THE "WARM UP"
Canberra turned on a bleak winter's day, overcast blustery and sometimes showery. Pre-publicity for the counter demonstration had been around for several days, and could be found plastered around the bus interchange, pinned to notice boards in various government departments, and advertised in the local media for free.
The counter demonstration, dubbed the "Rally for Racial Respect", had been organised by Graham Wright, Jon Stanhope and Neil Goodwin for 12:30pm in the plaza around the Canberra Times Fountain in City Walk which is immediately outside the Canberra Shopping Centre in Civic which may be called the CBD of Canberra. Their publicity claimed it was to "Celebrate Australia's cultural diversity. Make a stand against racial intolerance. Attend and show you don't support the views of Hanson's One Nation Party." Some 1500 did attend, but what was said could not be heard by those much behind the first rows, as the amplification was inadequate for the task, so what the occasional clapping was about is still a mystery. Before the advertised conclusion at 1:30pm, it was all over, with some showers to dampen the cold plaza and the anonymous audience who scurried for warm and dry government offices.
The organisations who where advertised as supporting the rally were the ACT Council of Social Services, ACT Greens, Anatolian Cultural House, Asians and Australians Against Further Intimidation, Australian Labor Party, Canberra Baptist Church, Catholic Social Justice Commission, Community Aid Abroad, Council for Civil Liberties of the ACT, Ethnic Communities Council of Canberra, International Socialist Organisation, Migrant Resource Centre, Quakers, Racial Respect, The National Indigenous Youth Council, Trades and Labour Council, Vietnamese Women's Association and YWCA of Canberra. In addition there were banners advertising the Australian Democrats, Commonwealth Public Service Union, Green Left, New Labour Party, Sex Workers and Vigil for a Just and Tolerant Society. However no officer holders from the local Quakers or the Canberra Baptist Church could be seen, nor were any Aborigines or Vietnamese obviously involved, so there must be some doubt about the support the rally actually had. However the prostitutes, socialists and anarchists were certainly there, and none of the speakers were public figures.
Around the fringes the Anti Racism Coalition and the New Labour Party were pamphleteering for recruits to the "real" demonstration later in the same day.
THE MAIN EVENT
That demonstration was for the launch of the Canberra Branch of One Nation at the National Press Club, which is situated at 16 National Circuit in the inner southern suburb of Barton. That venue had been arranged only after several others had refused a booking, some under pressure from the ACT Government.
The protesters began to congregated over the road behind police barricades from 5pm, with speakers whipping up the crowd through bull-horns and chants: "Hanson is a puppet and Howard pulls her strings. Racists go home. Asians are welcome … Racists aren't. Racist scum. Landrights yes … Racism no." Again there were banners advertising the Commonwealth Public Service Union, Resistance, Socialist Workers and Vigil for a Just and Tolerant Society. Other banners were more direct or violent: "Heil Hanson. Smash Hanson. One Nation - Divided Communities … Support a diverse Australia."
TV crews from the ABC, SBS, Channel 9, Channel 7 and WIN were all in attendance. When people arrived by car and foot, there was a mad dash to get footage, with hot bright lights in the face and lots of scrambling. After a while the police directed the crews not to use their lights as the crowd, of perhaps 1500, broke into howls and boos every time a new quarry had been spot-lighted.
Inside those that had come to the meeting registered and paid their entrance fees, with some joining on the spot. Shortly after 6:15pm, after over 150 had braved the hatred and hostility outside, the real proceedings began. The convenor, Shaun Nelson introduced himself and briefly covered the basic tenets of One Nation and his personal reasons for risking public opprobrium. Nominations were called for the interim executive: president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. With no motions from the floor, he nominated friends of long standing who he had sounded out beforehand. They were all seconded and declared elected unopposed, Shaun becoming the interim branch president. Questions were called from the floor, and one protester who had registered and paid his entrance fee, called Shaun to account, but was ordered out after he refused to let him respond which he did after the interloper was escorted outside. The Joint Vice President of One Nation, David Ettridge then took the podium and calmly expounded on the introduction given by Shaun. Again questions were called from the floor and later the meeting closed. Afterwards those at the meeting had the opportunity to talk individually with both speakers.
Most of what they said is standard One Nation rhetoric and can be found elsewhere, though several points are new and worthwhile repeating:
Australia is under cultural attack by those with an internationalist socialist agenda, that must be repulsed.
Candidates for election will be from the electorate for which they are standing, and will attend their local branch meetings for consultation with branch party members. Those branch party members will have the responsibility of electing two or three nominees for a short list to be submitted to the central executive for background checks and selection.
One Nation planned to have some 300 branches by the next federal election with each having two or three hundred members.
The war chest needed to fight that federal election was expected to be some $10 million, and fund raising was going to be vital.
Migrants of all races were welcome in Australia, provided they left any traditional enmities behind, and sought to integrate into the Australian culture. In this regard, Singapore was specifically praised for its anti-clustering laws, which forbade ghettos of Indians and Chinese in that city state.
Several times outside, some protesters had tried to march down the street, but were herded back behind the barriers each time by the Federal Police with TV crews as their adoring acolytes. The Federal Police deserve to be congratulated for a thoroughly professional job, keeping the two sides completely separate at all times. One protester was arrested and bundled into one of the two paddy wagons hidden in the drive-through access, and if there were any more no one was saying. However that took the attendance of some 100 uniformed and plain-clothed police for over three hours. By that time, fewer than 400 protesters remained in what was by then the rain and cold gusts.
TV crews had filmed inside the meeting, while ABC radio recorded both speeches and interviews with each speakers and some attendees. Hopefully some of that will be broadcast, without too much perverse attention from the spin-doctors of the Australian media.