MELBOURNE: Queensland senator Fraser Anning’s trip on official expenses to Melbourne to attend far-right extremists’ rally and film a video alongside its leaders, the convicted criminals Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson, has sparked a controversy.
The senator’s trip on taxpayers’ money and his appearance in the far-right extremists’ rally attracted heavy criticism. However, the lawmaker defended his attendance at the rally.
He argued that it was official business and he went there as a senator “I didn’t go there for a picnic,” he told a newspaper.
In a statement on Sunday, he claimed that it was not a far-right event: “I didn’t see any people there who appeared to be radicals “The truth is that attempts to claim that this rally was a ‘far right’ event appear to be leftwing media attempts to distract attention from the purpose of the protest – African gang violence.”
“The only people who were doing Nazi salutes were the far-left extremists 100m away who came to try to disrupt a peaceful rally,” he added.
Deputy Labor leader, Tanya Plibersek, described the senator’s attendance at the rally as “disgusting”.
She said that she though the overwhelming majority of Australians would be disgusted to think their taxes are paid for a senator to attend a divisive event.
Anning now sits as an independent after being booted from Katter’s Australian party following his defection from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
The senator claimed his interstate trip was justified because, he claims, Queensland was experiencing similar issues with crime gangs.
The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, condemned the event on Twitter but was also silent on Anning.
However, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, told reporters: “Fraser Anning’s appearance was unacceptable and he should not have participated in this divisive event.”
He also labelled the use of the Nazi salute as “particularly repugnant and abhorrent”.
Frydenberg said it was up to the independent parliamentary entitlements authority as to whether it was an official parliamentary duty expense.
Plibersek has called on Morrison to distance the government from Anning.