The cars began congregating at Punchbowl Park late on Monday night, December 12, the day after the anti-Lebanese riot at Cronulla. In the minds of the young men gathering at the park, the events at Cronulla required a harsh and immediate show of force. Anything else would be a sign of vulnerability.
So the mobile phones were busy, and carloads of men began arriving at Punchbowl Park. By midnight more than a hundred men had armed themselves with guns, machetes, baseball bats, knives, chains and iron bars. One had brought a megaphone. They were hyped up for battle. And before departing they left their reasons written on the street:
AUSSI TO DIE
SUNDAY COWARDS DIE, SOLDIERS RIZE
NEVER REST ASSIE DOG
YOUS CAME BY CHAINS U CONVICT DOGS
WE FEAR NO OZY PIGS
About 40 cars set off from the park after midnight, heading for Cronulla and Maroubra. They moved in a large convoy, hazard lights on as a show of force. During the next three hours, across Cronulla, Maroubra and Brighton-le-Sands, between one and two hundred young Lebanese men smashed scores of cars, stabbed or bashed several people and threatened a number of women with rape.
True to their self-image as the “Lions of Lebanon”, the hardest of the hard on Sydney’s streets, not one of these men was arrested or even hindered by police in their self-styled intifada that night. Despite appearances, the police were not oblivious to the unfolding events. An incident report prepared by Bankstown police on December 13 makes for interesting reading:
“On the evening of 12/12/05 numerous vehicles were sighted congregating in the vicinity of Punchbowl Park situated on Rose Street, Punchbowl. These vehicles and the crowd that had gathered were suspected to be middle eastern criminals who have been involved in malicious damage and civil disobedience offences throughout the Sutherland Shire and St George areas.”
A direction was given to police about midnight not to enter the area and antagonise these persons.
“About 4:30am police drove into the deserted street which is a residential area. Numerous taunts and racial slogans were seen written on the road . . . These messages were photographed. Some of the slogans identified the authors as being ‘Leb’ or ‘Lebanese’. There were also a number of crude Lebanese flags drawn on the roadway.
“During the evening police were advised by members of the public that the location is a rallying point for middle eastern criminals.”
Senior officials and police were so spooked by the events of December 11, 12 and 13—when a church hall was torched and children and parents attending a carols night were threatened and abused—and by the hundreds of text messages flying about calling for race violence, that a massive propaganda effort mobilised an extra 800 police to patrol the streets. As a show of force, it was mostly show. As one senior police source told me: “There was a terrible panic among senior police. They even thought of invoking the aid to civil power provisions [which allow military intervention].
“To get another 800 police on the streets, a lot of investigators from the State Crime Commission were pulled out and all the permanent task forces were decimated.”
One month later, 14 people have been arrested for their roles in the anti-Lebanese violence at Cronulla and a Lebanese immigrant has been jailed for three months for burning the Australian flag at the Brighton-le-Sands RSL club in front of about 150 people on the night of the Cronulla demonstration.
Soft targets. As for the far more sinister event, the large-scale, co-ordinated, premeditated attacks on scores of people and cars, not a single arrest has been made.
This was not the first such embarrassment of the police in the face of belligerent swarms of young Lebanese men. A retired detective, Tim Priest, in a lecture delivered exactly two years before the Cronulla riot, said:
“In hundreds upon hundreds of incidents police have backed down to Middle Eastern thugs and taken no action and allowed incidents to go unpunished. I stress the unbelievable influence that local politicians and religious leaders played in covering up the real state of play in the south-west . . . My prediction is that within 10 years there will be no-go areas in south-western Sydney, just like Paris.”
Within three days of the television images from Cronulla being broadcast around the world, and the violent response which followed, both houses of the NSW Parliament met in a special sitting on December 15 to push through laws to assist police in dealing with gangs or crowd violence.
Yet when the Premier, Morris Iemma, talked tough about crime, anyone who had been watching the problem evolve over the years could not fail to notice the credibility chasm between his words and his actions.
Responding to the Premier’s tough talk, the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Debnam, told the Parliament: “The past 72 hours have been an absolute disgrace, including internationally, [and] blame should be sheeted home to the Labor Party of NSW for denying these problems for 10 years . . .
“What are the underlying causes of the problems that have surfaced during the past 72 hours? The Government admitted that the budget crisis has meant a reduction in police numbers in this state by 674 over the past two years . . . This Government’s softly, softly strategy on ethnic crime is a disgrace and a betrayal of the NSW community. Yesterday I travelled around Auburn and I saw a church that had been burned down and church windows that had been smashed. On Monday night St Joseph’s primary school was sprayed with bullets . . .
“I suggest that the Labor Party look back at the branch stacking undertaken in 1997 and 1998 and see who was involved in it. Unfortunately, one of the members involved is now the Premier.”
He was talking about 1996 and 1997 when Iemma was involved in a bizarre, large-scale ALP membership drive—classic branch stacking operations—which deployed hundreds of Muslim Lebanese-Australians as political ground troops.
On one critical day, more than 400 people joined a single ALP branch. This generated a large-scale counter-stack, and hundreds of people recruited by a rival faction turned up to vote, only to be told the meeting was over. Much milling and jostling followed. Both sides had gone to the imans in Lakemba to get them to drum up rank-and-file numbers.
They must have done a good job because more than a thousand people were mobilised. It was an intrafactional affair. Trogs v Terrigals. Another day in the life of the NSW Right faction which controls politics in this state.
The Morris Iemma who incurred political debts on that day was the same member for Lakemba who wrote glowing references for Mamadou Ndaw, who turned out to be intimately connected to the core of local Muslim extremists whose homes were raided by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Ndaw is the brother-in-law of Khaled Sharrouf, who was arrested in the ASIO counter-terrorism sweep.
Ndaw is also a close friend of Willie Brigitte, now in jail in France on terrorism charges. Ndaw had other connections in ASIO’s files. Despite Iemma’s references, he was deported to his native Senegal.
This, too, has been raised in Parliament by Debnam, so it was inevitable that on December 15, when Parliament was recalled, he would be subjected to a series of attacks from government ministers for his shameful divisiveness.
Unfortunately for the Government, one of those who joined in the abuse was Frank Sartor, the Minister for Planning, who began his speech: “When I was elected to Parliament one of my first initiatives was a new task force to tackle hoons in Brighton-le-Sands and Dolls Point. Almost three years later their anti-social behaviour has all but been stamped out. This has been achieved through a range of measures: special police operations, traffic-calming measures, closed-circuit television cameras and hefty fines for car defects . . .
“Yet the criminal behaviour seen at Cronulla last weekend has spilled over into Brighton. At midnight last Monday night I inspected the damage caused in a whirlwind attack earlier that evening. A gang of up to a hundred youths descended on Grand Parade and Bay Street conducting what has unfortunately come to be known as a smash-and-bash raid. These thugs even desecrated the Australian flag at the Brighton-le-Sands RSL club.”
In other words, instead of confronting the problem at its source, the State Labor Government merely funnelled it somewhere else, to Cronulla, where after yet another assault thousands of people demonstrated about the years of abuse and intimidation from a disconnected, racist, violent, moronic and sexually dangerous subculture that happens to be centred on the electorate represented by the Premier of NSW.
The worst criminal outbreak in Australia in recent years, and the worst calculated racial violence, was organised inside the electorate of the Premier of NSW, Morris Iemma, the Alice in Wonderland of crime.
At various places in Lakemba and Punchbowl on the evening of Monday, December 12, carloads of men converged to plan revenge attacks in response to the anti-Lebanese demonstration at Cronulla the previous day, Sunday, December 11.
During a large gathering outside the Lakemba mosque, guns were brandished and reporters were abused and threatened. Not far away, at Punchbowl Park, carloads of young men congregated before and after engaging in hit-and-run raids in eastern beach suburbs.
Several convoys of cars set off from the area that night intent on creating civil disorder. Men armed themselves with guns, knives, iron bars and other weapons. Some of these cars were intercepted by police, the majority were not. One brazen convoy was able to travel to and from the east like a military flying column, conducting a raid and departing before police arrived.
A police report described a gathering at Punchbowl Park that night of men described as “suspected to be Middle Eastern criminals who have been involved in malicious damage and civil disobedience offences throughout the Sutherland Shire and St George areas”. But the report, complied by Bankstown police on December 13, also stated: “A direction was given to police around midnight not to enter the area and antagonise these persons.”
Exasperating, but understandable. It was a very dangerous place to be. Nor would the police have great confidence they could prove in court that any of these men had engaged in acts of violence elsewhere in Sydney.
Given the way the legal system and civil rights bureaucracies have treated the police over the past dozen years, the decision to err on the side of caution reflected far more than mere prudence.
The result is that while most of the worst offenders in the racial violence at Cronulla have been arrested and charged, the public are still waiting for any perpetrators of the violent reprisal raids to appear in court. Last week, Detective Superintendent Dennis Bray confirmed on radio 2GB that no arrests had been made over the violent revenge attacks of December 12-13.
Which brings us back to Alice in Wonderland.
On Thursday, December 15, Iemma addressed an emergency sitting of Parliament in uncompromising language: “I thank all honourable members for gathering today to show our united resolve in the face of thuggery, intimidation and violence.
“I have recalled Parliament for one simple reason: new powers to uphold public order. We are here to make sure that the police get the powers they need. Louts and criminals have effectively declared war on our society and we are not going to let them undermine our way of life.”
The credibility problem with this rhetoric was soon brutally raised by the leader of the National Party, Andrew Stoner, who laid bare the political problem that Iemma now has:
“It is a sad indictment of the Labor Government that after nearly 11 years of inaction, despite ongoing warning signs about ethnic gang crime, we have a last-minute kneejerk reaction that has necessitated the emergency recall of Parliament to give police the powers they should have had all along.
“Presiding over this debacle is Morris Iemma, whose electorate of Lakemba has long been the breeding ground of ethnic gang crime problems. As the local member, he has been totally ineffective in dealing with the festering sore of these criminal gangs. Perhaps this is due to the use by the Labor Party of these gangs in branch-stacking in the late 1990s.
“At least three years ago I visited Cronulla beach with the honourable member for Cronulla [Malcolm Kerr]. We spoke to Mr Geoff Williams, a professional lifeguard, who informed us of people from the western suburbs and the south-west of Sydney repeatedly coming to the beach and harassing young females on the beach.
“He told us that when lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers attempted to intervene, knives were pulled out and shown to the lifesavers.
“By sticking its head in the sand the Government has allowed this longstanding problem to reach boiling point. The sad consequence of the problem is its impact on the many good Australians of Middle Eastern background.”
Some of these political debts incurred by the NSW Labor Right among the Muslims in the Lakemba-Punchbowl-Bankstown area have been well documented, especially the lurid branch-stacking operations. The antecedants of this particular strand of racial politics can be traced back to one of the bad habits of the last federal Labor government.
By way of example, a former high-ranking police officer described to me the political strings pulled on behalf of Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, now a prominent religious leader in Lakemba: “The Immigration Department wanted to deport him, and we had more than enough to get rid of him. But he stayed because of interference by [Paul] Keating.”
Even the Labor immigration minister of that time, Chris Hurford, would later complain to the Herald: “It was sheer populism. Voting power got in the way of good policy.”