Following up on Otto and Eric Abetz

A Google search for the German-born Abetz’ condemnation of the Nazis produced very little, except that, according to Wikipedia, his great uncle, Otto Abetz, was a convicted war criminal, a Nazi SS officer and the German ambassador to Vichy France. 

Credit – Unsplash

I wrote on 21 October 2020 about the appalling ambush to which three distinguished Australians of Chinese ethnicity were subject in the  Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee last week by Senator Eric Abetz. They were making submissions on an inquiry about barriers to the full participation of diaspora communities in Australia’s democratic and social institutions.  They spoke about the very difficult position that members of the Chinese diaspora feel they are in Australia recently.

After each of that three had made brief introductory statements, Abetz asked: “Can I ask each of the three witnesses to very briefly tell me whether they are willing to unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship? It’s not a difficult question.”

Abetz was not satisfied with statements made in response condemning “the grievous human rights abuses done by the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party” and “I don’t support the Communist Party and I don’t support what it does”. The latter statement was “limp”, said Abetz.

Abetz asked for condemnation, and he made it clear that he wanted condemnation – nothing less would do – active condemnation of “a regime that engages in forced organ harvesting and having a million Uighers in concentration camps. … I’m just concerned that some of our witnesses have great difficulty in condemning a regime that has been responsible for millions of deaths; incarceration of millions; forced organ harvesting; illegal land grabs; ripping up of an international—UN sanctioned, even—agreement between the UK and China in relation to Hong Kong; and the list goes on.  I’m just concerned that in this great freedom-loving country of Australia, that has adopted all of us as part of its citizenry, we are unable to fully celebrate the great freedoms we have and to condemn some of the backgrounds from which we come”.

In Abetz mind, the obligations of citizenship seem to involve both celebrating “the great freedoms we have” and condemning the abuses of authoritarian regimes. It is not clear whether the particular regime to be condemned depends on the ethnic origins of the individual in question.

Just over a year ago, Abetz compared the Conversation website to Hitler, Stalin and Mao after it announced a zero-tolerance approach to climate change deniers.

Some years ago he said: “I don’t have any links with national socialism … Indeed, anybody who knows … my public record knows it has been one of speaking out against socialism, be it national socialism, or Soviet-style socialism.”  (Was Hitler really a socialist?)

In an SBS television interview with Abetz from 2015, he said of his great uncle:

“Depending on who you want to believe, he was one of the people that helped exterminate a number, or huge numbers, of Jews …. I would seek to judge people not on the basis of who their distant relatives may be but on how they behave themselves.”

While I agree with Abetz’ second sentence, the quotation is not quite the full-throated condemnation of the Nazi regime that one might expect to find from a man with such views as he expressed so forcefully last week in the Senate Committee. None of the statements that I found are the absolute denunciations which Abetz sought from the three witnesses last week in the Senate Committee.

Is Eric Abetz capable of getting in the Back to the Future DeLorean and relocating as a university exchange student from Germany in London for Christmas 1938 – about eight weeks after Kristallnacht?  It’s not a difficult question.  If he has the mental agility to do that, does Abetz bravely accept an invitation to appear in the House of Commons to record his condemnation of the Nazi regime?  Or does he keep his counsel about the Fatherland?

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Lawyer, formerly senior federal public servant (CEO Constitutional Commission, CEO Law Reform Commission, Department of PM&C, Protective Security Review and first Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security; High Court Associate (1971) ; partner of major law firms. Awarded Premier's Award (2018) and Law Institute of Victoria's President's Award for pro bono work (2005).

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