Monday, June 12, 2023

‘Symbols of hate’: The lingering afterlife of Croatian fascism in Australia

I have had some contact with this group. I was invited to attend a club meeting in Sydney in the late '60s of a very conservative club called the 50 Club -- with premises in Darlinghurst. It was a lunchtime meeting that I went to and the food was notably good. Most of the members were Croatians and the leading light was Lyenko Urbanchich (Ljenko Urbancic). The Ustasha was mentioned with some admiration occasionally.

But they were never more than a talk shop. Several of them joined the Liberal party in attempt to shift it rightward, with Urbanchich having some prominence in the iberal Party for a while. The Liberals eventually got wind of his antisemitism, however, and he was sidelined. A fuller history of Urbanchich and his activities is here, in an article by Mark Aarons, former head of the Communist Party of Australia


So as far as I can tell, Balkan Rightists have no influence outside of their own circles and need be of no particular concern.

When a small group of Croatian emigres met in 1953 in a humble weatherboard house in Footscray, a world away from the strife of a destroyed Europe, they formed a soccer club that would help transform the sport and twice be champions of Australia.

But from the start, that meeting in inner Melbourne was not just about soccer.

That small group of migrants deliberately chose to start their club on April 10. In 1953, that was the 12th anniversary of the creation of a Nazi-backed puppet state in Croatia. That state, ruled by a movement called the Ustasha, on conservative estimates killed 500,000 Serbs, Jews and Romani people during the war.

At the meeting to create the club, which later became the Melbourne Knights, was Srecko Rover, a man who would play a pivotal role in the emerging Croatian community in Australia.

He was a man with a dark history. During the war, Rover was part of the Ustasha elite and, as journalist Mark Aarons later wrote, had overseen mobile execution squads.

On Hitler’s birthday in 1944, Ustasha dictator Ante Pavelic awarded Rover the prestigious Small Silver Medal for his role in battles against “renegades”. Rover denied detailed witness accounts of crimes and died in 2005.

The story of the Melbourne Knights is a microcosm of the tensions within a large migrant community, Croatian Australians, over their history.

It presents uncomfortable questions about the mainstreaming of far-right symbolism – ASIO has identified the rise of political extremism in general as a significant concern – and how to deal with the past in a multicultural country where many experience direct or intergenerational trauma from genocide.

Many of the experts interviewed for this investigation said views in sections of the Croatian diaspora in Australia were much more extreme than in modern-day Croatia, with displays of support for fascism more open and mainstream.

It is clear that a minority of Croatians in Australia still choose to celebrate Croatia’s fascist past. They range from young people performing stiff-arm salutes at the soccer, to people controlling some of the community’s most important institutions – its community centres and soccer clubs. Ustasha flags were also observed at anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic.

Flags, clothing and key rings decorated with the symbols and phrases of the Ustasha – including portraits of dictator Ante Pavelic – are being sold from Sydney, with the content shared and celebrated across social media.

The open celebration of that past is a source of tension with Serbian and Jewish Australians.

Croatia’s ambassador to Australia, Betty Pavelich, told this masthead there was no place for the “glorification of totalitarian regimes, extremism or intolerance”.

“We firmly believe that it behoves us all to ensure that disinformation, glorification and the mainstreaming of criminal, totalitarian ideologies, their symbols and movements, do not take root in modern societies,” she said.

Pavelich added it was important not to malign “law-abiding and respectful communities, based on the unacceptable views and behaviour of small groups of individuals”.

At the Knights, which hope to enter soccer’s national second division next year, there is no public disavowal that one of their founders was an accused war criminal. Rather his role is celebrated, as is the Ustasha-linked date of the club’s birth, April 10.

“It was these people that began a story, tradition and movement that we uphold today,” the club proclaimed via social media on the day in 2019. “The date was and still is a symbol of the struggle for Croatian independence and a reminder of how and why the Croatian people ended up living in the far-flung reaches of the globe.”


The Age sacks star columnist Julie Szego after ‘disparaging comments’ over trans article furore

The editor of The Age has sacked one of the masthead’s star columnists after she called out the publication over its ­refusal to run an article she wrote on youth gender transition.

According to The Australian, journalist Julie Szego posted on ­social media last week that while she had been commissioned to write a feature-length story about the contentious issue by The Age’s former editor Gay Alcorn, the newspaper’s current boss Patrick Elligett refused to run it.

Szego, a freelancer who has written for The Age on and off for more than two decades, then chose to self-publish the 5000-word piece on her own Substack page.

She told her social media followers her new blog will be a site where: “I’ll be writing about gender identity politics … without the copy being rendered unreadable by a committee of woke journalists redacting words they deem incendiary, such as ‘male’.”

Szego later told The Australian that the post about her colleagues at The Age was “a vague and cheeky comment that was not intended to put anyone down”, but it had been cited by Elligett as a reason to sack her as a columnist.

“I love my former comrades at The Age,” Szego said in the exclusive interview. “I have no bitterness whatsoever, but this issue of gender identity politics is causing tensions in newsrooms around the world and The Age is no different.”

Szego said she believed her story was “measured”, and that despite suggestions to the contrary she does not hold a firm view one way or another on paediatric transition.

Szego also said the fact that she attended the controversial Let Women Speak rally in Melbourne in March had been used as part of a whispering campaign against her.

“I attended the rally, I was conspicuous with notebook and pen,” she said, The Australian reports. “I attended as a journalist because I wanted to get some colour from the event as I’m hoping to write a book on the wider debate. “My attendance at the rally caused great suspicion in there (The Age’s newsroom).”

The Australian also spoke to editor Patrick Elligett, who said he explained to Szego why he would not publish the article, and said The Age “continues to cover the issue of gender policy with balance, nuance and accuracy. It is an issue many of our competitors will not touch.”

Szego’s interpretation of that conversation differs. “Patrick told me he could not publish my piece under my byline because it would damage the reputation of the masthead,” she told The Australian on Sunday. “I would suggest he’s damaged the masthead more by not publishing it.”

Szego said she received a text message from Elligett last week, informing her that she would no longer be writing for The Age ­because of her social media post about her “woke” colleagues.

“Obviously we can’t have our columnists publicly disparaging the publication like that so we won’t be commissioning further columns from you,” she claimed Elligett said.


"We can't afford to shut Eraring": Central-West mayor warns

NSW cannot afford to lose Eraring Power Station any time soon based on the current pace of the state's renewable energy infrastructure rollout, Mid-Western Council's mayor believes.

The Central-West Orana Renewable Energy Zone is the first of five clean energy generation hubs that are due to be built across the state as part of a plan to deliver at least 12 gigawatts of renewable generation and 2 gigawatts of long-duration storage by 2030.

The zone's "energisation date" was recently pushed back from 2025 to 2027-28 due to an increase in proposed project size from 3 gigawatts to 4.5 gigawatts.

Similarly, the New England zone, which abuts the Hunter Region, will now start in 2029 compared with an initial 2027 goal. The Hunter-Central Coast zone will follow.

Despite the ambitions for the Central-West Orana REZ, Mid-Western Council Brad Cam said there was very little progress to show to date.

"Nothing has been built yet. Based on the number of solar panels that are due to be installed in the Central-West Orana REZ, you would need a shipping container full of panels arriving in the Port of Newcastle every day for the next 365 days," he said.

"Ninety per cent of the world's solar panels come from China and they can't keep up with demand. So tell me where we are going to get the panels we need for this project in the next 12 months."

"The bottom line is we simply can't afford to shut Eraring in 2025. If they do the state will be stuffed."

The lack of firmed baseload power is among the factors contributing to escalating power prices.

Energy Consumers Australia data shows the proportion of households and small businesses concerned about being able to pay their electricity bills has risen above 50 per cent.

In addition to the lack of skilled workers needed to build the Central-West Orana REZ, Mr Cam said there were major concerns about the lack of infrastructure and community services, including health, police and water, in place to support the project.

"They are talking about putting in a 1000-bed camp for the workers who will be installing the high voltage infrastructure. But who's going to service it," Mr Cam said.

"We (the council) need 12 months to prepare and build up a sewer treatment plant and a water filtration plant. Then there's the issue of where are they going to get the construction water from?"

"I think they (the government) are sick of listening to me. "I'm just trying to be practical to help them understand there needs to be better planning and better organisation for this to roll forward," he said.

"In simple terms, we understand the NSW Energy Roadmap relies on green energy being generated in these zones to be accessible to the Hunter via new transmission lines proposed to be built," he said.

"Not only is this intended to underwrite supply for existing demand in Sydney and the Hunter, but also being counted on to be the source of green electrons for new industry that will simply not eventuate without renewable energy being available and affordable.

"We're aware of issues in relation to the provision of labour force and road transportation of materials to supply large-scale renewable projects and if kinks along this pathway become prevalent, its only going to add to the concerns currently being expressed in the Central West."

An EnergyCo spokesman said supply chain cost increases due to global efforts to decarbonise and a significant but necessary transmission route design change to avoid negative impacts on the Merriwa-Cassilis communities and prime agricultural land had impacted the Central West-Orana REZ timeline.


Trio of big issues take toll on Albanese government

Peta Credlin

For the first time, the Albanese government is starting to look less than politically bulletproof. Over the past week, it’s been assailed over three issues which, in combination, while nothing like enough to turn it into a one-term wonder, certainly should finally end its long honeymoon.

There’s the ongoing price pain, that government actions are now widely thought to be making worse, not better. There’s the ongoing energy madness, which industry leaders are finally starting to call out.

And there’s also the apparent involvement of senior Labor ministers with the Brittany Higgins rape claim in order to embarrass the Morrison government rather than promote justice for women.

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher is in real trouble. If the text messages from Higgins’ boyfriend David Sharaz are to be believed, Gallagher knew that the Higgins rape allegation was about to break and was in on the plot to weaponise it against the government.

Maybe activists, journos and pollies pitching scandals to score political points just evokes a yawn among the public. Still, misleading parliament, as Gallagher may have done, remains a hanging offence for a minister.

There’s also the more potent difficulty that the government paid as much as $3m to compensate Higgins over an alleged rape that has never been proven and has been denied by the alleged perpetrator.

The whole episode now looks to have been exploited for the specific purpose of embarrassing the previous government, giving it more than the whiff of a pay-off – especially given she was paid out in near record time, with Reynolds herself banned from defending taxpayers against the Higgins claims.

Naturally, the Prime Minister is standing by his minister.

The fact that Anthony Albanese went out of his way to insist that this was not something that should be referred to the new integrity commission suggests that he’s worried about what more might come out, especially if key players are forced to testify under oath. The fact Gallagher went to ground late last week is telling, too, but with parliament back this week she’ll have nowhere to hide.

Then we had the procession of ministers, from the PM down, trying to spin a line that the latest interest rate hikes were nothing to do with them; instead, they were solely driven by the Reserve Bank. But the reality is that May’s big-spending budget and the near 9 per cent boost to minimum wages has hit inflation, and both issues sit squarely with the Albanese government.

The very fact that they’re so desperate to blame others is the clearest indication yet that voter anger is showing up in Labor’s polling.

Then there’s the crisis in our energy sector, with not just skyrocketing prices breaking consumers but now the threat of blackouts and unreliable supply over winter.

Serious industry players spoke loudly last week – many for the first time – about how Australia’s renewables transition is too much, too quickly. They said it defied engineering reality. That it will cost many billions more than government is letting on. That we must have nuclear power in the mix.

While the government may be able to brazen its way through the increasingly messy Higgins matter, with the support of its media friendlies, higher interest rates and skyrocketing power prices are objective realities that can be addressed only if the government is prepared to change its policy on wages, on spending programs like the NDIS, and on climate. Is this government prepared to admit that it’s got anything significantly wrong?

I doubt that very much.

A showdown between a government on a mission and an electorate that doesn’t like the consequent pain is almost inevitable.

So, the penny has now dropped for me on the infamous “Mean Girls” affair that made the final months of Labor senator Kimberley Kitching’s life so miserable.

At the time, I couldn’t reconcile why Labor leader Anthony Albanese steadfastly refused to hold an inquiry into credible claims, including written statements from Kitching, that she was viciously bullied by a trio of her Labor senate colleagues, Katy Gallagher, Penny Wong and the now ousted Kristina Keneally. I couldn’t understand why the party accusing the Morrison government of not doing enough to support women would leave these claims untested and, worse, why the media let him get away with it. But now it’s crystal clear.

The trigger for Kimberley Kitching’s fallout with her colleagues, and the retaliatory bullying that followed, including demoting her, stemmed from the fact she refused to support their plan to use the yet-to-be revealed rape claim by Brittany Higgins as a weapon against the Coalition.

At the time, Kitching was in Labor’s senate tactics group and when she discovered what was being worked up, she spoke out against it internally and, according to the Liberal minister in the middle of it, Linda Reynolds, reached out to warn her (something Kitching denied – I suspect to save her preselection).

All of this came out in a senate estimates hearing where, when confronted by Reynolds that she knew of the Higgins claims beforehand, Gallagher screamed back at Reynolds, “no one had any knowledge … how dare you?” Reynolds went further, alleging that Wong and Gallagher later admitted to her in a private meeting they did in fact know about the Higgins matter before it broke publicly.

Unlike Gallagher, it wouldn’t appear that Wong has misled the Senate although Wong’s said she did not know the “full details” of the matter which is a different than not knowing “any” details. How could Albanese hold any inquiry into the Kitching abuse, and risk all the Higgins scheming coming out? He couldn’t because the real risk for him was that any investigation would expose the use by Labor (and others) of a vulnerable young woman, to bring down the Morrison government.

And he relied on a compliant (and conflicted) media to help sweep it all under the carpet given we also know that key media personalities were in on the strategy. If Labor thought paying Higgins millions in compensation would make the problem go away, it hasn’t.

In fact, the payment is now the surest avenue to expose this scandal given the scope of the new federal anti-corruption watchdog, which opens its doors on July 1.

As more and more comes out, we are reminded again of the unique politician we lost in Kimberley Kitching, because regardless of how you vote, she was a woman of integrity, and parliament is all the poorer without her.




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