Sydney Letter: March continues for anti-Islam protesters

One government MP defended role in rally by misquoting the Irish orator Edmund Burke

Protesters demonstrate during a Reclaim Australia Rally at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia, on July 19th.  Photograph: EPA

Protesters demonstrate during a Reclaim Australia Rally at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia, on July 19th. Photograph: EPA


After the anti-Islam rally in Melbourne on July 18th turned violent, with clashes between rival groups and arrests, the police in Sydney were taking no chances the following day.

The anti-racism groups gathered in the lower end of Martin Place in the city centre. I came to their side first because I was approaching the street from that side of the city. There was a Socialist Alternative banner that said “Stand with Muslims against racism”, another which said “No racism, no Islamophobia,” and an elderly lady held a handmade sign saying “Don’t let anyone manipulate you into hating people you don’t even know”.

Metres away from these protesters were about a hundred police officers, many on horseback, preventing anyone going two blocks up Martin Place to the vicinity of the Lindt Cafe, the scene of the infamous Sydney siege last December in which two hostages were killed.

To get to the anti-Islamist end of the street you had to take a circuitous route up side streets. Many there were wearing the Australian flag as a cape. The banners contained messages such as “It’s a foreign invasion” and “No bacon, no boobs, no beer, no one will be happy”. One anti-immigrant protester was wearing a Ned Kelly outfit. The fact that Ned’s father, John, was from Tipperary was an irony perhaps lost on him.

The people on the upper end of Martin Place included many from Reclaim Australia, United Patriots Front, the Australia First Party and Squadron 88. The digits in the latter group refer to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, as in HH, as in “Heil Hitler”.

Common enemy

United Patriots Front split off from Reclaim Australia in May, but rallied together against what they see as a common enemy. Reclaim Australia calls for “patriotic Australians” to “stand together to stop halal tax, sharia law and Islamisation”.

Despite the police’s best efforts, there were violent clashes and arrests in Martin Place.

On the same day as the Sydney rally, there was another in Mackay, in northern Queensland. A government backbench MP, George Christensen, addressed the protesters, telling them to “not sit idly by and watch the Australian culture and the Australian lifestyle that we love, and that is envied around the world ... surrendered and handed over to those who hate us for who we are and what we stand for”.

The opposition Labor Party implored the prime minister, Tony Abbott, to stop Christensen speaking at the rally. Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the government should focus on social inclusion, not “whipping up division”.

“It is extraordinary that a member of Tony Abbott’s government will attend and address an anti-Islam, Reclaim Australia event,” he said. “Reclaim Australia events are synonymous with racist behaviour.”

Triumph of evil

Christensen used a comment piece on the Guardian Australia website to say hell would freeze over before he would pull out of the rally. “The centuries-old quote of Irish orator, philosopher and politician Edmund Burke still holds true today. Burke said ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’,” he wrote.

Christensen is wrong. Burke never said that. He did, however, say: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Appropriating Ned Kelly and misquoting Edmund Burke are not the only cultural crimes committed by Reclaim Australia and their backers. They also outraged some Australian rockers by playing their music at rallies. Jimmy Barnes, a Scottish immigrant with Jewish heritage married to a Thai woman, told them to stop playing his songs.

“None of these people represent me and I do not support them,” he said.

Midnight Oil, whose singer Peter Garrett became a Labor MP and government minister, also issued a cease and desist. “Midnight Oil does not endorse Reclaim Australia in any way,” the band said . “We ask that no Midnight Oil songs are played or used by the organisation. We are in favour of a tolerant Australia, made up of many cultures.”

Country singer Lee Kernaghan, however, while not endorsing the rallies, did not ask Reclaim Australia to stop playing his music.

He was named Australian of the Year in 2008 for his charity fundraising work. Maybe he should heed the words Christensen thinks Burke used, and actually do something.