Return of the Uglies

Wednesday, August 27, 1997

By Norm Dixon

An eruption of factional warfare within the NSW Liberal Party has further exposed the influence of its far-right wing. Lyenko Urbanchich, leader of the notorious "Uglies" faction of the 1970s, has re-emerged as an activist of the Liberal Party far right.

The NSW Liberals have been embroiled in a factional battle over the past few years as the dominant right faction has led a concerted drive to crush the "moderate" faction, known as "the Group", whose leadership is centred on present and former leaders of the state's Young Liberals.

While the fight is primarily about bums on seats in state and federal parliaments, the Liberal far right sees it as an ideological crusade against the Group's "small l" liberal views on gay and lesbian rights, Aboriginal reconciliation, drug law reform, the republic and other "moral" and social issues.

On May 3 and August 12, meetings were held in Sydney of the Mainstream Committee, an umbrella for the NSW Liberal Party's right-wing groups, formed to combat the Group.

The central organisers include federal MHR for Warringah Tony Abbott, Lowe MHR Paul Zammitt and Parramatta MHR Ross Cameron. Abbott is a key numbers man for the Liberal right who champions the monarchy, supports the death penalty and agrees that immigration is too high. Pauline Hanson's chief of staff, David Oldfield, previously worked in Abbott's office.

South Australian Senator Nick Minchin addressed the meeting. Minchin, Prime Minister John Howard's parliamentary secretary, consorts with the Australian Freedom Front, the Australian branch of the extreme-right US John Birch Society.

The AFF's leader, Doug Giddings, whom Minchin admits to knowing "for many years", was an organiser of a tour of Australia by Ku Klux Klan-linked US "Christian" militia leader Jack McLamb.

Minchin plays a leading role in the Lyons Forum, a secretive fundamentalist Christian faction within the federal parliamentary Coalition. The forum aims to influence government policy on "family" issues such as censorship, gay and lesbian law reform and abortion. The Lyons Forum played an essential role in torpedoing the NT euthanasia bill.

Members of the Group charge that Urbanchich plays a leading role in the Mainstream Committee, a claim denied by the faction's leaders. Urbanchich's involvement has led to the Mainstream Committee being dubbed the New Uglies, after the extreme-right faction headed by Urbanchich during the 1970s.

The Mainstream Committee's leaders have good cause to avoid identification with this far right war-horse.

In 1986, NSW Labor minister Frank Walker informed parliament that Urbanchich was a senior propagandist for the quisling government of Slovenia, during Nazi occupation in World War II. Walker added that Urbanchich was listed by the Yugoslav government as a war criminal.

In his book Sanctuary, journalist Mark Aarons reveals the extent of Urbanchich's far-right leanings. In 1943, 20-year-old Urbanchich was a loyal follower of Leon Rupnick, "president" of Nazi-occupied Slovenia.

A Slovenian militia, the Domobrans, worked hand-in-glove with the German occupiers. Urbanchich organised its first public procession on October 10. The Domobrans were directly under the command of an SS general and on Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1944, pledged allegiance to the "Führer".

The Domobrans' secret intelligence, Crna Roka (Black Hand), committed cruel atrocities in the dead of night, leaving a black palm print at the scene.

Urbanchich was a regular contributor to collaborationist newspapers and magazines until the last days of the war. The tone of the articles was virulently anti-Semitic and supportive of the Axis war effort. Urbanchich delivered fiery speeches that followed closely the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels, earning him the nickname "Little Goebbels".

According to Aarons, Urbanchich was a senior member of the Domobran Information Department, which was responsible for propaganda and intelligence gathering. The Yugoslav War Crimes Commission charge that this department controlled the Secret Intelligence Service, which passed information to the Gestapo, which then arrested, tortured and murdered or interned anti-fascists and partisans.

After the Nazis were defeated, Urbanchich escaped to Austria, then to British-controlled Trieste in Italy. In 1946, the Yugoslav ambassador to Britain requested that nine "traitors" be handed over for trial. The second name on the list was Lyenko Urbanchich.

A joint US-British mission in 1947 determined that Urbanchich was one of 44 suspected war criminals. After interrogating him, a Major Stephen Clissold concluded that Urbanchich was, as an "intellectual and moral advocate of the policy of collaboration with the Germans", "a possible candidate for hand-over" to the Yugoslav government.

But the Cold War had begun, and the west now rated former collaborators on their anticommunism, not their support for fascism. In 1948, the British dropped all investigations of suspected war criminals.

After his arrival in Australia in 1950 as a "displaced person", Urbanchich was soon active in right-wing politics. In the mid-'60s, as part of an extreme-right group known as the 50 Club, Urbanchich tried to dump Liberal MHR for Warringah, Ed St John, because of his opposition to the

South African apartheid regime. The 50 Club was an alliance of the League of Rights, extreme-right emigres from eastern Europe and the Baltics and supporters of the racist South African and Rhodesian regimes.

By the late 1970s, Urbanchich was a major force in the NSW Liberal Party, controlling up to 30% of the votes at the 800-member state council. As president of Liberal Ethnic Council — an autonomous division of the party dominated by far right emigres, several leaders of which were known or suspected to have been wartime Nazi collaborators — Urbanchich was a powerful member of the state council.

Urbanchich's power was checked when ABC radio broadcast a documentary in 1979 that revealed his past. He was suspended from the state council and the Liberal Ethnic Council was abolished.

An internal party investigation found that Urbanchich's wartime articles and speeches were anti-Semitic and "wholly inimical to Liberal philosophy". The state executive recommended his expulsion.

Remarkably, the state council in March 1980 rejected the recommendation. Today, Urbanchich is secretary of the Homebush North Olympic branch. He attended a recent meeting of the state council in Bathurst to support Tony Abbott's unsuccessful motion to clip the Young Liberals' wings.

The latest factional fracas was triggered when Group supporters stacked branches, set up phantom branches and used a variety of factional tricks in Sydney's southern suburbs, in response to the far right's use of similar methods. The right faction's hold on the federal seat of Cook is under threat.

In retaliation, the New Uglies have renewed a campaign to reduce the Young Liberals' voting rights. Anonymous and forged homophobic "shit sheets" are circulating.

The southern suburbs are a stronghold of the Liberal far right. An important base for the New Uglies is the Sutherland/Hughes Young Liberals branch and the University of Wollongong Liberal Club.

The SHYL web page declares stridently: "The SHYL is a right wing organisation ... The branch prides itself on being a conservative element in the Young Liberal movement, which so-called moderate forces from outside the branch have tried and tried to change, yet continue to fail. The majority of branch members are great believers in our system of government as it is now, and are loyal subject of Her Majesty the Queen."

Last August, the SHYL's web page was found to include a direct link to a site promoting Nazism. The linked page described the Holocaust as "unfortunate but understandable" and lauded Hitler's "outstanding leadership". The SHYL site's editor, SHYL vice-president Duncan Riley, defended the link as "worthy of reader interest".

After the link was removed on the orders of NSW head office, the link remained accessible through the SHYL page, via the Queensland University of Technology Liberal Club page (which also had a link to the anti-Semitic Australian League of Rights).