DR JIM Saleam, a right wing figure who has spent time in prison after being implicated in a shotgun attack on an African politician, has defended his Australia First Party's racist anti-refugee leaflet drop in Tamworth on Sunday.
Saleam, variously described as the secretary and the chairman of Australia First, rejected suggestions the drop had been an opportunistic attempt to cash in on recent refugee tensions and the Country Music Festival.
It has been strongly suggested that Sunday's actions, which are understood to have caused distress to recent overseas arrivals to our community, were nothing more than an opportunistic attempt by an as yet unregistered and little known ultra-right wing political party to use the Festival's media focus to raise its profile.
Saleam is the self-styled leader of "Australia First" – a group not be confused with the Family First political party. His name and phone number appeared on a press release sent out to publicise the drop on January 30. The release claimed party "members" from Newcastle had distributed 2500 leaflets in Tamworth on the last day of the Festival.
Dr Saleam – he earnt his academic title for a thesis on right wing politics through Sydney University – confirmed yesterday his "party" was not registered for electoral purposes. He initially refused to comment on how many members Australia First had.
Saleam said he "believed" Australia First had members in Tamworth but was unable to say who or how many.
When asked about the time he spent in prison between 1991 and 1995 after being convicted of firearms charges stemming from a shotgun attack on Eddie Funde, a member of the African National Congress, Saleam threatened The Leader editor, David Ellery, with the wrath of the Press Council. This was followed up with a faxed letter to that effect – and also foreshadowing the possibility of libel action – late yesterday afternoon. Saleam, who said his conviction had been the result of his being framed by police, claimed an officer involved in the case had subsequently been found guilty of perjury on another matter. He claimed this effectively overturned the court's finding.
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No court has yet ruled against the original conviction stemming from the attack on Eddie Funde.
Saleam also denied claims, made in an article in the on-line encyclopedia "Wikipedia", that he had obtained his doctorate while studying in prison.
The article also claimed he was born in 1955, may be of Lebanese ethnicity – an assertion he has also denied – and has used violence to achieve his aims.
The Wikipedia entry also linked Dr Saleam to National Action, the Patriotic Youth League and Jack Van Tongeren - a hard-line right winger who has also been linked to acts of racially-motivated
The Wikipedia entry also claims Dr Saleam had committed insurance fraud – an allegation he would not confirm or deny yesterday.
Saleam told The Leader the Wikipedia entry had been compiled by anti-racist enemies of his who were using it to discredit him.
His thesis, entitled "The Other Radicalism: An Inquiry Into Contemporary Australian Extreme Right Ideology, Politics And Organisation 1975-1995", was the result of study he carried out between 1995 and 1999.
He told The Leader his degree was conferred in 2001. Sydney University confirmed late yesterday afternoon that James Saleam was a Doctor of Philosophy and Economics.
Saleam claimed branches – and offices – of Australia First had been established in Port Macquarie and Toowoomba.
The Leader has, at this stage, been unable to obtain independent verification of these claims.
Saleam, who told a Leader reporter he would not comment on issues relating to his members and membership out of fear of retaliation by "politically correct thought police", did indicate Australia First was an incorporated association with more than 500 members.
It has yet to sign up 500 members in the form necessary to obtain registration as a political party, however.
Saleam, who claims to be of Greek descent, said Australia First opposed the resettlement here of refugees and asylum seekers.
The leaflets distributed on Sunday linked Australian patriotism to rejecting refugees and multiculturalism.
African refu-gees were specifically targeted. Offensive and potentially defa-matory claims were made throughout the document.
The leaflet claimed Tamw-orth Regional Council's recent decision to enter into discussions with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs on a possible refugee resettlement centre had been made as a result of Federal Government pressure.
This claim has been denied on radio by both the mayor, James Treloar, and deputy mayor Phil Betts.
Cr Betts, who conceded Dr Saleam's right to express his opinions, confirmed his remarks to The Leader yesterday afternoon.
Cr Treloar could not be contacted for direct comment.
Dr Saleam's claims regarding the Tamworth visit have gained wide currency in the past 48 hours.
They led local ABC news bulletins at 7.30am and 8.30am yesterday and were also featured on the national ABC radio news bulletin at 7.45am.
The story was also picked up by Australian Associated Press which, like the ABC, appeared to take Australia First's claim to be a political party – which it is not – at face value.
It was also reported extensively on NBN Television and Prime News last night.
Dr Saleam said Australia First hoped to re-animate the former One Nation
"We believe there is (sic) a lot of such people in the Tamworth district," he said.
AAP reported Australia First hoped to run candidates in the 2008 TRC elections with a view to deposing Cr Treloar.
Dr Saleam has denied targeting Cr Treloar, putting the error down to a "long and rambling conversation" with an AAP journalist on Tuesday morning.
Cr Treloar was quoted by AAP as condemning the leaflet.
"As far as I am concerned it is one of the less fortunate things that happens in Australian society," he said.