Far-right wing on the rise again in Australia

Latest wave of anti-immigrant sentiment focuses on growing Muslim community

An anti-Muslim protester (right) shouting at a Muslim supporter during a demonstration outside the Parramatta Mosque in Sydney on Oct 9.
An anti-Muslim protester (right) shouting at a Muslim supporter during a demonstration outside the Parramatta Mosque in Sydney on Oct 9.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

On Tuesday night at a secret location in Perth, Australia's newest - and perhaps most controversial - political party will finally hold its much-awaited launch. 

Small political parties often start up in Australia and rarely make headlines, but the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA) has attracted much attention due to its anti- Islam stance and its decision to invite Dutch anti-immigration firebrand Geert Wilders as a guest speaker. The new party's manifesto calls for a "stop to Islamisation of Australia", including limits on Muslim immigration and a ban on full face coverings. 

Analysts say the ALA is part of the biggest far-right movement in Australia since the rise in the late 1990s of former MP Pauline Hanson, who opposed Asian immigration, but it is unlikely to replicate her surprisingly large levels of support.

The decision to invite Mr Wilders prompted debate over whether Canberra should grant him a visa.

The visa was eventually granted earlier this month, with MPs saying that he should be allowed to enter the country even though his views are "repugnant".

But the state government of Western Australia said the ALA could not use publicly-owned venues for Mr Wilders' talk, while the body that represents pubs and hotels urged members to carefully consider allowing their facilities to be used for the event, citing the extra security required.

In the end, the party apparently opted for a "private venue". But the controversy made headlines and, according to the party, lifted traffic on its website from about 38,000 hits a week to more than 800,000.

"We're very happy the visa has been granted because so many people want to hear what Mr Wilders has to say," the party's president, Mrs Debbie Robinson, told Fairfax Media. 

The ALA's launch is set to go ahead, with a press conference to follow on Wednesday morning. 

Political analysts say there has been a small right-wing resurgence in Australia but the party itself is unlikely to have much success. 

Unlike the last big wave of anti-immigrant sentiment led by Ms Hanson, who targeted Asian arrivals, the latest focus at the right-wing end of the spectrum has been on the growing Muslim community. This shift is a testament to the acceptance of the nation's large Asian population but is also a reminder of the ongoing presence in Australia of a xenophobic fringe. 

An expert on right-wing political groups in Australia, Dr Damon Alexander of Swinburne University, said the recent emergence of right-wing groups was the biggest since Ms Hanson's rise.  

"There certainly seems to be a resurgence of the right wing," Dr Alexander told The Straits Times. 

"They are more up and about than they have been since Hanson.  Most of it is being driven by Islamic sentiment. But I don't think they have anywhere near as much capacity to draw in mainstream support as Hanson."

Aside from the ALA's launch, there have also been anti-Islam and anti-immigration rallies organised by nationalist and right-wing groups in Sydney and Melbourne in recent months, as well as a protest against a proposed new mosque in Bendigo in the state of Victoria. 

Another expert on right-wing politics in Australia, Dr Duncan McDonnell of Griffith University, said Mr Wilders, the Dutch anti-Islam MP, tends to attract controversy during his frequent tours abroad but the attention on his Australia visit has largely focused on him rather than the party he is coming to launch.

"The ALA, surely destined to be another footnote in the long history of failed Australian radical right parties, is just the window-dressing here," Dr McDonnell wrote in The Age. "The show will be all about Wilders."

The ALA was registered as a party by the Australian Electoral Commission on July 28 - a process which requires 500 members. 

But the registration means little. Indeed, in the same month, two other parties registered: One against paedophiles and another that supports ending curbs on pornography, public nudity and censorship. 

Analysts believe that the party's future will depend on its ability to raise funding and gather a strong list of viable candidates - hurdles that few previous right-wing parties have been able to overcome.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Far-right wing on the rise again in Australia'. Subscribe