A new briefing from the Online Hate Prevention Institute highlights the overt racism of the “Australians for the Golden Dawn Party” Facebook page. This includes both important images of racism, some of it more culturally relevant to other parts of the world, and material harking back to the White Australia Policy and Australia’s own historic racism. The content is unlawful in Australia under S 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (Cth), a decades old statute Australia’s current Attorney-General is trying to repeal.
Pressed in Parliament by Nova Peris, the first indigenous woman to be elected to the Australian Senate, Attorney-General George Brandis said that, “People do have a right to be bigots, you know. In a free country, people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted”. This runs counter to Australian law where the Racial Discrimination Act is just one of many laws at both Federal and State level which limit speech in the public interest.
The far-right is growing in popularity in Europe, but Australia remains largely isolated from this. That isolation is not only geographic, but cultural. With 45% of Australians either born overseas, or having at least one parent born overseas, it is the protection of a harmonious multicultural society, and not a dogmatic protection of free speech, which is a core part of the Australian identity.
Attitudes in Australia have been tested in response to the Attorney-General’s moves again S18C. A Fairfax-Nielsen poll showed 88% of the public supported leaving the law as it stands. Submissions from community groups as part of a public consultation have also strongly opposed change, as has a joint submission from the State Governments of Australia’s two most populous states. A statement from the State Governments said that, "the proposed changes threaten the social cohesion and well-being of not just our states'' culturally and religiously diverse communities, but also the wider Australian community".
Fascists in Australia remain at the extreme fringe of politics. The Australia First Party who called the rally in support of Golden Dawn has no seats in the Federal or State Parliaments and has won just two local council seats. Its leader has served two jail terms. The first was for supplying a shot gun that was used by skin heads to shoot at the home of Eddie Funde, the African National Congress representative in Australia in 1989. The second was for fraud. Australia First does not pose the same electoral concerns as European far-right political parties.
Golden Dawn, by contrast, is one of the most successful far-right political organisations in Europe, having won 7 percent of the vote in the 2012 Greek parliamentary elections. The party was described in a World Jewish Congress briefing as, “the most notorious of the resurgent neo-Nazi parties in Europe with its leaders using the right-arm Nazi salute at rallies and employing extreme, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric”.
The connection between Australia First and Australians for Golden Dawn, facilitated through social media and leading to them standing side by side in Brisbane last week, is still a concern. The connection occurred after a television current affairs program exposed the presence in Australia of Golden Dawn. Soon the Australians for Golden Dawn page was promoting the Australia First rally, and Australia First was promoting the fact they had Golden Dawn involvement.
Social media is a powerful tool for connecting people, and access to that tool should be limited so it is not abused. Companies like Facebook and Google are under no obligation to provide their services to fascist organisations like Golden Dawn or Australia First. The purpose of these groups runs against the community standards of the social media platforms; that alone should be enough to deny them access to the service.
Dr Andre Oboler is CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and Co-Chair of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism.