It was sage advice from an unexpected source. In the wake of the United Patriots Front’s “Reclaim St Kilda” rally on January 5, which featured some men giving the Nazi salute, the ABC’s editorial director Alan Sunderland served as a rational voice.
Following criticism that ABC news reports had not described the UPF’s leaders as Nazis, Sunderland tweeted: “Personally, I wouldn’t call them Nazis. That implies a formality and consistency of belief that is not warranted by facts. I’d call them people making Nazi salutes. Accuracy matters.”
Quite so. From its formation the Nazi party was a revolutionary movement driven by an official ideology that featured racism, anti-Semitism, extreme nationalism and militarism. It was shaped by the unwillingness of many Germans to accept that imperial Germany had been defeated in the field of battle in November 1918 and widespread resentment at the peace terms imposed by the Allies following the end of World War I.
Adolf Hitler dominated the Nazis by the early 1920s and came to power in Berlin in 1933 before leading his country to an even more devastating defeat in May 1945. In short, for a quarter of a century Hitler led a political movement that, for a time at least, enjoyed considerable support at home.
They were the Nazis, who were crushed by the Allies (primarily Britain and its Commonwealth nations, the US and the Soviet Union) in 1945. And then there is Blair Cottrell, the UPF’s leader, photographed standing on a Melbourne beach a fortnight ago, megaphone in hand, in front of less than a score of supporters and four Australian flags.
Whatever Cottrell is, he’s no Hitler. And the same can be said of the UPF members who gave sieg heil salutes.
There has never been a credible Nazi or fascist movement in Australia. Unlike in Britain. In the lead-up to World War II, Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists was a serious and potentially damaging revolutionary movement. That’s why Mosley and his wife Diana were interned during the conflict with Germany.
In Britain at the time, there were men and women who wanted Nazi Germany to conquer Britain and were prepared to assist the cause. In his book The Traitors (John Murray, 2017), Josh Ireland analyses the personalities of four men who were executed for treason at the end of hostilities — namely William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw), John Amery, Eric Pleasants and Harold Cole.
There was no equivalent of Mosley in Australia, still less a Joyce. Australia’s leading right-wing movement at the time was the Australia First Movement headed by PR (Inky) Stephensen, who had been a Queensland Rhodes scholar. Despite the fact Stephensen and his colleagues were not a threat to the war effort, he and some others were detained when Labor’s Bert Evatt was attorney-general in the Curtin Labor government.
The official war historian Paul Hasluck was to describe Evatt’s action in interning Stephensen and others as “undoubtedly the grossest infringement of individual liberty made during the war … a matter of shame … to the authorities concerned”. In the postwar period, the leading extreme right-wing movement was Eric Butler’s Australian League of Rights. It was an unpleasant, intolerant and anti-Semitic organisation — but neither radical nor violent. From the 1960s on, there were some self-proclaimed Nazi organisations led by self-proclaimed fuhrers but they were in no sense a serious threat to the democratic order.
Then in the 80s and early 90s there was Jim Saleam’s National Action, which was at time engaged in acts of criminality and violence. But it had little impact.
And now there is Cottrell’s essentially nonviolent UPF, which will no doubt seek to create more attention in the lead-up to Australia Day.
Australia is a practical and empirical society that makes it difficult for organisations of the extreme Right or extreme Left to attain and retain support.
There has been much discussion about the decision of Queensland independent senator Fraser Anning to attend the “Reclaim St Kilda” rally. It should be remembered that Anning entered federal parliament because he was on Pauline Hanson’s One Nation ticket in Queensland in 2016.
Hanson won two seats only because Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution election that halved the quota for Senate vacancies. When Malcolm Roberts, the second successful candidate, was ruled ineligible to sit due to his (then) dual citizenship — Anning took his place. Anning has since quit One Nation and has fallen out with fellow Queenslander Bob Katter.
Despite his unwise flirtation with the UPF, whose leader wants Australian schoolchildren to read Mein Kampf, Anning does not present as an anti-Semite. In any event, as the Queensland senator himself acknowledges, he has scant chance of being re-elected to the Senate.
For the record, Saleam contested the Longman by-election last July as a member of the Australia First Party and scored less than 1 per cent of the primary vote.
Writing in The Age on January 7 under the title “Protest state”, journalist Anthony Colangelo commented: “Victoria is arguably the noisiest, most active battleground for right-wing groups in Australia; but why is the state largely regarded as Australia’s most progressive a hot-bed of far-right activity?”
When Age journalists use the word “progressive”, it is a softer way of saying “left-wing”. Colangelo overlooked the fact that Victoria is also the most active battleground for extreme left-wing groups in Australia.
So much so that the far Left has silenced the views of many mainstream conservatives in Victoria, making it possible for extreme right-wing organisations like the UPF to fill the vacuum of opposition to the far Left.
The level of politically motivated violence in Australia is low when compared to other similar democracies. However, there is more political thuggery in Victoria than any other state — which explains why it is attractive to the extremes of Right and Left.
The UPF attracts the likes of the Australian version of the international antifa (that is, anti-fascist) movement. And the antifa movement attracts the UPF. Its play-acting can be witnessed on the streets of Melbourne — but it’s not Munich in 1923.