The Age on November 26 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 interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travellers 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 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 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 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 that “until there is a failproof 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 pedalled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”.
Australian “terrorists” are overwhelmingly 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 did not stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose an Islamic place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are about 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, with a single nearby mosque that seats less than 200 people.
Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I have always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far right.
Over the past 18 months Crestani has spoken at, endorsed and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups. Crestani spoke at the July 18 Reclaim Australia/United Patriots Front rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally, 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 administrator, Phillip Galea, on weapon’s charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we await Galea’s court date next month to learn which left-wing targets he allegedly intended to bomb.
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 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 Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community.
Despite a hugely increased profile since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in this year’s 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 mainstream 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 Crestani and her fascist fellow travellers 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.
[Kieran Bennet is a Melbourne-based anarchist and blogger. You can read his blog here.]