Sunday, January 15, 2006

POLITICS/COMMENT: Why Debnam's ethnic crime ploy makes little sense ...

On Thursday 12 January 2006, the Member for Vaucluse and NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam accused police of effectively behaving corruptly.

He said police had not been consistent in their patters of arrest during and following the Cronulla riots. He said they had not arrested a single person for the reprisal attacks, allegedly carried out by Middle Eastern youths from the Canterbury and Bankstown area, in the days following the Cronulla riots.

Mr Debnam suggested that various ALP MP’s, including the Premier himself, were telling police to go soft on Middle Eastern gangs. He even went so far as to state that the ALP was letting ethnic branch stacking of the late 1990’s to affect law enforcement.

Further, Mr Debnam suggested that certain ethnic communities pressured police and politicians to go soft on criminals. He said ...
The Labor Party seems to be indebted to certain ethnic groups ...
... without specifying which groups these were.

Basically, Mr Debnam was suggesting that police and politicians were allowing criminals to get away with all sorts of activities. He suggested some ethnic communities themselves were involved.

If Mr Debnam’s claims are correct, they should provide ICAC with enough work for it to take up another 5 floors of CBD office space. If Mr Debnam’s claims are untrue, he should do the decent thing and resign.

Debnam has decided to play ethno-religious wedge politics. He realises he has little chance of winning the next state election without some high-risk strategy that he hopes will yield high electoral return. Frankly, I think the whole thing will blow up in his face. For the sake of the people of NSW, I hope it does,

Before Mr Debnam starts playing the race card, he should consider having a few words with the former and current Federal Members for the Federal seat of Cook. This seat takes in Cronulla. He should take advantage of the combined wisdom of Bruce Baird and Stephen Mutch, both of whom have a string understanding of the area and are exceptionally astute in state and federal politics.

Bruce Baird’s assessment of the situation in Cronulla was one in which race was but one of a range of factors. ALP branch stacking is perhaps among the least relevant of these factors, presuming it appears at all on Mr Baird’s list.

Further, Mr Debnam’s comments show a complete ignorance of the various factions that make up the Lebanese communities. Lebanese Australians are not one monolithic community, and religion is not the only dividing line amongst this ethnic group. Further, most crime gangs include members from a range of ethnic and religious groups.

And why on earth would members of any ethnic community want thugs and gangs operating in their backyard? The prevalence of crime affects the quality of life of all people living in the Canterbury Bankstown region. The suggestion is almost as absurd as suggesting that the Vietnamese community benefits from criminal activities of criminals such as those involved in the murder of the former ALP State Member for Cabramatta.

When crime goes up in an area, property prices go down. I am no expert in real estate, but as far as I know, it’s impossible for any ethnic group to influence the property market so as to avoid such trends.

On Saturday January 14, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan attempted to show links between the ALP and even terror suspects, including the very non-Lebanese Willie Brigitte.

Sheehan and Debnam are trying to paint a picture of some deep dark Lebanese and/or Middle Eastern and/or Muslim conspiracy to protect criminal gangs. In doing so, they display both ignorance and hypocrisy.

Mr Debnam is quoted as saying he visited Auburn and saw a church burnt down. Which part of Auburn is he talking about? I lived in Auburn for a number of years and having even run as an endorsed Liberal candidate for a federal seat that takes in Auburn. I am in Auburn at least twice a week visiting friends and clients. I feel qualified to comment on the area.

As far as I know (and I have had this confirmed by locals), no church in Auburn was burnt down. Rather, a hall adjacent to a local church frequented by an Islander community was torched. Whether this attack was aimed at the adjacent church or the equally adjacent Islamic independent school is hard to say.

And it’s a bit rich for Debnam to talk about ethnic and religious branch stacking. Debnam knows the long history of links between the NSW Liberals and fringe ethno-religious groups. These groups include some of the most extreme elements in the Lebanese communities, both Christian and Muslim.

During my 10 years of involvement in Liberal branches in the seats of Canterbury, Bankstown, Auburn and East Hills, I was frequently approached by power brokers in the Right Wing of the NSW Liberal Party. At the time, some of these people were on State Executive. One is now in State Parliament. All form the backbone of Mr Debnam’s support base in the NSW Parliamentary Liberal Party.

I was often encouraged to use my personal contacts to recruit local Lebanese Muslims to branches, including those known to have been recruited to ALP branches during the preselection battle between Morris Iemma and Tony Stewart. Some of these people showed me their ALP membership cards. I mentioned this to the Right Wing power brokers. They said it didn’t matter so long as the State Director or the “Group” didn’t find out.

I was even told to use the line that we conservatives hated Jews, homosexuals and others. On one occasion, a right wing power broker (now a State MP) told me to use this reason to recruit members into the Auburn branch. He gave me this instruction following a meeting he arranged between myself and Auburn branch officials following my nomination to be the Liberal Candidate in the September 2001 Auburn by-election. The meeting took place at the Mado Turkish Restaurant in Auburn.

Thankfully, anti-Semitism was not the source of membership growth in our local branches. Rather, it was our consistent array of high profile guests such as the Mayor of Sarajevo and former Pakistan test cricket captain Imran Khan which led to most new members joining.

Of course, we all know about the ethno-religious wedge politics and stacking that Mr Debnam’s supporters tried to pull off at the Croatian Club in May 2004. That meeting was designed to revive the Bankstown Young Liberals.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on May 7 2004 of substantial violence at the meeting, resulting in police being called. Around 230 people attended the meeting, which erupted into an all-out brawl in which even a pregnant woman was attacked.

Eyewitnesses reported racial and religious taunts being made at certain persons applying to join the branch. One NSW Right supporter complained to the Herald that their factional opponents ...
... brought people along who have written articles against the government, a lot of people who are Muslims.
In the aftermath of the brawl, the Party’s head office promised a full investigation. The then State Director Scott Morrison told the Herald:
Anyone found to have engaged in misbehaviour through police inquiries can expect swift and sharp action from the party.
To this day, no such swift and sharp action has been taken.

The attempted reformation of the branch was undertaken at the request of then Young Liberal President Alex Hawke. It was widely seen as an attempt by the Religious Right to undermine the pre-selection chances of moderate Liberal Upper House member John Ryan. Ironically, Mr Ryan is himself a committed Christian.

The NSW Liberals seem prepared to do anything, including play racial and religious wedge politics. In doing so, they do themselves, their supporters and the people of NSW a grave disservice.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf