at parliament that went beyond the major parties, and that the mood of voters witnessed in the U.S. and the United Kingdom with the success of Trump and Brexit were alive and well in Australia.
“People are angry, they’re disenfranchised, the Brexit, Trump, that’s alive and well, that attitude in Queensland, because people feel dissatisfied that they’re far too detached from the political process and I believe that’s primarily because we’ve inherited this two-party dominated system.”