This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
I had never heard of the Australia First Party until they held a rally in support of Greek neo-Nazis Golden Dawn in Brisbane last Friday. So if their goal was to get attention they succeeded. Only about 10 supporters of the party, which has about 500 members, turned up outside of South Brisbane's Greek Club with, strangely enough, documentary maker John Safran in tow.
The plan was to march across the city to picket the offices of the Consul-General of Greece. However, the plans were scuttled by a counter rally comprised of the typical lefty riffraff, socialists, students, and anti-fascists, and about 150 union members, who showed up to shout down the "nazi scum."
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Golden Dawn supporters protesting in Brisbane. All photos by Pak Yiu.
To set the scene, on one side of the street was a rather forlorn looking contingent of Golden Dawn sympathizers plus John Safran, on the other side a sea of hi-vis and dreadlocks, with police in the middle.
Outnumbered and faced with very vocal opposition, the Golden Dawn protestors opted for a large cab (all that was required for their meager turnout) rather than going to all the trouble of marching across town.
There were a few minor verbal skirmishes as the sympathizers departed, but the police were fairly forceful in keeping the two groups apart.
'A successful rally in Brisbane, would send a message to Golden Dawn in Greece that they have support elsewhere, it will help legitimize Golden Dawn's presence in Greek politics.'
Counter-protestor Mitchel Rodwell, who gave chase to the offices of the Consul-General, gave us this account of what happened next.
"They were there relatively unopposed for a good seven minutes until we showed up (we walked). Pretty much as soon as we arrived we scared them off. There were a good 200 people shouting 'Nazi scum', off our streets”.
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Unimpressed counter-protesters mock the rally from across the street.
The rally and the counter protest was fairly typical of similar events I attended when I was young and used to believe in things — disorganized, more spectacle than substance on both sides, with a lot of annoyed-looking police.
However, Andy Fleming, a long-time anti-fascist activist, said: "A successful rally in Australia, in Brisbane, would send a message to Golden Dawn in Greece that they have support elsewhere, it will help legitimize Golden Dawn's presence in Greek politics."
But what about The Australia First Party? Who are they? Are they a real force to be reckoned with, or just right-wing crazies we should all ignore?
The party has had limited, almost laughable, electoral success. In the 2013 federal election it won 7,412 first preference votes or 0.06 percent. It has managed to win a local council seat in Sydney, where most of its support is based, but Councillor Maurice Girotto quit the party just over a year after being elected.
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The party's national president, Dr. Jim Saleam certainly has some sinister credentials. In 1991 he was sentenced to prison for helping to organize an 1989 attack using high-powered firearms on the home of African National Congress representative and anti-apartheid campaigner Eddie Funde.
Aaron Heaps from the party's Queensland branch concedes they face an uphill battle in terms of electoral success, and for that he blames the two major parties.
"They will censor us as much as possible,” he said. ''The two parties ganged up to bring down One Nation — it's the tall poppy syndrome."
The party has a predictably anti-multiculturalism, anti-immigration platform, and the racist notions that underpin their policies are pretty much par for the course. According to Heaps being Australian means being of European heritage. “We are a European people mostly,” he said. “Our people that have come to Australia out of Europe, that’s who we are.”
Heaps considers the spirit of Anzac and mateship integral to this European history. He doesn't think of himself or his party as racist, just proud white people of European heritage who want to stop non-European people from coming to Australia.
''We like immigration from Europe, America or those other countries with a shared cultural heritage because they're like us. The Chinese say we are proud to be Chinese, people go 'fantastic', if we say we are proud to be white Europeans people say you’re a racist.”
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Australia First's Aaron Heaps addresses the rally.
The Australia First Party has support from users of StormFront.org a racist site that has been dubbed the murder capital of the internet, and the anti-Islamic Australian Defense League. Heaps has no objection to this sort of support as long as everyone works towards a “united patriotic front.”
So what is an Australian nationalist party doing supporting a Greek political party? Heaps reckons there is a degree of solidarity between the Australia First Party and Golden Dawn. But Australia First only agrees to support Golden Dawn provided they don’t try to establish their own political presence is Australia.
“We are not prepared to deal with them coming into Australia and starting their own thing because this is Australia not Greece.”
Golden Dawn has an open presence in parts of Melbourne that have high concentrations of Greek-Australians.
Professor James Arvanitakis from University of Western Sydney said, despite this, Golden Dawn has little hope of making an impact in Australia.
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“I would say that support is less here than in Greece, as we are a little distant from the front line of the crisis,” he said.
So Golden Dawn is being largely ignored by the Greek community and Australia First has no hope of gaining electoral success.
Fleming thinks Australia First has performed so poorly because the two main parties are already tapping into xenophobic sentiment by way of their hard-line policies against refugees. He thinks if Australia First poses any threat it comes from community-based activism, not electoral success. “They have potential to influence things on the street.”
Professor Arvanitakis said Golden Dawn have done just this, “indirectly if not directly, resulting in the perpetuation of violence against left-wing groups and immigrants.”
It remains to be seen if Australia First can or will do the same.
Follow Lauren Gillin on Twitter: @theljg
Follow Pak Yiu on Twitter: @pakwayne