Your recent article ‘Abbott the forgotten Philhellene’ is one of those articles that tries to rewrite history in the same way Andrew Bolt did in The Herald Sun and Greg Sheridan did in The Australian. Obviously Abbott has friends in the Greek community to help perpetuate the lie that Abbott is a misunderstood nice guy. Abbott told so many lies that it is hard to know where to start. We are aware that some rich Greeks support the fascist side of politics. Even some, who began as poor migrants, decided at some stage that supporting the Liberals was to their benefit. Just like a Greek pensioner I know who has put all his assets in his children’s name so he can get the pension. He changed his tune when Abbott cut his pension, when he said emphatically before the election that he was not going to touch pensions.
In his first budget Abbott attacked the disadvantaged and cut all spending except the benefits to the rich. All these rich professors, solicitors, barristers and other business owners who were all there to support Tony Abbott should be supporting the Greek community and most of the people who are not rich instead of supporting Abbott and the Liberals who want to damage the not-so-rich. We Greek Australians should all remember the corrupt saga that became know as the ‘Greek Social Security case’,” created by the Liberal government of Malcolm Fraser and treasurer John Howard in 1976. This was a conspiracy by various commonwealth government departments to ‘get’ Greeks, who, it was thought by the racially prejudiced Commonwealth Police (COMPOL), were defrauding the government.
The operation which eventuated was known as ‘Don’s Party’, after the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Don Thomas. It involved early morning raids on some 160 homes and five doctors’ surgeries by a team of over 100 officers of the Commonwealth Police. ‘Don’s Party’ was the largest co-ordinated operation conducted to date by that agency. In order to ensure that the raids received maximum publicity, reporters from the Sydney tabloid The Sun were alerted in advance and invited to attend. Initially, 181 people, virtually all of Greek ethnic background, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth.
On 3 April 1978, eighty-three of the accused appeared in Central Court, Sydney. On the steps of the courthouse, Chief Inspector Thomas held a news conference and jubilantly referred to his operation as “the biggest breakthrough in the history of the police force”. Indeed, Thomas revealed that the ‘party’ was not yet over. He heralded the possibility of a further thousand arrests, and the extradition of a further 300 people from Greece. The publicity, as intended, was massive.
Headlines blared: ‘Police Seek 1400 More Pay Cheats’ and ‘Cheats Live Luxury Life in Greece’.
It was also announced that the Commonwealth Police had been stationed at all major airports to prevent others connected with the alleged fraud from leaving Australia. The Minister for Social Security was advised by the Commissioner of COMPOL that a second wave of raids would take place in Sydney the following weekend. As it happened, these further arrests were not to eventuate. But prosecutions were begun against those arrested thus far, and a total of 669 social security recipients had their benefits withdrawn and their payments cancelled. Unfortunately for Chief Inspector Thomas, his police colleagues, and the Department of Social Security, ‘Don’s Party’ was something less than a smashing success.
The legal costs entailed in prosecuting 180 alleged co-conspirators were massive. As the majority of the accused were of very modest means, the cost of their legal representation was borne by the Australian government. The mass arrests resulted in only a handful of convictions and outrage in the Greek community. Over the following five years, conspiracy charges were withdrawn against all but five suspects. The cost of these abortive legal proceedings reached $10 million. But the real losers in the operation were those who were wrongly implicated in the conspiracy. Most were born in Greece, with elementary formal education and with limited ability to speak or understand English.
A number had not adjusted well to life in Australia; they tended to come from village backgrounds and coped poorly with the stresses of urban living. Many had worked for a number of years in heavy labouring jobs, and had suffered disabling physical injury from industrial accidents. A number also suffered psychiatric illness, thereby compounding these difficulties. For a person unable to communicate in English, unfamiliar with the Australian criminal justice system, and characterised by something less than robust mental health to begin with, the experience of ‘Don’s Party’ was traumatic. Although the raids on doctors’ premises had been conducted pursuant to search warrants, no such formalities were followed in the course of raids on patients’ homes. It was generally assumed that non-English speaking migrants would be ignorant of their legal rights, or at least too frightened to invoke them. Many of the suspects experienced extreme distress as they were taken into custody in front of their families and neighbours. The suffering of spouses and children of the arrestees was no less acute. According to one authoritative account, the typical suspect was intimidated by the statements and conduct of the police in that they pressed him for answers to their questions and their number and physical size were overbearing.
He was apprehensive that he might suffer physical violence. He believed that the police were laughing and joking about him and that they were making derogatory remarks about his Greek nationality. When identification photographs were taken of the arrestees, a number included a sign with the word ‘Greece’ written on it. Many of the suspects were detained in police custody for a number of hours until friends or relatives were able to arrange bail money. The task of raising $1,000 cash on a weekend is daunting enough for an invalid pensioner. It was even more difficult for those whose bank passbooks had been confiscated. Without having been convicted of any crime, they were subjected to treatment which could only be regarded as punitive. The subsequent inquiry by Dame Roma Mitchell, who was given Royal Commission powers, found it was COMPOL that behaved corruptly, were incompetent and that essentially, it was racial prejudice which gave rise to the idea that “Greek migrants were getting payments and living a life of luxury in Greece”.