Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned the “ugly racial protests” at Melbourne’s St Kilda beach involving right-wing extremists and anti-fascists.
Mr Morrison thanked the hundreds of Victorian police officers who took to the air, sea and land to control Saturday’s event, while calling Australia the most successful migrant country in the world.
“This has been achieved by showing respect for each other, our laws and values and maintaining sensible immigrations policies. Let’s keep it that way, it makes Australia stronger,” the prime minister tweeted on Sunday morning.
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan said the calls by rally organisers for a race riot like the 2005 Cronulla Riots in Sydney should be criticised.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the apparent racist and race-based motivation behind the rally. There is no place for such rallies in Australia,” he said in a statement.
“Activities that target a community based on their race or ethnicity are unacceptable and have no place in a cohesive, multicultural Australia.”
The national group representing ethnic councils, FECCA, also condemned the protests.
“Our national character isn’t represented by extremists in #StKilda who seek to use racism to divide communities,” the group said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Protesters gather at St Kilda beach
Meanwhile, the attendance of Queensland senator Fraser Anning at the protest organised by ultra-nationalist Neil Erikson has been condemned by MPs.
Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, who used the Nazi-associated phrase “final solution” in his maiden speech, stood with right-wing extremist Cottrell at the rally.
Senator Anning, who now sits as an independent after being booted from the Katter Australia Party following his defection from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, uploaded several videos to his Facebook page from the rally.
In the videos, Senator Anning stands with Cottrell, poses for photos and makes inflammatory remarks about migration.
The far-right group chanted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” while the counter protesters yelled “Migrants welcome, racists are not”.
After speeches from both sides, the opposing groups dispersed onto nearby streets and to the front of Luna Park, with minor scuffles breaking out.
At least one person was pepper-sprayed. Three people were arrested.
Independent senator Derryn Hinch condemned Fraser Anning’s support of Neil Erikson, who has been convicted of inciting contempt of Muslims.
“I have chastised Fraser Anning in the Senate for his racism, anti-abortion clinic exclusion zones and Hitler’s Final Solution. His appearance in support of the neo-nazis in St. Kilda today topped his calumny,” he wrote in a message posted on Twitter.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young urged the government to reject the vote of the Queensland senator.
“The Government should refuse to take Fraser Anning’s vote in the Senate after he has shown again he is unfit to be in the Parliament. Hanging out and supporting with neo-nazi who are inciting violence is inexcusable,” she wrote in a message on Twitter.
Labor MP Tim Watts said Fraser Anning’s support for the protest is unacceptable.
“Today, around 100 neo-Nazis, white nationalists and racial supremacists rallied in St Kilda accompanied by an Australian Senator,” he wrote on Facebook on Saturday evening.
“We should take these racists and fascists seriously. They hate the diverse, inclusive country that Australia has become and the values that the overwhelming majority of us share.
Police on standby ahead of St Kilda beach protest
“In response, we need our community to send a clear message that racists like this will not be tolerated anywhere in our country.”
Victoria Police said large numbers of police would be patrolling Lunar New Year festival in St Albans to ensure there would be no anti-social behaviour.
“We will not accept any unwanted or anti-social behaviour that ruins celebrations for anyone else,” Superintendent David Jones said.
“If you attend the event and behave in a disruptive manner, you will be swiftly arrested and held to account.”
– with AAP