Indigenous rights advocate and academic Dr. Stephen Hagan has condemned the actions of two men dressed in Ku Klux Klan-style outfits who disrupted a New South Wales Young Liberals meeting.
“As far as I’m concerned, people who resort to wearing hoods over their heads with a couple of eyes to see through, they are a joke, because they are a relic of a racist past and there’s no place for it in society anymore,” Dr. Hagan told NITV News.
The Young Libs were holding a regular meeting at the Tattersall’s Club in Sydney's CBD when the two men wearing white hoods walked into the room.
In a video released by BuzzFeed News, one of the men is seen walking across the stage, and another in front of it.
Members of the crowd can be heard laughing and applauding. At one stage an audience member is seen saying "white power" as he walks by the person filming. Others booed and shouted "get them out of here" as the two men left the stage area.
The meeting, which was meant to debate US President Donald Trump's refugee ban, was immediately adjourned.
Kullili man Dr. Hagan says the election of President Trump and One Nation’s Pauline Hanson only emboldens the extreme right of society.
“The rise of the right-wing parties, like One Nation and certainly Donald Trump, plays into the hands of those people who feel there won’t be any repercussion for exhibiting stupid old white sheets over their heads,” he says.
He says it is hard to determine whether the ‘protest’ was real or just a stunt from the Young Liberals.
“It could’ve been a stunt to get a bit of publicity for the Young Liberals - that was my first reaction. But I’m not quite sure, the organisers of the forum say they don’t know them and indicated that they tried to remove them, or they did remove them, from the facility.”
“You can hardly take them on face value. If they say it wasn’t them then fair enough. But I would be most disappointed if it was a stunt by the Young Liberals and masking it as an invasion by people who weren’t invited to the meeting.
"It doesn’t seem to make sense to me, that’s why I’m inclined to think it was a PR stunt to be quite honest,” he says.
Dr. Hagan is no stranger to fronting controversial and offensive action head on.
In 1999, Dr. Hagan lodged lodged a claim with Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Tribunal against Toowoomba Sports Ground Incorporated over the ES "Nigger" Brown Stand at the city's Clive Berhofer Stadium.
The grandstand was subsquently demolished and Toowoomba Sports Ground agreed not to use the offensive word in the future.
Just recently, Dr. Hagan called for Australians to boycott a Toowoomba chemist for displaying 'offensive' Golliwog dolls in its store.
Despite his efforts, Dr. Hagan believes racial intolerance is growing throughout Australia.
“I think whilst they don’t wear sheets over their heads at night anymore, when they get out and have meetings, I still think that is represented in various forms in clubs all around Australia. The redneck aunty or uncle cracking a racist joke is no different from someone putting a hood on...
"Racism is racism in whatever manifestation they want to represent themselves. There’s no place for racism in Australia now, there was never any time or place for racism in the past,” he says.
He’s called on police to ensure the men responsible are apprehended.
“I’d like the police to use their considered resources in tracking down those two men who were masquerading around as members of the Ku Klux Klan by following their entry into the premises and follow their exit out of the premises.
"They do that for convicted felons all around the world, so surely there is some CCTV footage around the place from businesses or council resources, identify who they are and if they’re not associated with the Young Liberal Party, I’d be the first one to apologise…But if they are from the Young Liberal Party I think some of those people are using them to get some publicity for whatever it is they’re trying to achieve,” he says.
NSW Police told SBS News they responded to reports of a disruption, where two men "wearing white head coverings and gowns were asked to leave by organisers, which they did without incident."
A police investigation into the incident is underway.
Chris Stone, the State Director of the NSW Liberal Party, said the identities of the protesters were not known to those present at the meeting.
"The Liberal Party strongly condemns the highly offensive nature of this protest", and "an investigation into the incident will be undertaken" he said in a statement.
The Tattersalls Club, and several members of the Young Liberals refused to comment on the incident when contacted by SBS News.