Anatomy of Injustice – Australian Croatian Six Case Up For Judicial Inquiry 40 Years On

The Croatian Six 1979 mugshots Photo: ABC TV Four Corners

In 1981 six Australian Croatian men (Max Bebic, Vic Brajkovic, Joseph and Ilija Kokotovic, Mile Nekic, and Tony Zvirotic) were convicted of terrorism related activities on clearly largely dubious evidence and sent to prison on a 15-year sentence each for acts of terrorism in Sydney. They have always maintained their innocence. This case has for many years been dubbed as a case of the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of Australia. That label of miscarriage of justice did not originate from Australian Croatians, who had many reasons to be angry and bitter as this guilty verdict came at the time when the communist Yugoslavia machinery stopped at nothing when it came to destroying the Croatian name and Croatian people who in war (WWII) and in peace (post-WWII) stood for a free and independent Croatia – it came from others including members of Australia’s legal profession.  

It took a Serbian imposter in Australia working for the communist Yugoslavia agenda, it took an Australian/NSW police “squad” that evidently assisted that imposter’s agenda to build a damming case against the Croatian Six, and it took a Supreme Court of NSW judge, Justice Victor Maxwell’s, among other possible failings in the case, his apparent and total belief in that the NSW Police could do no wrong as well as failing to reveal to the jury that one of the presented confessions by one of the Croatian Six was unsafe (as it was unsigned) to send six Croatian men to ruin and push the reputation of the Australian Croatian community deeper into darkness of being considered “nationalist extremists and terrorists” and despair thus executing a mighty favour for the oppressive communist Yugoslavia. Judge Maxwell also refused leave for the Croatian Six defence to summon police who had arrested a seventh Croatian that night in February 1979 when the Six were arrested and who was subsequently released by a Magistrate. “In his summing up, Justice Maxwell told the jury it was a matter of whether to believe thirty-nine police officers or the six defendants, and a question of who had the motive to lie. The fact that he had suppressed two examples of police giving false evidence didn’t seem to bother him. It was, he said, ‘black and white,’” (Hamish McDonald article “Held Captive By Cold War Politics”, 5 March 2021)

On 15 February 2021, human rights and criminal law barrister Sebastian De Brennan and solicitor Helen Cook, with opinion from David Buchanan SC launched an appeal, filed for a judicial inquiry in the Supreme Court of NSW on behalf of the Croatian Six case based on new evidence disclosed in the relatively recent release of secret ASIO documents (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation),  in the recently published Official History of ASIO (John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley, 2016) and in Hamish McDonald’s book “Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six” (2019) where the facts, after extensive and thorough research, are set out.

 If successful, the guilty verdict for the Croatian Six could be overturned, more than 40 years after that terrible fact.

Launch of Hamish McDonald book 2019 Sydney (L) Hamish McDonald, (R) Marko Franovic Photo: Ina Vukic

At the end of WWII Croatia’s hopes for independence from Yugoslavia were crushed and mass murders, mass communist Yugoslavia crimes against Croatian patriots followed, filling the so far discovered 1,700 mass graves of innocent people (at least 1,000 of them are now unearthed in Croatia) with mutilated, murdered, now decomposed human remains. This horror and oppression triggered a surge in Croatians fleeing communist Yugoslavia and settling in the United States, Canada, various South American countries, Australia and others.  All the Croatians who settled in these countries were proud of their heritage and they continued their struggle for the freedom of Croatia in many ways. They established with their own work and funds and fortified many Croatian community clubs and Croatian Catholic Centres everywhere, Australia was no exception; indeed, it could be said Croatians in Australia were leading in these efforts to maintain traditions, culture and zest for independence of Croatia for all the decades that followed.

It is understandable that some Yugoslav migrants of Croatian origin should continue to hope for the establishment of an independent Croatia and within a democracy like Australia they have a right to advocate their views so long as they do so by legitimate means,” Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia 27 August 1964. (Source: Australia, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Debates, No.HR.35, 1964, 679.)

2019 Sydney – Launch of Hamish McDonald’s Book (L) Hamish McDonald, (C) Ina Vukic, (R) Branko Miletic Photo: Ina Vukic

Throughout the stormy and turbulent 1970’s random criminal acts ending in injury and destruction often occurred in Australia. Often the finger was pointed at Croatian patriots as being involved even though their protests against communist Yugoslavia had never escalated into violence; that is a historical fact. As such an unpleasant (to say it mildly) reputation of Australian Croatians built on lies fabricated by communist Yugoslavia Secret Service UDBa grew bigger, things got alarmingly serious against Croatians when in 1979 a man named Vico Virkez walked into the Lithgow Police Station and gave the police a surprise tip-off that would lead to one of the longest criminal trials in Australia’s criminal history. Virkez was passing himself off in Lithgow as a Croatian migrant and worked at the local power station when he made a surprise confession at the Lithgow Police Station that he and his fellow members of his Croatian community were plotting a series of terrorist attacks in Sydney.

Vitomir Misimovic a.k.a. Vico Virkez, 1991 Photo: ABC TV Four Corners

So in February 1979, NSW Police announced that a group of Croatians had been arrested in Lithgow and Sydney just before planting gelignite time-bombs in targets identified with the Yugoslav regime – including the 1600-seat Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown, where entertainers from Yugoslavia were about to perform.

The police swoop at the time was drummed up as an ideal and right mix of force and intelligence to grab terrorists and their explosives just in time – to save Australians! Raids on Virkez and his alleged accomplices in Lithgow and Sydney followed quickly and mercilessly.

Many questions were left unanswered despite the 1981 Supreme Court verdict. The Croatian informer Virkez who was the prosecution’s linchpin disappeared soon after he received a two-year sentence and while the trial against the Six was still afoot, on its tail end. In 1990 the Croatian Six were released from prison on the ground of good behaviour, having spent ten years in prison. In prison they had reportedly endured severe beatings, isolation and mental torture.

Sydney 2019 at the launch of Hamish McDonald book (L) Chris Masters, (R) Ina Vukic

In 1991 the ABC TV Four Corners’ award-winning investigative journalist Chris Masters, went looking for Virkez and found him in the then Yugoslavia, in a village in Bosnia Herzegvina, discovering that he was a Serb, Vitomir Misimovic, who masqueraded in Australia as a Croatian nationalist having infiltrated the Australian Croatian Community as an operative of Communist Yugoslavia Secret Service (UDBa) whose main goal at the time was to destroy in any which way the Croatians abroad who were pursuing the idea of freedom for Croatia from communist Yugoslavia.

In the ABC TV Four Corners program on the Croatian Six in 1991 Chris Masters among other things said “…Tonight, the spy who came in from the cold… he disappeared from Australia 11 years ago after exposing a major terrorist plot. When Four Corners tracked him down, he confessed to perjury that cost six men a total of 50 years in prison… The man who used to be known as Vico Virkez was found in a farmyard in a very Serbian corner of Yugoslavia. This Balkan James Bond turned out to be a modest pig farmer with an immodest imagination…” Chris Masters said about the interview with Virkez:  “It was a long conversation, Virkez has not spoken English for some time but one thing he made clear as he had made clear in a letter to Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister of Australia) before the trial was that the evidence in his three statements was not his own.” Masters asked Virkez: “In the court was the evidence you gave all of the truth?”  “No,“ Virkez replied. Masters: “Were you given any instructions by police about what to say?”. “I was told what I have to say there,” Virkez replied. “Did they make you tell lies?” Masters asked. “I did that because they say this is all true I didn’t know if it was true or not,” Virkez replied.   

In court, in the case against the Croatian Six, Virkez had evidently kept to a script written by police. None of the six were guilty of the bombing conspiracy yet they served long prison sentences for it.

Three years after the Chris Masters Four Corners broadcast, NSW attorney-general John Hannaford decided against a review of the Croatian Six case reportedly on advice of two senior state government lawyers, Keith Mason and Rod Howie — advice still not public because of claimed legal privilege.

In 1990’s the secrets that Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s adviser Ian Cunliffe discovered began to leak but it was not until 2007 that these secrets revealed had taken the Australian investigative journalist and author, Hamish McDonald, on a quest for justice for Croatian Six.

In 2007, in the case of the killing of five Australian television newsmen at Balibo, in Portuguese Timor, in 1975, Hamish McDonald “spent two months in the old coroner’s court on Sydney’s Parramatta Road listening to former officials, signals intelligence operatives, Timorese civil war veterans and even former prime minister Gough Whitlam testify to what they knew. One witness was Ian Cunliffe, a former federal government lawyer who’d served on Justice Robert Hope’s late-1970s royal commission into the intelligence services. He had seen an Indonesian signals intercept concerning the Balibo deaths that he felt had been covered up.

Asked by his lawyer if he knew of other instances of intelligence being withheld from the government, Cunliffe instanced ‘a criminal trial in Sydney involving six defendants.’ Canberra officials had agreed to keep material from the prime minister, he said, and had been willing to make intelligence material disappear if it was subpoenaed by defence lawyers.

During the court’s morning tea break, I asked Cunliffe which case he was referring to. ‘The Croatian Six,’ he replied cryptically,writes Hamish McDonald.

Framed – the untold story about the Croatian Six, by Hamish McDonald 2012 was Sydney Morning Herald’s first ebook, investigates the fate of six men jailed for up to a decade over plans to blow up a Sydney theatre in 1979 as part of a Croat terrorist plot.

Hamish McDonald spent months tracking down the surviving members of the Croatian six, the police and others involved in the case. His findings strengthen suspicions that these convictions are, as one former senior Australian official puts it, “a grave injustice”.  

McDonald also investigates the role in the case of the Yugoslav state security service, which used Australian police and intelligence services as tools to blacken the reputation of Croatian-Australians as extremists.

According to McDonald, vital evidence in proving the innocence of the Croatian Six and Indonesian culpability in the murder of the Balibo Five was suppressed by the Australian federal government on the grounds of “national security.”

In January 2018… I went to Canberra and found myself reading through two files on Virkez. They showed that he had been working with a UDBa handler in the Sydney consulate for six months before the arrests, speaking by telephone and meeting in Sydney, in all cases monitored by ASIO.

After the arrests (of Croatian Six), ASIO quickly concluded Virkez was the man working with the UDBa officer and circulated this information around state police forces through an intelligence channel. The reaction at NSW police headquarters was dismay. Assistant commissioner Roy Whitelaw contacted ASIO to say that if the men’s defence team became aware of this information, ‘it could blow a hole right through the police case.’

ASIO was initially inclined to let the NSW police reveal the information about Virkez as long as the source and wire-tapping involved were not revealed. It appears that Whitelaw opted not to pass it on, certainly not as far as crown prosecutor Shillington. With the court case set, ASIO then opted to throw a blanket around the evidence, persuading federal attorney-general Peter Durack to strenuously oppose the defence subpoenas during the trial and appeal.

Under its chief at the time, Harvey Barnett, ASIO tried to tone down its assessment of Virkez from ‘agent’ to mere ‘informant.’ Barnett wrote in the file that this reduced the likelihood of ASIO’s being accused of having been party to a miscarriage of justice. The Hawke government’s attorneys-general, Gareth Evans and Lionel Bowen, then signed off on moves to prevent Ian Cunliffe, by then secretary of the Australian Law Reform Commission, from raising his misgivings regarding the suppression of evidence about Virkez,” McDonald wrote in his March 5, 2021 article.

This cover-up was detailed in his book on the affair, Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six, which was published in 2019.

2010 Australian White Paper on Counter-Terrorism Photo: page screenshot

What is also telling of a cover-up and miscarriage of justice for the Croatian Six is that when in 2010, Kevin Rudd’s Australian Federal Government released its White Paper on counter-terrorism (PDF here), it was curiously surprising to discover that it omitted to mention from its list of terrorist attacks and major foiled attempts in Australia over the past 40 years the acts that the Croatian Six spent a total of 50 years in prison for! Australia’s White Paper on Counter-terrorism omitted to list that NSW police were said to have stopped the imminent bombing of Sydney’s Elizabethan Theatre during an event attended by up to 1600 people, the bombing of several city businesses and the cutting of Sydney’s water supply!

This government White Paper explains the nature of the terrorist threat to Australia within Australia’s broader national security context, sets out the Australian Government’s strategy for countering terrorism, and details the policy settings by which the Government will implement its counter-terrorism strategy. Since it did not mention the Croatian Six, since it did not boast how its counter-terrorist operations stopped that large terrorist act no terrorism was attempted by the Croatian Six nor committed. One may indeed hope, then, that the current judicial inquest/appeal against the 1981 conviction of Croatian Six will find the same as the 2010 Australian White Paper on Counter-Terrorism and their convictions – quashed. Ina Vukic

“Reasonable Doubt – Spies, Police and the Croatian Six”: Australia’s Biggest Miscarriage Of Justice

Reasonable Doubt – Spies, Police and the Croatian Six”
Book by Hamish McDonald

 

Interview with Hamish McDonald, author of “Reasonable Doubt – Spies, Police and the Croatian Six”

April 2019, without a shadow of a doubt, will impress upon the Australian Croatian community, indeed the whole of the Australian and world’s community as a month that brings back the memories of terrifying fears and the 1970’s utterly brutal vilification of the Croatian name (the irksome effects of which still linger to this day) propped up and devised by communist Yugoslavia secret police, but also – a month that shines a light upon hope for real justice and long, long awaited truth. The fresh release of Hamish McDonald’s new book will step into the limelight of many a gathering as the book is launched in Sydney and Canberra – in April 2019. Ahead of the book’s launch I spoke in Sydney with Hamish McDonald .

Knock, knock – it’s a hot summer night and Roger Rogerson is at the front door with a posse of Sydney’s toughest cops. Sticks of gelignite are discovered, and the family’s young men are taken off for a rough night at CIB headquarters, joined by others arrested in simultaneous raids across the city. For them, and the entire community of migrants from Croatia, it’s the start of a nightmare, ending in 15-year jail terms for terrorist conspiracy. But even during their 10-month trial, holes appeared in the police case. Later the chief crown witness confessed on TV he made up his crucial testimony.

Decades later, a chance reference drew journalist Hamish McDonald to explore this case. He discovers evidence that authorities took pains to conceal from the court: that the crown witness was an agent of the Yugoslav secret service and had been under ASIO surveillance. The book shows how an unreformed police force, inept politicians, scheming security men, and mutually back-slapping judges contributed to Australia’s biggest miscarriage of justice. It’s Sydney’s underbelly, with a dash of international intrigue and espionage,” quoted from the Back cover of Hamish McDonald’s new book “Reasonable Doubt – Spies, Police and the Croatian Six”.

Hamish McDonald
Photo:Ina Vukic

The case of “Croatian Six” has been a subject of your pursuits in investigative journalism and writing for many years. When and what has drawn you to this particular subject?

My interest was sparked by a side-reference to the case in a completely unrelated one, the 2007 inquest into the killing of five Australian TV journalists in Portuguese Timor way back in 1975. A former federal government lawyer raised it as a miscarriage of justice. I started digging, making FOI requests, reading the trial transcripts (5000 pages), trying to meet police and lawyers involved. I wrote a long piece for The Sydney Morning Herald in 2012. This led to the NSW Supreme Court commissioning a judge to see whether a full judicial review of the convictions was warranted. He said it was not. But then in 2016, the third volume of the official history of ASIO, Australia’s domestic security service, came out. Based on ASIO’s secret archives, It described the Croatian Six case as a “miscarriage of justice.” That got me to go back to the case. This book is the result.

Can you please tell me where and what paths you needed to pursue in your search for facts and truth about this case?

I re-read the transcripts of the trial and the two levels of appeal. Being able to draw on them at book length, rather than a newspaper article, meant I could form an analysis of bias in the police and judicial systems at the time that was very adverse to the six defendants. So there was a court-room drama. But the more I looked at it, the dark area was the role of Vico Virkez (the pseudonym of Vitomir Misimovic), a Bosnian Serb pretending to be a Croat and Catholic who led the police to the others and then gave evidence against them. As I discovered (with your help, Ina!) he had died in 2014, back in his home village. But in Croatia and Serbia in 2017 I was able to build up a picture of the modus operandi of the UDBa in Australia, and how it was able to manipulate Australian authorities against Croatian nationalists. Unfortunately I could not get the present Serbian security service, which is sitting on the former federal UDBa archive, to open up any records of the case. The archive of the Croatian UDBa is now open, but was sanitized before the old regime broke up. But then a request through the National Archives of Australia for access to ASIO records about the case began to yield results. They support the conclusion of the ASIO Official History.

What has left the strongest of impressions upon you as a journalist as well as an individual member of society during your research regarding this case?

Going back to the Australia of 1979 has been a time warp, not just to pre-digital technology but to social attitudes that young people today would find incredible. It was an era of now-amazing naivety about police abuses, judicial bias, and foreign interference, and also an era of ethnic stereotyping much different to the current versions. As a person, it has been getting to know some of the Croatian Six and family members over the past 12 years. They are fine people. They deserve a remedy for this injustice, even this late.

Why the book title “Reasonable Doubt – Spies, Police and the Croatian Six”?

Beyond reasonable doubt is the standard of proof to convict someone under our legal system. It comes up again and again in this narrative. Virkez has gone back on his evidence. The NSW Police were shown to be riddled with corruption and abuse at the time of the arrests. Yet throughout the court appeals and applications for judicial review, judges have clung to the confessions allegedly made by the six as clinching evidence that puts their guilt beyond doubt – even though these were unsigned in five cases, and produced by a detective unit now notorious for bashing, loading (planting evidence) and verballing (fabricating confessions). The Federal Government kept ASIO knowledge about Virkez’s role as an UDBa agent away from the jury, the defence lawyers, and the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Australia. So there are the spies – Yugoslav and Australian – and the police.

How do you think this kind of disaster in the justice system believed by many to be associated with this case was or is possible in countries like Australia?

Amid terrorism scares, normal doubts and civil liberties tend to go out the window. Police are usually floundering in political cases to find connections between activism and violence, between thought and action. They get used to building cases against suspects they “know” are guilty. Miscarriages against the perceived aliens within thus happen, from the 1894 Dreyfus case in France to the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases in 1970s England. This was our equivalent. Thanks to political rancor over ASIO – Labor saying it persecuted the Left while ignoring the extreme Right – Croatians in Australia all got tainted as Ustase holdovers. The UDBa were delighted to encourage this.

What do you hope the release of this book will achieve for the society in general?

I’d like to encourage everyone to keep threats of terrorism in proportion, and not stigmatise a whole community for the acts of a few members. After all, we’ve just seen the worst act of terror in this part of the world, at least since colonial times, carried out by someone from the Anglo-Celtic “mainstream.” We need to have far stronger systems to check intelligence agencies – the deference of judges to “national security” claims by Canberra against disclosure in this case now look ridiculous. But above all, I’d like to see it lead to pardons, apologies and compensation for the Croatian Six.

Interview by Ina Vukic

Hamish McDonald (L) Ina Vukic (C) Branko Miletic (R) in Sydney

Australian Labor Party Should Apologise For Persecutions of Croatians

“It’s Time”
by John Ovcaric

It would seem that Tony Jones recently plagiarised a Yugoslav era work of Propaganda titled “Dvadeseti čovjek” (the Twentieth Man) written by “Đorđe Ličina” and while we sit and read this in astonishment, Jones, who obviously must be suffering some form of writer’s block let alone dementia has the gumption to think that this will go un-noticed? Well no it isn’t, and this isn’t the most alarming factor here so let’s try again.

Perhaps it’s because he is supposedly writing about a situation that had passed all legal burning hoops and is undeniable in its accuracy? Sorry still no cigar, shall we try again?
OK, how about, not only does he appear to have plagiarised someone else’s propaganda, and not only are the supposed facts unfounded by lawful process, but that he laces into the plot fictional characters which only serves to subliminally cement in the readers mind that this work of semi fiction is based on fact?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm, we are getting close.

It’s actually all of the above and much more, but, he is perpetuating a smear campaign against a segment of the Australian community who have spent the last century battling conspiracy and injustice designed to deliver cultural genocide at the hands of what many now realise, but dare not admit, was as evil a regime as that of either Pol Pot or Idi Amin.

The fascinating reality is that like some cursed undead creature from the grave, this regime and its political secret service continue to campaign against us in a modern Western society let alone within the shadows of the modern political corridors of the Croatian parliament in Zagreb at this very moment.

But what Tony Jones is doing, which I will take a leap of faith and define in a few moments, reaches back further than many of us would care to remember and which some of us reading this may be too young to.

In the 1960’s, Broz Josip Tito, after his break with the Soviet Union of the 1950’s, realised that in order for his abomination Yugoslavia to survive, had to peel back the Yugoslav Iron Curtain and allow unthinkable numbers of the regime’s citizens out so as they could work and inadvertently fund the country through their earnings, Dad goes off to work in Germany and sends Deutsche Marks home strategy.

The exodus of citizens, namely from Croatia made their way not only to Germany and other like European economic powerhouses but far further flung places globally, consequently the benefit economically gained from doing so for the regime was counted by a new problem, these economic workers now joined with political exiles and Croatian nationalism and the fight against the tyranny of Yugoslav communist rule was fueled.

Such was the concern that estimates put the number of workers allowed out from behind the curtain near the end of the 1960’s to be in the vicinity of 600,000, a number based on declassified CIA documents of the era, and of greater concern, as also discussed in these CIA reports was the fact that the Yugoslav Secret Services (UDBA) could not keep track of their movements.

During this time, the CIA was dealing with a host of communist actions globally, Vietnam, the growing threat of communism spreading through other parts of Asia, not to mention South America, were key focal points for the U.S. administrations of the day, of equal focus in Australia’s back yard was the expansion of communism into the Pacific region and as a result, and as later exposed in a number of Royal Commissions, ASIO actively worked with the CIA in numerous Black Operations globally in the good fight.

No, I haven’t forgotten Tony Jones, bear with me, the enigma will all come together shortly.

Ok, back to Tito’s mobsters the UDBa, the 60’s apart from being a drug induced footnote in modern global history was also a time of incredible political psychedelia, the Yugoslav government of the day, which played a very similar if not identical game to the Serb’s of today, played West against East for its own gain.

As reported in several CIA and ASIO intelligence reports for the time, the West’s socialist “Stick that up your backside Stalin” pin up boy Broz tried to conjure the West to assist in monitoring its citizens and dissidents globally, Foreign Governments of the day however had more pressing business to attend to.

Ok, quiz question time. You are a foreign Government, concerned about your dictatorship and a potential revolt internally fuelled by Nationalists in exile, inadvertently you had the bright idea to tell the Soviet Union in the 1950’s to go shove the hammer and sickle up their collective Politburo orifices and opened the doors up to allow 600,000 of your citizens to work outside your borders to raise money, and now your global buddies from WW2 are too busy fighting the good fight against your very own kind elsewhere to help as your eyes and ears in their own backyards – what would you do?

If you answered as follows, big elephant stamp for you.

What you do is create a threat, spread misinformation, conduct black op or black flag operations in other sovereign states under the guise that such actions are being perpetuated by the same dissidents you asked your buddies to keep an eye on, you send in agents who infiltrate the immigrant population and either set in play black flag operations or collect information on those individuals while proudly acting as one of them.

And then if you’re really smart, you infiltrate the Governments of those nations and manipulate them so as to either use or draw information from their security agencies.

By the start of the early 1970’s Australian politics was moving away from the decades old conservative governance, which had existed under the Menzies era. Consequently, Australian’s were questioning our alliance with the United States particularly in light of our involvement in Vietnam, let’s not forget also that it wasn’t uncommon for a Prime minister to dip a toe in the water, go for a leisurely swim and disappear, times were changing and the left of politics in Australia were looking North towards new potential trading partners and regional players.

Times were a changing, and this gave rise to Gough Whitlam’s campaign theme of 1972.

“It’s Time”

Edward Gough Whitlam was swept into power based on a sway in the Australian public’s perception of decades of conservative governance that was no longer being in touch with a modern Australia both politically and socially, and the growing involvement of Australia in global affairs (Read Vietnam), which they believed the United States was dragging Australia into. Behind the scenes, this perception was true as ASIO was secretly working with the CIA without the Australian Governments knowledge as would later be revealed in a number of Royal Commissions.

Attorney-General Lionel Murphy upon entering his role with the new Government in Canberra was so suspect of ASIO that he had his offices in the old parliament building swept for surveillance and phone bugs numerous times, his and Whitlam’s suspicions were correct in that ASIO had become as powerful within the Australian political scene as that of the CIA in the U.S. equivalent.

Dr Jim Cairns who had held a number of portfolios during the course of the Whitlam Governments reign completed what would become for Croatians in Australia the Unholy Trinity of the Labor Government of the day, with Murphy’s focus on ASIO, Whitlam’s overtures to China and Cairns support of the Anti-Vietnam movement, the stage was set for a showdown and years later, as CIA documents would justify, the Australian Government of the day, leftist in its views and abhorrent to its partnership with the U.S. became the focus of an angered CIA and subsequently the British equivalent in MI5.

What connected the Croatian community in Australia to all this was the simple fact that the Whitlam Government of the day, for all its perceived foresight and vision for a modern Australia, was playing straight into the hands of foreign influence and as I previously mentioned foreign concerns. It was Yugoslavia and it’s UDBa that saw opportunities in Australia to indeed infiltrate the Government and use its security agency, namely ASIO, as its pseudo secret police force on Australian soil.

What transpired as this uneasiness grew resulted in what is dubbed the “ASIO Raid” and the Croatian community in Australia was flung into this international web of intrigue.

On the 15th of March 1973, Attorney-General Lionel Murphy and senior Commonwealth Police officers forcibly entered ASIO’s headquarters in Melbourne as a result of Murphy’s suspicions that ASIO was withholding information on terrorist threats and undermining the newly elected Whitlam government.

The Yugoslav Prime Minister was due to visit Australia and there were concerns that local Croatian dissidents were planning to assassinate him. Due to post WW2 propaganda, these dissidents were labelled as “Ustashe” and the remnants of the Croatian movement of that time that had been allied with Germany in World War Two and had active networks in Australia.

Dreaming of overthrowing Tito’s communist regime, “Ustasha” supporters were implicated in bombing Yugoslav diplomatic buildings and social clubs throughout Australia in the 1960s and 70s. In 1962 and 1973 they launched unsuccessful military raids into then Yugoslavia.

But ASIO was relatively indifferent to this perceived terrorist threat and was chiefly concerned with Soviet espionage and the perceived menace from that quarter of the time being communist subversion. The NSW Police Force had presumptively uncovered evidence that a Ustasha group planned to assassinate the Yugoslav Prime Minister, which was passed through the Commonwealth Police to Murphy, but ASIO denied knowledge of these threats.

Not trusting ASIO’s assurances that they had no information to support these concerns about assassination threats, the Attorney-General entered their Melbourne headquarters on St. Kilda road and declared to the ASIO staff that “it is our policy to bring open government to Australia” and demanded to know if they had been hiding information from him. Murphy questioned the officers for hours while Commonwealth Police carted off documents.

It is the question as to what occurred to those documents while in their care that has always plagued me and a recent piece I wrote on a UDBa document GHD (Croatian Diasporan Voice – Glas hrvatske dijaspore) recovered from Belgrade which clearly shows my father’s file number next to his name “X.2257” and which I believe to be an ASIO file reference that leads me to think this information was passed on to Yugoslav authorities.

So much has been uncovered since the 16th of March 1973 as to the involvement of both Yugoslav consulate staff and undercover UDBa agents during that time and their infiltration into both the Australian Government and their service arms and the Croatian community that it bewilders me to this day that a blind eye has been cast and a total lack of reflection on their activities maintained while the perpetuation of untruths continues, Tony Jones and his comic strip paperback being a prime example of this attitude.

For the Croatian people, Australian Citizens in every respect of the term, what transpired as a result of these raids is despicable. Personal threats both known and clandestine continued for years, the naming of names in the media of Croatian Australian Citizens being terrorists and war criminals would be unthinkable in this day and age, Jim Cairns stating under parliamentary protection in the old Parliament House that every man, woman and child of Croatian heritage should be returned to Yugoslavia as war criminals and terrorists is incomprehensible.

Yet it did deliver us one crucial thing in spades, fortitude, fortitude to continue the struggle with greater focus and depth of conviction and this was never more apparent than at the outbreak of the 1990’s war in Croatia when we rallied to the cry.

Eventually the Whitlam Government came into disrepute, Dr Jim Cairns was uncovered for his affair with Junie Morosi, we watched The Loans Affair unfurl as the political scandal involving the Whitlam Government demonstrated how they attempted to unconstitutionally borrow money from Middle Eastern countries through the agency of Pakistani banker Tirath Khemlani, bypassing standard procedures of the Australian Treasury. Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor, along with Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Jim Cairns misled Parliament and were forced from the Whitlam Cabinet over the Affair, and finally The Dismissal itself instigated by Sir John Kerr then Governor General of Australia with an ever towering and defiant Gough Whitlam declaring on the steps of the old Parliament House “Well may they say, God save the Queen, for nothing will save the Governor General!”

It wasn’t the Governor General as such at the time as it was the CIA, ASIO and Yugoslavia’s UDBa that ushered in the eventual fall of his Government.

“Yes! Yes! I know! Tony Jones, I’m getting there”

Tony Jones and his current likely plagiarised book “The 20th man” reflects much on the circumstances of that era based on propaganda and the effects of inter-government manipulation and espionage facilitated by unseen interests, where it fails is that it is a perpetuation of lies and deceit and delivers any potential reader a skewed view of history based on those premises.

But Tony is just a small pin in the greater machine that we thought had come to a grinding halt when Prime minister Paul Keating stood up in Federal Parliament, in January 1992, and recognised the Modern State of Croatia as a sovereign nation when in our darkest hour under attack we looked to the world for affirmation. To me that moment defined the crowning accomplishment of the Australian Croatian Community and justified our struggle, but it didn’t and never will justify what we were subjected to.

We cry for Lustration in our matriarchal homeland, yet is it paramount that this action must start in the heartland we call the Diaspora, our Diaspora, our Australia.

John Ovcaric

I put it to every reader that just as Prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised to indigenous Australians back in 2007 for the indiscretions imposed upon them as a culture, that we, as persecuted Australian Citizens of the day are as deserving of such an apology from the current Labor Party on behalf of their leaders in the Whitlam Government of 1973.

I call upon you, the reader, to deny Tony Jones his moment in the sun and send him back to the crypt of corruption deceit and treachery from whence the material he writes about came from.

I call upon every Croat, every Australian born citizen with a drop of Croatian blood running through their veins to protest the malicious play of words in the “20th Man”.

I call upon every one of you who read this to commit to signing a petition to the Attorney General of Australia and to the leader of the Labor Opposition calling upon him to apologise in Federal Parliament on behalf of his party and its predecessors to the Croatian community.

I call upon the Government of the day to release all documents highlighting and exposing the affairs of the Government of the day in its dealings with the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and to enter into Lustration, providing the Australian public with details of all information of a personal or communal nature that was transmitted to the FSRY.

Finally, I call upon the same Government to bear pressure on the Republic of Croatia to also Lustrate and reveal through the opening of its FSRY files all information collected and used against both Australian Croatians and their families under siege at that time in Croatia.

Lustration starts in Australia, and as the campaign slogan of the ALP in 1972 stated, “It’s Time”

I would urge you all to speak to your loved ones of that time, learn the stories of what we endured and then take a moment to visit the following Australian Human Rights Commission page which clearly compliments and demonstrates our rights which in my opinion are retrospective and applicable to the circumstances of the 1970’s.
https://www.humanrights.gov.au/…/racial-vilification-law-au

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