Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Australia's Mafia Problem

Italy's top anti-Mafia prosecutor, Franco Roberti, has urged Australian police to immediately launch a joint investigation with Italian crime fighters into the killing of Mr Acquaro, who was gunned down on a Melbourne street on Tuesday.

"This is the most serious crime and underscores the extreme danger that the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta, poses in Australia," Mr Roberti told Fairfax Media.

"Gunning down a professional, a lawyer like Acquaro, sends the strongest message to Australians that the Mafia is particularly strong there.  I don't believe the authorities fully realise how dangerous this phenomenon is, and how widespread Italian organised crime is there."


Australia's journalists have long reported 'Ndrangheta activities, sometimes in overly sensationalist terms that have risked criminalising an entire ethnic group. In response, Australian scholars have almost universally tended to downplay evidence for the 'Ndrangheta's existence or significance, or avoided the topic altogether.

There is a compelling parallel to this form of "liberal progressive denialism" in the US. There, scholars have also sought to defend the honour of the Italian community from the "mafia stain". This sometimes occurs even by dismissing discussion of the mafia as an expression of xenophobia.

Yet recent research has established that the 'Ndrangheta has been active in Australia since at least 1922. It has also been able to reproduce its traditional structures effectively over time, far from its southern Italian homeland.

In both the US and Australia, mafia "denialism" has been strongly associated with progressive cultural politics – notably in the case of former immigration minister Al Grassby. In Italy, the opposite is the case. Mafia "denialism" is more closely associated with conservative politicians, while the anti-Mafia movement is strongly identified with progressive politics.

'Ndrangheta figures in Australia also appear to have successfully promoted the – perhaps doubtful – notion that they can favourably influence the Italian vote, especially in marginal electorates. Australian politicians have shown a conspicuous lack of zeal over many years in speaking out against the group. This seems to reflect their view that there are no Italian votes to be gained in highlighting its presence.


Locals mourned Acquaro as a pillar of the Italian community: a former head of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, a stalwart at the Reggio Calabria Club in Parkville. But media suspicion quickly turned to Acquaro's other Calabrian connection—as the longtime lawyer for the Australian outpost of the 'Ndrangheta mafia gang, the Honoured Society. If this is true, it makes Acquaro the latest victim of one of the country's most secretive and brutal criminal groups, whose violent history stretches back almost a century.

It's possible you haven't heard of "The Society" because Melbourne's other gangland circle, the one headed by Carl Williams, dominated media bandwidth throughout the 2000s. But while Jason Moran, Mick Gatto, and Tony Mokbel were becoming household names, the Society consolidated its power quietly in the background. Between 2004 and 2014, the gang's members amassed more than $10 million [$7.6 million USD] in real estate and race horses in Victoria alone, pouring money into wholesalers, cafes, and restaurants, and the La Porchetta pizza chain.

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