Immigration and the ratbag right

May 4, 1994

By Frank Enright

There are those who insinuate themselves into the progressive movements to gain a hearing for reactionary agendas. One such group recently unmasked is Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI). Their point of entry into the environmental movement was the population debate; their window into the labour movement's traditional constituency is unemployment. The impostor's skeleton key is immigration.

AAFI sprang to prominence after a string of small, but significant, successes in recent by-elections — polling on average 7-8% of the vote. The group is not new; it was founded by Dr Rodney Spencer and Robyn Spencer six years ago.

Its previous outings at the polls have produced insignificant results. Right-wing Kalgoorlie federal Labor MP Graeme Campbell's public support for them (he handed out how-to-vote cards for them in Sydney seat of Warringah) helped to give them media prominence.

The recession has left a legacy of high unemployment and community anxiety, upon which groups like AAFI have long fed; immigration, it is claimed, is the root of society's ills, and halting it a ready panacea. This is classic far-right scapegoating; but like many similar organisations before them, AAFI claims not to be anti-migrant.

AAFI has gained access to the environment movement through one of its leaders, Denis McCormack, speaking at a number of Ecopolitics conferences.

Ironically, AAFI's poll successes have led to media spotlights revealing links to the far right and racism.

Age reporter Paul Heinrichs, who interviewed Rodney Spencer in March, quotes the doctor: "I think there is a fear amongst Australians about this new direction that Australia will be part of Asia. They see us ... jettisoning our history, changing our identity ... and they see large numbers of people coming in from Asia ... the plan is that 30% of Australia will be Asian by the year 2020."

He goes on to speak of Asians being self-propagating to the point of becoming a "critical mass" and becoming "uncontrollable". Ultimately, says Spencer, [they] "will have all the top positions, and you'll have a scenario for resentment".

"And, of course, he disclaims any role in fomenting it", Heinrichs observes.

But the Spencers claim not to be racist. Robyn even denied being strongly opposed to multiculturalism, despite claiming that immigration has made Australian cities "virtually unlivable" and bemoaning the loss of "Australian culture". This theme dominates the AAFI's manifesto. But they protest too much.

Journalist Andrew Silberberg found a "disturbing association between key leaders of AAFI and racist, anti-semitic groups and publications".

"Two wongs don't make a white", sneers a headline in the virulently racist NSW publication, the National Reporter.

"The latest edition of the Reporter states: 'This newsletter exists solely due to the voluntary efforts, sacrifices and generous donations of many hardworking Australians, some of whom we would like to acknowledge here: ... R. & R.S. - Armadale'", reports Silberberg. On their own admission, R&RS are the Spencers. Robyn Spencer stood as the AAFI candidate in the Werriwa and Warringah by-elections.

Further, Silberberg writes, the Reporter and its predecessor, the Bunyip Bulletin, have run ads and letters promoting the Melbourne-based AAFI to their readers.

It doesn't end with the Spencers. Fellow AAFI leader McCormack used the platform provided by the 1991 Ecopolitics 5 conference to spray his buckshot far and wide. He claimed a conspiracy between "big business, the ethnic multicultural/immigration industry, the churches, and other sundry combinations of internationalists, greenie pinkos ..." and Peter Garrett, which he implied had the aim of a "gradualist capitulation towards inexorable dilution and absorption into the teeming masses of Asia".

McCormack was a guest speaker in September 1992 for the League of Rights, described by the federal Human Rights Commission as "the most influential and effective, as well as the best organised and most substantially financed, racist organisation in Australia".

AAFI supporter Campbell, an advocate of a return to the white Australia policy, also speaks to meetings of the League of Rights. Campbell claims that the league is now "moving to become a mainstream conservative organisation". The executive director of the Sydney Institute, a right-wing think tank, Gerard Henderson — who wants to disassociate the radical right from the ratbag right — says: "For the record, it isn't".

Silberberg claims an association for McCormack with the extremist gun lobby magazine Lock, Stock and Barrel, a publication that "rails against anti-gun campaigners and intimates that a Jewish conspiracy exists".

Dr James Judd, director of the Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies at the Australian National University, recalls that McCormack "startled participants in a Bureau of Immigration Research conference in Darwin in September 1993 by flourishing a cartridge magazine on stage, claiming that blood would flow if immigration were not stopped".

More of the flavour of AAFI can be sampled from the response to a questionnaire sent to their candidate in the seat of Throsby at last year's federal election by the Illawarra Ethnic Communities Council. David Hughes responded: "If migrants don't find the cotton-wool soft enough, the free English classes good enough, they should return from whence they came ... You want the Australian taxpayers to educate old peasants in their own languages? You've got to be joking. These dumb peasants have destroyed our car industry and TCF [textiles, clothing and footwear] industries ... My policy on refugees and illegals is to reopen the second Yallah Meatworks, creating up to 500 local jobs, and convert them to blood and bone." After an uproar, Hughes claimed it was all a joke!

Groups whose primary concern is population size are not racist by definition. Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population, formed in 1988, is the best-known group in Australia, and has the support of a number of literary personalities. Poet Mark O'Connor and others have made clear in the past that AESP focuses on population numbers rather than immigration and doesn't comment on cultural matters.

But because, to quote AESP president Jennifer Goldie, "AAFI and AESP share many policies in common", some people may perceive a connection between the two groups. This makes it all the more important for AESP to ensure that it does not provided AAFI with a cover of legitimacy.

However, Goldie, former political secretary to Democrat Senator John Coulter, when contacted by Green Left Weekly, refused to renounce AAFI. Because of some policy convergence, she sees AAFI as allies and appears to feel constrained to stick up for them, claiming they are well intentioned but naive. Goldie conceded that AAFI attracted xenophobes, but not racists (an interesting distinction: the Pocket Macquarie defines xenophobia as: "fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers"). There was pressure from some members to change AESP's name because of AAFI, Goldie admitted.

In an attempt at a rebuttal of Silberberg's claims, Robyn Spencer said in the April 21 Canberra Times that it wasn't Hughes' response to the questionnaire that was offensive but the questionnaire itself. She continued, "Incredibly, the dour, humourless ethnic community leaders were ... frightened by our candidate's black satire". Goldie suggested Hughes' slur was a poor attempt at irony.

It wasn't. The jury is in on the character of AAFI.

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