November 2016

This Saturday’s Age contained a two page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Instead of reviewing the economic and social situation in Narre Warren North, The Age’s Chris Johnston instead interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travelers were “disenchanted but not deplorable”. I beg to differ.

In 2012, Crestani contested Casey City Council elections on an anti-mosque platform. She won the second of two seats available in the Four Oaks Ward, despite coming fourth (with 8.09% of the primary vote) in a field of 22 candidates. She then joined Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) and used her status as a Councillor to promote Rise Up’s peculiar brand of Islamophobic conspiracy theory mixed with a good dose of homophobia.

In 2014, Crestani moved to have Casey City Council ban diversity training, ban the display of materials that promote LBGTI equality, and ban the City of Casey from issuing media releases on LBGTI issues. Crestani and Rise Up Australia oppose same-sex marriage, the “normalisation of homosexuality” and “pro-homosexual propaganda”.

In Johnston’s article, a former Family First candidate claims that issues like “gay marriage … [are] a distraction from the things that really need to be done”. The mainstream political process is apparently obsessed with these ‘fringe issues’ that do not connect with the difficulties facing a community like Narre Warren North.

If anyone is obsessed with a ‘fringe issue’, then surely it is Rosalie Crestani and Rise Up Australia, with their outrageous and obsessive hate campaign directed at rolling back the rights won by LGBTI activists over the past fifty years.

Crestani is appalling when it comes to LBGTI issues, but it is in rank and borderline conspiracist Islamophobia that Crestani has made a name for herself.

In the past year Crestani has announced her support for a ban on Muslim immigration, stating she would oppose Muslim immigration “until there is a fail proof filter we have to stop all Muslims from coming in because we don’t know which ones are going to blow us up”.

Contrary to the racist conspiracy theories pedaled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”. Australian “terrorists” are overwhelming Australian born, tend to be comically incompetent, and despite widespread racism and anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by the likes of Crestani, there are precious few of them.

According to Crestani, on top of banning Muslim immigration, the most important issue facing “disenchanted” Narre Warren North is the threat posed by mosques! Over the past year, Crestani latched onto a racist Facebook led campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque on a vacant site in Narre Warren North.

The mosque’s development application was rejected by Casey City Council on planning grounds, but that didn’t stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose a Muslim place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, and a single nearby mosque that seats less than two hundred people.

Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I’ve always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far-right.

Over the past eighteen months Rosalie Crestani has spoken at, endorsed, and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups.

Crestani has chaired or spoken at the 18 July Reclaim/UPF rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally at Parliament, last year’s Cronulla riots celebration and the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melton.

Shortly before the Reclaim Australia Rally chaired by Crestani in Melton, police arrested a Reclaim Australia admin, Phillip Galea, on weapons charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we’re awaiting Galea’s court date next month to learn which left wing target’s he allegedly intended to bomb.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the "True Blue Crew", intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism event. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally "using force and violence" against their political opponents.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the “True Blue Crew”, intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism rally. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally “using force and violence” against their political opponents.

If there was any gathering that could be said to pose a “risk of radicalisation and terrorism” in Melbourne, it is surely those far-right rallies addressed and chaired by Rosalie Crestani.

There are interesting and complex issues facing Narre Warren North, not least among them the Islamophobia and racism whipped up by the likes of Rosalie Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community. Despite a massively increased profile in Narre Warren since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in the 2016 Casey City Council elections. Her increased support is concerning, but claims she represents “Melbourne’s Trump-land” are grossly overstated.

There are plenty of people in the outer suburbs rightly disillusioned with main-stream politics. Unemployment is high (8.1% in the City of Casey), infrastructure is poorly planned and executed, services are taxed by underfunding and a growing population, and public transport is a joke.

But Rosalie Crestani and her fascist fellow travelers are not simply “disenchanted”. Crestani is an Islam obsessed homophobe whose Rise Up Australia Party seeking to build a reactionary political movement on explicitly racist lines. Crestani really is deplorable.

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The government, police and media are pursuing a racist campaign of vilification and persecution against kids from Sudanese migrant backgrounds.

The Herald Sun is today boasting that a Sudanese born “suspected member of the Apex gang” will be “forced to return to Africa next year”. The racists are crowing.

Who exactly are we deporting?

Issac Gatkuoth came to Australia as a nine-year old child refugee. He “endured a hellish, parentless upbringing in Sudan”1. He hasn’t seen his mother since he was five years old, his two brothers were killed when his village was “wiped out”, and he spent time as an unaccompanied child in a Kenyan refugee camp.

“Until recently he believed his father was living somewhere in Australia, but was devastated when he learned his dad died when he was just two”.2

Unsurprisingly, Issac suffers from PTSD, has recurring nightmares, and developed an ‘ice’ addiction. Issac “was on ice and had not slept for two weeks” when he committed a violent carjacking.

Issac was sentenced, imprisoned, and next year will complete the prison term that is meant to ‘repay his debt to society’. And then he will be deported to a country which he fled when he was five, where the people he knew are long dead, and which is stricken by ongoing civil war.

Issac denies being a member of the amorphous and ill-defined ‘Apex gang’, but because of the colour of his skin, and the racist beat-up surrounding anyone tarred with these two words, the right-wing media, the shock-jocks and Liberal MP Jason Wood are jubilant because this Australian youth faces deportation.

Issac is as Australian as I am3. He went to an Australian school, grew up in an Australian community, was marginalized by good old Australian racism and neglect, and took popular Australian drugs to blot out the pain.

Issac is as much one of ‘our’ kids as anyone. He needs support, not racism, vilification and deportation.

Aside: Compare and contrast the coverage, ABC 7.30, “Soldiers returning from war turn to drugs and crime – but are we letting them down?“.

What is this ‘Apex gang’ bullshit anyway?

When is a gang not a gang? The police, media and politicians report on Apex gang as if it were a structured criminal organisation engaged in systematic car-jackings, burglaries, and armed robberies. The truth is a little less impressive.

When the ‘Apex gang’ first burst across media front pages in March it was little more than an extended friendship group.

The Age reported earlier this year, the supposed gang “has no clubhouse, no colours and no real structure”. An ABC interview with a ‘gang member’ offered further details:

“I wouldn’t say it’s a really big thing, you know. The media always speculates and tries to make things sound big, bigger than they are. … (It’s) just a group of youths. … Everyone’s got to have friends, you know.”

A bunch of kids growing up in a Melbourne suburb with a “lack of school, no jobs, lack of employment” hang out with their friends and get into fights with other groups of kids. Sounds familiar:

Sharpies, or sharps, are the darlings of Australian gang fashion. They started out in the 1960s when groups of working-class teenagers in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent, Sydney, came together over cars, tattoos, fights, and “dressing sharp.”

In March, some kids were involved in a punch-on at Federation Square during the Moomba festival. Melbourne’s largest street gang, Victoria Police, responded with copious amounts of pepper spray.

If the kids involved hadn’t been black, and if their little spat hadn’t pissed all over a City of Melbourne tourism draw card, the fight might have gone unremarked.

Brawls involving a couple of dozen people are common enough in any suburb with the right combination of unemployment, alcohol and machismo:

VICTORIA Police say they are not investigating an all-in-brawl at a suburban Aussie rules football match despite reports a pregnant woman was assaulted.

When the police and media reported that a “gang war” had taken place in the city, the Apex gang exploded. As the ABC’s ‘Apex gang member’ pointed out back in March, “Some people just want a reputation”.

Notoriety is a hell of a currency, and when the media, police and political establishment started condemning the ‘Apex gang’, every disaffected kid in the outer suburbs had something infamous to scrawl on the wall.

It is little wonder that the apparent composition of the ‘gang’ has changed and the crimes associated with it are expanding. Hundreds of people from all manner of backgrounds are now using the words ‘Apex gang’ in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs.

There is no ‘Apex gang’, but there is a hell of a brand, and who wants to let the truth get in the way of a good story? Both the police and media outlets profit by stoking racist hysteria around the ‘Apex gang’. The gang narrative sells papers, drives website clicks, and justifies police budgets.

Anyone interested in how the police and media can invent a ‘gang’ out of whole cloth should read up on Adelaide “Gang of 49“.

In 2007 SA Police announced they were “monitoring a group of 49 primarily Aboriginal offenders held responsible for hundreds of crimes”. The media dubbed it the “Gang of 49” and dozens of articles followed.

The Advertiser and local talk back radio reported on the crimes, members and supposed rituals of this terrifying gang menace. One expert compared it’s lack of structure to the ‘cells’ of a terrorist movement! Before long there were indigenous kids running around calling themselves the “Gang of 49”, where no such gang had existed before.

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

You can bet that the Police Associaton will demand more officers and greater powers, and both major parties will announce ‘new measures’ to ‘combat gang crime’.

Aside: Whenever you see the words “police sources” in a Victorian publication, the journalist actually means “Police Association gossip”.

Police racism

Victoria Police cannot be taken seriously when they talk about the ‘Apex gang’, ‘gang crime’, or anything supposedly connected to the Sudanese community.

In 2014 three police were sacked and thirteen disciplined over the production of racist material at a Police station in Sunshine.

Racial profiling is common place:

Victorian Police LEAP data analysed by eminent statistician, Professor Ian Gordon from the Univeristy of Melbourne in Haile-Michael & Ors v Konstantinidis & Ors revealed that between 2006-2009, Africans in the Flemington and North Melbourne area were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped by police than other groups despite having a lower crime rate.

The practice of racial profiling extends beyond police “rank and file”. “Overt operational orders by Victoria Police have been known to target African youth” despite 2006 legislation that “makes it unlawful for a person to be treated differently from others on the basis of their race”.

Victoria has introduced a pilot “stop and search receipt” program, but it’s designed to avoid capturing any information about ‘race’ lest racism be detected. The Victoria Police Association resists even this most basic accountability measure.

Victoria Police, and in particular the Victoria Police Association, maintain very close relationships with the newspapers who might otherwise report on police misdeeds. The law-and-order campaigns of the Herald Sun (in particular) mirror the stated position of the Victoria Police Association, and crime reporting rarely deviates from the narrative pushed by Victoria Police’s media unit.

The confluence of interest between Melbourne’s largest tabloid newspaper and the Victoria Police Association deserves closer examination than I am able to provide in this post.


Issac Gatkuoth is being sacrificed to the myth of the ‘Apex gang’, and racist narratives around “Sudanese crime”.

The vilification of the Sudanese community continues unchecked in the pages of tabloid newspapers, on talk back radio, at MPs’ press conferences, and in the actions of the Victoria Police.

The reality is that Melbourne’s outer suburbs register unemployment rates approaching 30%, alienated teenagers hang out in ‘gangs’, and kids who’ve experienced war and deprivation need love and support.

We must push back against the vilification of the Sudanese community, public rhetoric about the ‘Apex gang’, and the victimization of troubled kids like Issac Gatkuoth.

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A ‘final’ crackdown on the ongoing Bendigo Street protest-occupation seems likely as Victoria Police execute heavy-handed evictions and government rhetoric against occupiers gets increasingly extreme.

Melbourne is in the midst of a housing crisis, yet an estimated 82,700 properties sit vacant across the city. A significant number of these are owned by the government.

There are 34,700 waiting for public housing in Victoria. The public housing waiting list is over ten years long. This is why an estimated 22,000 people are homeless in Melbourne, and this is why increasing numbers of people sleep rough in the CBD, unable to find even the most basic shelter.

At the same time, the Victorian government owns a large portfolio of vacant properties in Collingwood and Parkville which were compulsorily acquired for the failed East-West Link project.

The East-West Link project was cancelled after the 2014 Victorian state election, and the state government had announced plans to sell-off houses acquired for the project. Two years after the East West Link project was scrapped the bulk of these houses remain in government hands, and many sit vacant.

The solution seems obvious. People need houses. The government owns hundred of vacant houses. Developers and property speculators sit on tens of thousands more. There is enough space to house everyone, right?

It was in this context that homeless people, activists and supporters initiated a protest-occupation of the swath of vacant housing on Bendigo Street in Collingwood in March this year. The actions of the Bendigo Street occupiers have put housing, housing vacancies, and the wash-up from the East West Link project in the public spotlight.

The demands raised by the Homeless Persons Union back in March remain critical in the context of the housing crisis:

The occupiers of the properties have made the following demands and refuse to leave until they are met … All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West Link that are still in the government’s possession to be added to the public housing register … [and] the Andrews government to say how they intend to provide housing for 25,000 homeless people

After six months of occupation, the Andrews government appears to be readying for a crackdown.

Police action at the occupation is becoming increasingly regular and heavy handed. On Friday, Victoria Police evicted a homeless indigenous family from 13 Bendigo Street. Three people were arrested.

Activists responded by re-occupying.

The Victorian government responded in turn with riot-police.

The absurd situation now, is that the Victorian government are now employing private security guards to sit in vacant houses in order to lock out homeless families.

The Minister for Housing, Martin Foley, has stepped up attacks on occupiers, with the significant support of the Herald Sun.

The end-game for the Victorian government is the sale of as many of the acquired East-West link homes on the private market as possible.

The state government is attempting to recoup any money it can after spending $1.1 billion dollars to cancel the East-West Link project contracts. The state government was open about this objective prior to the Bendigo Street occupation.

However, in the face of criticism raised by the occupation and others, the state government has periodically announced that this or that house held by the state government will be converted into “social housing”. What this means in practice is that one or two houses are leased by the government to the Salvation Army.

Occupiers and others are rightly critical of the role played by the Salvation Army. Aside from being a religious organization with a history of homophobia, the Salvation Army does not provide the kind of secure housing that the public housing system does. “Social housing” leases are often conditional and rents are often significantly higher than the means assessed rents of the public system.

Nonetheless, the idea that the Salvation Army “do good” remains commonplace, and the state government have used this to create the political basis for attacking the occupation. The government simply announces that this or that house under occupation is now leased to the Salvation Army, and occupiers are all that stands in the way of the religious creepers doing their “good work”!

In recent weeks the campaign against the occupation has gone further. Martin Foley has claimed that occupiers are “armed” “muggers” “sex offenders” and more. The Herald Sun and others are actively canvassing for “terrified residents” desperate for the state to save them from “selfish squatters”.

The rhetoric is utterly disconnected from the reality that actually exists on Bendigo Street in Collingwood; the reality is that hundreds of people have come together over six months to raise a demand for a right to housing.

The importance of this action

The government hates the Bendigo Street occupation. The Herald Sun bemoans the $1.1 billion squat. For this reason alone it deserves your support!

Bendigo Street has shown that the direct action of homeless people occupying vacant property can be a politically powerful act. The act of occupying creates a situation that the government cannot readily ignore, it forces the government to act, either with concession or repression, in order to end this affront to property.

The Bendigo Street occupation demonstrates the rank hypocrisy of the state government, bemoaning homelessness whilst sitting on a portfolio of vacant homes.

The state government is desperate to undermine the inherent political legitimacy of this action, so that they can more freely utilize police violence to shut it down. They have not been successful so far because of the strong support for the action by activists, neighbors and the wider community.

But the state is preparing to act, and repression of the protest-occupation is imminent. Two things are required to deter the government, and hopefully force them towards concession.

The first is strong support to resist any eviction. The success of the police is not a foregone conclusion, a couple of hundred people willing to get in the way can transform an eviction situation.

The second is a willingness by activists to continue breaking the law, and to continue re-opening and re-occupying vacant government owned houses. For as long as this continues to happen, the state government will not be able to achieve its objectives: an end to the situation and the sale of these properties on the private market.

Until then, Stop the rot, squat the lot!

For information and updates, follow the HPUV and Houses Need People.

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Phillip Galea, a fascist arrested in ‘anti-terror’ raids back in August, planned to bomb two “left wing premises” and cause “loss of life to persons possessing leftwing ideologies” according to statements made by Victoria Police in the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday.

The Guardian is reporting that Phillip Galea conducted surveillance on two targets, obtained bomb making material, conducted research on improvised explosive devises, and sought to “recruit at least five other capable persons to assist with his plan”.

Galea has history. Galea is linked to a variety of far-right groups, and has been active in far-right and neo-Nazi politics since at least 2010. In the past eighteen months, Galea has been stopped with a knife at a rally in Richmond, stopped with tasers and mercury the day before a rally in Melton, and arrested with a flare at a rally in Bendigo. Andy Fleming has published an article detailing Galea’s links with Reclaim Australia, the True Blue Crew, the United Patriots Front, and possibly local Combat 18 boneheads.

Galea is due back in court on 19 December 2016.

See also: The Saturday Paper, 13 Aug 2016, How Reclaim Australia hid a ‘terrorist’

As Andrew Zammit explains, Galea is hardly the first far-right figure to engage in political violence in Australia.

The alleged plot, if proven, would not be the first case of far-right violent extremism in Australia. To choose some recent examples, in 2010 self-described Combat 18 members fired shots at a mosque in Perth. In 2012 two Melbourne neo-Nazi skinheads were sentenced to jail for brutally assaulting a Vietnamese student. In 2013 a former soldier and self-described neo-Nazi was jailed for weapons and explosives offences.

Police have not disclosed which “left wing premises” were targeted by Galea in this alleged plot, but I suspect this might be relevant.

In November last year a group of United Patriots Front goons led by Blair Cottrell shot a bizarre video of themselves harassing staff and volunteers at 3CR community radio, and then again at the Melbourne Anarchist Club. As Jeff Sparrow pointed out, the footage was “clearly intended to be intimidating”.

But it did more than intimidate. These little video excursions by Blair Cottrell and others were a way of signalling to the UPF’s supporters who their enemies were. They were identifying targets. It seems likely that Phillip Galea took the hint.

Another matter that remains unclear is how the case against Phillip Galea might yet impact Blair Cottrell’s own legal troubles. In September three former members of the UPF were charged with religious vilification offenses for their involvement in a “mock beheading video”. Yesterday Blair Cottrell confirmed he has also received charges related to “racial vilification I think”.

As the dregs of the UPF pass through the courts, other far-right groups are calling rallies, and the anti-racist response continues.

Photo Credit: The featured image was stolen from James Ross.

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