Counter-terrorism in Australia in the 1970s: A discussion with Andrew Zammit

Andrew Zammit, at his newly retitled blog The Murphy Raid, recently posted a brief history of counter-terrorism in Australia and argued that understanding this history was important for understanding contemporary counter-terrorist practices and approaches. A significant part of this history is the reaction of the Australian government (and the security services) to the threat of nationalist/anti-Communist terrorism, principally driven by the Ustashe, a far right Croatian organisation that aimed to bring down Tito’s Yugoslavia. This involved attacks on Yugoslav and USSR embassies and consulates in Australia during the 1960s and 1970s.

As written in an earlier post on this blog, one of my research interests is how the Australian government reacted to threats of political violence in the 1970s and I have conducted some research into the legislation created to protect embassies and consulates in Australia, incorporated into legislation dealing with demonstrations and issues of public order. The Gorton/McMahon governments, as I have argued previously, were more fearful of violence and public disorder from the left and the new social movements, particularly the anti-Vietnam War and anti-Apartheid movements, rather than the Ustashe. When the McMahon government introduced the Public Order Bill in 1971, Part III was dedicated to protecting foreign embassies, consulates and representatives. Section 14 of the Public Order Act stated:

The provisions of this Part are intended to assist in  giving effect, on the part of Australia, to the special duty imposed by international law on a state that receives a diplomatic or special mission, or consents to the establishment of a consular post, to take appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission or post against intrusion or damage, to prevent any attack on the persons, freedom or dignity of the personnel of the mission or post and to prevent disturbance of the peace, or impairment of the dignity, of the mission or post.

This part of the Bill was included as the government believed that anti-war and anti-Apartheid demonstrators were deliberately targeting the embassies of the United States, South Vietnam and South Africa.

In my response to Andrew’s post, I wrote that the Labor opposition believed that the Liberals had no real concern over attacks on the Yugoslav and USSR embassies and consulates, and were more concerned with protecting the establishments of the USA, South Africa and South Vietnam, and that it was only under Whitlam (and the continued under Fraser) that the risk posed by the Croatian nationalists was reassessed. With his permission, here is a reproduction of my comments from Andrew’s blog:

It seems that under the Gorton-McMahon governments, the primary concern was potential violence stemming from the left, such as the anti-Vietnam War and anti-Apartheid movements. Only under Whitlam is there any real assessment of the threat posed by Croatian nationalists and other anti-Communists in Australia.

When the Public Order Bill 1971 was introduced into Parliament (which included a Part dedicated to the protection of foreign embassies, consulates and representatives in Australia), Whitlam asked for the details of attacks upon foreign embassies and consulates over the last decade. The reply from the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Hansard, House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates (written answers), 7 April, 1971, 1651-1652) showed that 22 attacks had occurred since 1966. Of the serious attacks (such as arson or bombings) the embassies of Yugoslavia and the USSR experienced more (5 each) than those of the USA, South Africa and South Vietnam (4, 1 and 2 respectively).

Labour MP Horace Garrick complained that despite the emphasis by the Liberal Government on the issue of ‘law and order’ and the protection of foreign representatives, it ‘was not interested in law and order… when bombs were thrown by Fascist terrorists into the Yugoslav Embassy in Hawthorn’, adding ‘it appears that the Government condones this type of violence, as the only reaction to date has been to declare the Embassy a public nuisance and to ask the occupants to vacate the premises.’ (Hansard, House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates, 20 April, 1971, 1711)

Shortly after the POA came into effect, an internal report by the Commonwealth Police showed that during 1971 there was an increase on attacks on the South African embassy, coinciding with the demonstrations against the Springboks rugby tour, but these were mainly limited to anti-apartheid slogans being painted on the embassy walls, compared with the bomb attacks directed against the Yugoslavia and USSR embassies (Commonwealth Police Force Central Crime Intelligence Bureau, ‘Politically Motivated Violence and Vandalism in Australia 1971’, January 1972, pp. 7-13, A432 1985/6648, NAA).

Despite Labor’s suspicion that the Liberal Party and the security forces were in close contact with Croatian terror groups, a secret Cabinet document on political violence and terrorism in Australia prepared by the Attorney-General, Ivor Greenwood, for the McMahon government shows that the A-G believed that the ‘Yugoslav problem’ was ‘the greatest single problem’ for Australia’s national security. However Greenwood did advise against a Royal Commission into terrorism and violence (into the Yugoslav migrant community and/or wider political/terror organisations). (Ivor J. Greenwood, ‘Terrorism and Violence in Australia’, 28 September, 1972, pp. 8-9, A432 1972/5776, NAA)

However the issue was taken more seriously by the Whitlam and Fraser governments, who were concerned with the rise in international terrorism during the 1970s and were particularly warned by ASIO about anti-Communist emigres and the Ananda Marga. Disturbances outside Old Parliament House in the late 1970s by both groups encouraged the government to believe that these groups both posed a significant security risk. Also, with the number of sieges occurring at embassies in Europe increasing during the 1970s, as well as the kidnapping of foreign representatives, the Fraser government introduced the Crimes (Internationally Protected Persons) Act 1976 to give greater powers to police to stop potential acts of terrorism against foreign representatives and far greater penalties for those found guilty of offences against the Act. Andrew Hiller observed, the maximum penalties for offences under the 1976 Act, such as assaulting an internationally protected person, were ‘considerably in excess’ of those offered under the Public Order Act. (Andrew Hiller, Public Order and the Law, Law Book Company, Sydney, 1983, p. 195) The Fraser government drafted a report to examine whether further powers were required to stop AM and the Ustashe from conducting attacks inside Parliament House, but National Archive records seem to show that the report was not followed up.

Andrew was kind enough to reply to my comments and answered them at length in another post, with some great references to other research done in this area. I encourage you all to visit Andrew’s blog and follow the discussion.

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