The Capitol invasion was foreshadowed in 1996 by an invasion and riot at The Australian federal parliament in 1996. Media handling of each – very similar – event is enlightening.
What a mystery! Pundit Laura Tingle on the government-financed Australian Broadcasting Commission TV’s 7.30 program last night (January 11) showed 13 seconds of clippage from 1996 of a crowd surging towards Parliament House in Canberra. We got glimpses of blokes pushing and shoving at the doors and at police lines, and then half a dozen police and blokes wrestling inside the foyer. She explained, after bagging President Trump for allegedly inciting the Capitol Hill riots, “It is not as if Australia has not witnessed its own physical attacks on its Parliament.” Cut to 1996 Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Bill Kelty saying, “If they [LNCP conservative coalition] want to fight, if they want a war, we will have a full set.”
Tingle says that Kelty “rightly” feared a new Howard government would represent “an assault on union power”. The union anti-Howard campaign led to a rally at Parliament House “that turned ugly”. After our 13-second glimpse of the ugliness, Tingle lined up Howard plus Opposition Leader Kim Beazley later condemning the violence – although Beazley in fact had revved up the crowd at the time. With concerned frowns to suggest ABC gravitas, Tingle wrapped up her historical excursion thus: “But there is a difference between an assault from outside the system [What? The ACTU and the federal Opposition are outside the Australian system?] and one encouraged by the man [Trump] at its very heart.”
Tingle next incited the cancelling of inconvenient MHRs George Christensen (Nats) and Craig Kelly (Lib). This renewed campaign by the taxpayer-funded broadcaster is not actually my topic here but the 7.30 attack is so viciously deceptive and authoritarian that I feel obliged to set it out for you. Then I’ll get back to those mysterious 1996 clips about unionists invading our own Parliament.
Tingle starts with some journo asking PM Morrison , “Will you condemn conspiracy theories being promoted by members of your own government?” When Morrison defends free speech, Tingle pivots to what she calls “concerns” (whose concerns, exactly) about Craig Kelly and George Christensen’s “social media activities” which have been “peddling everything from misinformation about results of the US elections to dubious claims about COVID-19.” She finds it anomalous for the government to defend the pair’s free speech, when at the same time the government “is pushing for action against social media abuse as well as its earlier push against terrorist-related hate speech.” She then shows Treasurer Josh Frydenberg condemning “publishing of that sort of terrible content” – i.e. China faking pics of our troops cutting a kid’s throat. Nice comparisons, Tingle! Let’s censor and cancel Christensen and Kelly straight away!
The nominal ethics of 7.30 require, or so one would like to believe, that evidence be shown to viewers about how despicable the pair’s media posts have been. Tingle flashes up on the screen, for all of five seconds (at 13.55mins), four supposedly incriminating posts by the pair. No viewer has time to read them, and that’s the point. One Christensen post in fact refers to a real-time video showing an apparent Antifa provocateur breaking Capitol Hill windows and Trump supporters throwing him to the ground. See it for yourself here. Pity the ABC doesn’t show such clips. Christensen’s other post makes the valid point that Biden’s vote patterns defy normal statistical patterns and laws. As for Kelly, he writes in one post that invading the Capitol is “completely unacceptable and they should all be arrested.” So what’s Tingle’s problem? Kelly then asks, “Is this [Capitol fracas] a greater threat to democracy “than a social media giant censoring and shutting down the account of a democratically elected President?” Fair point. His other post quotes a peer-reviewed and randomised trial study about Betadine and COVID-19, and he puts in capitals, “BUT ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR.”
Any 7.30 viewer with knowledge of history will spot the resemblance of this taxpayer-funded authoritarian deceit with its equivalent from Soviet era broadcasting from Moscow or the TV diet fed to East Germans by Walter Ulbrecht and Erich Honecker.
NOW back to 1996. They say history doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it does rhyme. And what a close rhyme there is between that mob invading Parliament House, Canberra on August 19, 1996, and the mob of mainly Trump supporters that broke into the Capitol last week.
Both incursions were indefensible: violent behaviour is bad, and worse when directed at any nation’s legislative chamber. Of the thousands of Australian “progressives” who stormed and looted our Parliament on that August 19, 1996, fewer than dozen were charged. I’m hanged if I can find out if any were convicted or fined, let alone jailed. On the other hand, I hope, like Craig Kelly, that all American demonstrators who committed offences in or around the Capitol get their legal desserts, and especially the Antifa thugs who ran false-flag operations there.
The Australian rioters and looters at Parliament were part of a national “cavalcade” to Canberra of some 25,000 unionists and supporters organised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and backed by the Opposition, students peeved about their shrinking government stipends, Aboriginals by the hundreds peeved about reductions to their ATSIC money, rent-a-ferals and drunken agitators.
Nurses, firefighters, and public servants earlier in the day were chanting, ‘What do we want, [Prime Minister] Howard’s head. How we gonna get it? Tear it off!’
Don’t imagine the rioting was just the scuffles shown by Laura Tingle. Weapons used by the rioters included rocks, sticks, cans, paint bombs, a sledge hammer, a wheel brace used to smash glass partitions, a steel shop-trolley, diluted acid, and most fearsome of all, Paul Kelly’s 794-page tome The End of Certainty, stolen from the gift shop and lobbed at the police lines like a mortar round. One rioter tried to trigger the fire sprinkler system with a lighter. Ninety police and Parliamentary security people were injured — lacerations, sprains, and head and eye injuries. At least a couple were hospitalised. Academic thesis-writer Luke Deer commented, “This was inevitable as two tightly packed groups of several hundred rammed against each other for nearly two hours.”
The then-deputy opposition leader Gareth Evans afterwards described the protesters as “crazy, self-indulgent bastards” adding that “what happened yesterday was ugly, un-Australian, stupid and indefensible.”
Nurses treated about 40 of the injured, amid blood spatterings on the marble floor and walls, maybe rhyming with the famous first-aid scene in Gone With the Wind. The nurses were aided in their ministrations by Trish Worth (Liberal MHR, Adelaide) and a woman, probably with a nursing background, who had been showing off the Great Hall to her doubtless-bemused American guests.
The rioting was to the distant accompaniment of Solidarity Forever and the Internationale, sung by the ACTU choir at the official demo a little down the road.
Constable Rachel Benthein said the protesters she faced had violent motives: “Most of those involved in the assault weren’t there to demonstrate against John Howard — they were there to cause destruction and, on the second day, to have a conflict with police.” Constable Corey Heldon was part of the police group swept away by the initial charge toward Parliament House: “We ended up against the wrong side of the front doors. The mood was very aggressive, very angry. I’ve never seen anything like it … They tried to pull me into the crowd but I was pulled back by fellow officers, otherwise I might have been swallowed up by the crowd.”
A female officer was allegedly abused and kicked on the ground. Another female officer collapsed as she was crushed between the wall of protesters and police. A security officer also said that at least two female protesters collapsed in the crush. One was passed over the police lines, the other over the protesters.
ACTU Secretary Bill Kelty said the Cavalcade was ‘the most successful rally in the history of this country in Canberra’. According to Deer in his thesis, Kelty did not have a detailed knowledge of the events when he made his comments.
The battle was a day before the Howard government brought down its annual budget in a session targeting industrial relations changes. The union armies’ transport included a Sydney train re-christened the “Spirit of Protest” — a half-witty play on the venerable Spirit of Progress — and 47 buses just for NSW members of the AMWU.
The rioters, including a high proportion of women, were led by full-time paid union organisers, as named and depicted later in the Sydney Morning Herald’s front page. As if that heinous assault on our most sacred democratic institution the Parliament were not enough, Aboriginal activists rioted further the following day at Old Parliament House. If you were an adult in 1996, but can’t recall those twin riots, I’m not surprised because bad behaviour by leftists and protected classes goes straight down the media’s memory hole. The 7.30 report last night was an exception, driven, I’d say, by the need for some action footage.
On that evening in 1996, ABC TV news held its nose as it pretended to report the vandalism and violence by its political mates. Of that 4.40 minutes coverage, their ABC tribe was more preoccupied with disputing the newly-elected Howard’s policies, and petitions against the policies, than describing the trashing of our billion-dollar democratic edifice and injuring of 90 police and guards. As the ABC’s then news pundit Jim Middleton put it mildly, “It was the demonstration that got away … the Opposition’s concern is that today’s wild scenes have played into the government’s hands, diminishing broader public concern about tomorrow’s axe-wielding budget.” ACTU President Jennie George was quoted, “I regret anything that has occurred but I certainly don’t bear the responsibility for it. Thank you.” Contrast that with the ABC TV’s rabid reporting last week of the Capitol violence, preceded by an ABC placard, “Day of Shame.”
After the local riot, Senate President Margaret Reid told the House on August 20 1996 that the “disgraceful and totally unjustifiable” ugly and violent display was “one of the most shameful in this nation’s political history.” A peaceful demonstration around Parliament against industrial relations changes had been authorised, with the ACTU taking responsibility for its orderliness.
The protest rally remained peaceful until about 12.20 p.m., when a separate group of marchers entered the parliamentary precincts. This group refused to accept police direction, forced a breach in police lines and ran towards the main front entrance of Parliament House. Unfortunately, it was apparent that some of these demonstrators were affected by alcohol. This group was supported by participants from the more general demonstration who were incited to join those involved in riotous conduct by a speaker from the official platform.
Police formed a protective line along the perimeter of the Great Verandah which was subsequently forced back to the main doors. The police line was withdrawn from this area due to the level of violence being experienced by officers, and was redeployed to an area inside the front doors in support of parliamentary security personnel. This deployment stabilised the situation for a short period.
However, demonstrators using increasing force broke through the first line of doors. Once inside this area, demonstrators used weapons, including a large hammer, a wheel brace, a steel trolley and a stanchion torn from the external doors to break open the internal doors. Simultaneously, a second group of demonstrators used other weapons to break into the Parliament House shop, but were held at the internal doors.
The shop was ransacked by demonstrators and major damage was caused by persons who subsequently occupied the area. After some two hours, the demonstrators were finally repelled from Parliament House and driven back onto the forecourt area and, shortly afterwards, they dispersed. In addition to the events which took place at the front entrance to the building, incidents also occurred on the Members Terrace, the roof of the Great Verandah and the Queens Terrace.
There were 197 Australian Federal Police on duty at the start of the demonstration, in addition to the Australian Protective Service officers and parliamentary security personnel. A further 60 Australian Federal Police reinforcements were called out under established contingency plans.
The outrageous events which took place yesterday resulted in not only financial but, more importantly and lamentably, human costs. So far about 90 personnel have reported injuries—including lacerations, sprains, and head and eye injuries. I understand one person required hospitalisation.
An initial indicative estimate of the damage to the forecourt and the foyer is up to $75,000. The full extent of looting and criminal damage which resulted from the occupation of the Parliament House shop has yet to be determined.
Finally, I want to apologise most sincerely to the Australian people and those from overseas who were visiting Parliament House and were unfortunately involved, inconvenienced, frightened or shocked in any way by this deplorable incident. To them I say: what you witnessed here yesterday is not typical of Australia or Australians. And I believe I speak for all my colleagues when I say: we hope and pray it never will be.
Local Trots and ferals were unimpressed by such sentiments. One wrote in a feature in Marxist Left Review: “As long as capitalism exists, the exploited and the oppressed will fight back in one way or another. Riots will not go away. They are an elemental form of revolt that needs to be supported by all those who hate the current rotten system.”
When Jennie George of the ACTU was asked by Nine’s Sunday TV show about allegations that union organisers, “paid by the union movement”, participated in the riot, she claimed they ‘were on their own’. Deer concludes, “The effect of news footage and reports of Jennie George’s concerns about the riot reinforced the view that the Government was correct in its condemnation of the ACTU and the labour movement generally.” But his own view is, “The ACTU chose to condemn the rioters, rather than the Government for creating the situation.” Two years later, Ms George was gonged as one of Australia’s “100 living treasures”. She was parachuted into a safe seat (Throsby NSW) in 2001 and got her AO in 2013.
Deer in his 1998 Honors thesis called the riots “the most forceful physical attack on the Federal Parliament in Australian history.” He was then at the ANU Political Science Department. Despite some of his Marxist-theory pontificating, one can get from him many gems of fact about the affray. Deer makes the fine distinction that the attack was not against the country’s key democratic institution, the Parliament; but just against the building which housed the Government (President Trump ought to adopt this line). He relates how the first column on the Commonwealth Avenue ramp was led by a “prominent Aboriginal land campaigner” and his contingent, followed by the CFMEU and students.
Against the authorised plan, they moved in towards the Parliament against riot police opposition. “At that point ACT CPSU Secretary, Catherine Garvan [Community and Public Sector Union], called out on the public address system on the main stage that the police were trying to block the Aboriginal protesters from reaching the main demonstration and started a chant to ‘Let them through’. Protesters from the main rally began to stream towards the point of conflict.”
The police had left the Parliament forecourt vulnerable and backed off to protect the entrance. Think Isandlwana and the Zulu hordes, as the police retreated further to the redoubt behind the main doors. Deer writes:
[My editor needs clicks to keep his job so click and read more of this scintillating piece here