From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.

 


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Itinerary of an overactivist

The Rodney Johnstone files

23 December 1999

It was the season of goodwill and cheer and also of loneliness and quiet desperation. I would normally feel sad about these things but when it is Ken Hooper feeling lonely I chuckle.

Ken Hooper is a political fixer straight from central casting -- a PR type who was once a tabloid journalist and a management boy for News Limited. Nowadays he works for John Laws, writing Laws' radio program and also working on his pay TV show. During the years when Nick Greiner was Premier, Ken was his press secretary. More recently he was one of the masterminds behind Kerry Chickarovski's state election campaign.

So I chuckled with delight when I opened the Saturday Herald to find that Ken stands accused of organising bogus community groups to campaign on behalf of the giant Westfield shopping centre empire against rival projects.

The matter was in the Federal Court, where a couple of developers who had bought the old Arnott's factory site at Homebush had taken action against Hooper under the Trade Practices Act. In court last week Westfield Ltd owned up to having paid Hooper. He had organised a nifty letterboxing campaign against the Arnotts' site proposal by a faceless group called the North Strathfield Resident Action Group. The Herald said it was "an admission likely to send shockwaves through the corporate sector and the State Government and possibly spark a new round of huge damages cases".

Now there is no suggestion that Ken Hooper or Westfield are linked in any way to the cases that suddenly flooded into my memory but the Herald story sent a shiver of recognition down my tail and I went to the cabinet where I archive old and unsolved cases and hunted out my files on the Burwood Council affair and various related matters.

Bogus community groups are nothing new. They have been a seedy part of politics for years and they do a lot of damage to the good name and reputation of genuine community activists. I have come across a few such groups and most of them were run by a character, very active in Sydney during the years of the Fahey Liberal Government, who called himself Rodney Johnstone.

Rodney first came to my notice during the 1994 public inquiry into Burwood Council. Then, he was styling himself 'president' of the Burwood Action Group. It eventually emerged that he was the secretary, the treasurer, the committee, and all the members as well. In the inquiry, Johnstone alleged he had witnessed the Deputy Mayor, ALP councillor John Fisk, receiving money in a paper bag from developers. He also alleged that Fisk had assaulted him, and that two goons had attacked him in his home.

It was all lies, and Johnstone got caught out. When the cops came for him he 'fessed up and in July '94 he got a month in the slammer.

On the surface he was just a sad little man who got caught up in a spur-of-the-moment deception that got out of control. That was how the magistrate dealt with it, but the more questions I asked, the wierder the case became.

Before the Burwood Council affair, Rodney Johnstone was often seen in the gallery of the Legislative Council and seemed to be on easy terms with a number of Coalition identities.

In 1994, Councillor Fisk was the Labor Party's preselected candidate for the vital State seat of Burwood. His past had never been a public issue, but the Liberals were keen to make it so. He had been in their sights as early as 1986 when Nick Greiner, then Opposition Leader, asked a question without notice in Parliament about what he said were Fisk's criminal convictions for stealing, conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth and malicious injury, and his involvement with Neighbourhood Watch. That question was unanswered in September the following year and John Hannaford, a Greiner insider, raised the matter again in the Legislative Council.

As it turned out, the unmasking of Johnstone was a bit of bad luck for the Liberals. Had his false allegations against Fisk stuck, there is no doubt the media would also have run stories on Fisk's past and these would have brought no joy to Bob Carr who was then making his run for power. After the Burwood inquiry, Fisk decided not to stand for Parliament because of the stress.

And when I dug further I found that Rodney Johnstone was not all he seemed. His real name was Rodney VanWeigner and he had played an interesting role in Victorian politics in the years when Jeff Kennett was newly elected and on the rampage. In 1993, when the Victorian police were under severe public criticism he ran a little campaign called "Cops are Tops". He is said to have stood outside police headquarters with a sandwitch board saying "Honk if you support the Police".

In the same year Johnstone joined a genuine community group called the Geelong Action Committee. They called a meeting to fight Kennett's plan for council amalgamations and raised $1000, which was given to Johnstone to finance a Supreme Court challenge. Johnstone assured the group that a writ had been issued, but it never was. Johnstone disappeared to NSW and the money was never seen again. The Victorian Police declined to take action, because, they said, the sum was too small.

Somehow, whatever this activist did, the Liberals seemed to benefit.

Rodney was a very busy 'activist' in 1994 and Burwood Council was not alone in receiving his attentions.

Some said he was active in Manly politics. I was never able to confirm that, but early in '94 he popped up at a meeting of LinkUp, an umbrella group covering pro-public transport organisations. He was then calling himself director of Concerned Citizens Association of Australia and his entre was a nicely-presented report (of which he claimed to be the author) titled A Community Audit of User-friendly Principles for Sydney's Public Transport. The CCAA operated out of offices above a physiotherapy studio in Burwood, and it even boasted a "public transport issues coordinator".

Something made the LinkUp mob suspicious and Rodney wasn't invited back. It was not long afterwards that he turned up in the Burwood Council affair.

The prison experience didn't deter Rodney's 'activism'. By September 1994 he was trying hard to establish himself inside the burgeoning anti-motorway movement. He was calling himself the Canterbury North Residents Action Committee. He even turned up unexpectedly at a meeting of the direct action group called Freeway Busters, who were then blockading the M2, but he was recognised and frozen out.

The media, however, has a short memory, and in October 94, Rodney got his CCAA some free publicity in the Sydney Morning Herald, when he announced the bogus group's support for the anti-float directors of the NRMA. He claimed the CCAA was a watchdog group with 2,000 members across Australia. It was 2,000 efforts of his fertile imagination.

A few days later he announced he was standing as an independent in the March 95 state elections for the seat of Canterbury, against Labor incumbent Kevin Moss. Johnstone's platform was a weird mix of Left and Right-wing policies. It looked like it was hand-crafted to steal votes off Moss and deliver them to the Liberals, but by then he was pushing his luck too far. His antics were exposed in the Sun Herald and he dropped out of sight.

The last time I heard of Rodney Johnstone he had set up shop in Perth as an "anti-corruption campaigner". The West Australians are more trusting than Sydney folk. Rodney had a campaign going against a shop selling novelty condoms and another for human rights for security guards. He was still running the CCAA and also the Thornlie and District Residents Association, the Youth and Childrens' Progress Association, the Southern River Health and Human Services Consumers' Association and also the International Citizens' Action Council, which was campaigning against judicial executions in the USA. He was on first-name terms with half the politicians in town.

It makes you wonder.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 1999

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.