Petition from Croatian community takes issue with Q&A host

Q&A host Tony Jones talks to Pauline Hanson. Source: ABC

Some members of Australia's Croatian community are calling for an apology from ABC journalist Tony Jones over comments he made appearing to link historical events within the community and present day acts of terrorism.

Q&A host Tony Jones interjected Queensland senator Pauline Hanson when she suggested that Australia had never had terrorism.

"Pauline, when you say we never had terrorism in this country before that's simply not the case," Mr Jones said.

"In the 1970s there were multiple bombings by Croatian Catholic extremists. This has happened in Australia before; it is not the first time. We should at least get that straight."

Mr Jones seemed to be referring to attacks on Yugoslav consulates in several cities in the 1970s that were attributed to Croatian nationalists.

Yugoslav commercial operations were also targeted, including the office of the national Yugoslav airline in Australia.

Towards the end of the decade, authorities foiled what they claimed was an attempted terror attack planned by members of the Croatian community, known as the Croatian Six case.

Six members of Australia's Croatian community were prosecuted and imprisoned for 15 years for planning to plant bombs in Sydney in 1979.

It was alleged that the men had plotted to bomb the Sydney water pipeline and a theatre in Newtown.

But some members of Australia's Croatian community argue that fresh investigations show much of the evidence used in the trial was fabricated.

Former Liberal party staffer Jakov Miljak created an online petition calling for Tony Jones to apologise.

He says Mr Jones was attempting to create a link between Islamic terrorism and political activities by Australia's Croatian community in the 1970s.

An ABC spokesperson told SBS News Mr Jones was "very much aware of the grave injustice that was done to the Croatian Six – his colleagues at Four Corners were instrumental in exposing it".

"His comment referred to the well documented activities in the 1960s and 1970s of other Croatian nationalists belonging to organisations designated as 'extremist' by the Australian Government and police and security agencies," the spokesperson said.

"The references for this include Hansard of the time."

Mr Miljak has told SBS Croatian he appreciates the response, but would still like Mr Jones to make a statement on air.

The online petition does not mention the bombings that did take place at that time and only refers to the Croatian Six case.

Ian Cunliffe was the head of the legal section in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet at the time of the arrests.

"I fielded a letter that was written to the prime minister (Malcolm Fraser) by someone who had been ostensibly involved in that conspiracy at that time in prison and I investigated what went on, and it seemed it me that in fact that - while six people had been convicted - it was an extremely dodgy conviction and it seemed to me that it was basically a set up by the Yugoslav intelligence service to blacken the name of the Croatian community in Australia," he told SBS News.

Mr Cunliffe said the Yugoslav intelligence service had an agent provocateur who "presented as a simple Croatian" but was instead a bomb making expert.

He added that the police were also involved in this plot - including recently convicted murderer and former NSW police officer Roger Rogerson.

"It was an extremely dodgy conviction - there's no doubt about that," Mr Cunliffe said.

He said Australia needs to correct the historical inaccuracies of the case.

“It could be corrected by a pardon, it could be corrected by a proper judicial inquiry which looked at all of the evidence," Mr Cunliffe said.

"We're talking about what happened 36 years ago, so whatever sensitivities would have been there would have lessened with the passage of time."

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