Victoria Seeks To Ban the Nazi Symbol Whilst the Australian Government Sends Lethal Aid to Nazis in Ukraine – Such Irony
By Sumeyya Ilanbey
The Victorian government has introduced landmark legislation to parliament to ban the public display of the Nazi swastika in a move described as a “thunderous blow” to white supremacists and far-right extremists.
Victoria will be the first jurisdiction in the country to criminalise the display of the hate symbol, enabling police to remove and confiscate items that breach the ban.
“We know that this is a symbol of hate and division, and it is incredibly harmful and damaging, the messaging it sends,” Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said.
“Victoria is multicultural. We are multi-ethnic. We do not want a community that stands for this type of behaviour.”
The Summary Offences Amendment Act (Nazi Symbol Protection) Bill is expected to have bipartisan support. Symes said she expected it to be dealt with expeditiously.
Once in effect, 12 months after the bill passes parliament, those caught intentionally displaying the Nazi symbol in public – including in graffiti – face a maximum of 12 months in jail and a $22,000 penalty.
The ban does not extend to online displays of the hate insignia as Symes said the state government did not have the powers to regulate the digital world.
Deputy Liberal leader David Southwick, who is Jewish and the MP for Caulfield – the state electorate with the largest Jewish population – said the swastika ban was the “proudest moment” in his political career.
But he urged the government to have it come into effect immediately.
”Enough is enough for these kinds of horrific symbols,” Southwick said. “The ban couldn’t come quicker … we would call on the government to make this law current and now, not to wait 12 months.
“The time to act is now. Let’s ensure these evil symbols of hate are banned once and for all.”
Premier Daniel Andrews also announced on Wednesday the Victorian government would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.
At a function to mark the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence, the premier said state institutions would use the definition as a tool to fight anti-Semitism.
Andrews also announced a further $2 million to the Courage to Care Holocaust education program that teaches year 9 students about the holocaust.
The state opposition, along with Jewish and anti-racism groups, called for a ban on use of the swastika in early 2020 after police were powerless to stop a Nazi flag being flown above a house in regional Victoria.
In 2019 the government said it was unable to stop a neo-Nazi concert in Melbourne, despite significant pressure from human rights, faith, and anti-discrimination groups to shut the event down.
There has been a resurgence of neo-Nazi and other far-right groups in recent years, spurred on by disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and other global events.
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation director-general Mike Burgess revealed last year that up to 50 per cent of its counter-terrorism surveillance was being directed to neo-Nazi and similar groups, up from 10 to 15 per cent in 2016.
A Nazi flag flying over a home in the Victorian town of Beulah in 2020.
Dvir Abramovich, chair of the Anti-Defamation Commission, said there was a “Nazi swastika epidemic” in Victoria. He welcomed the government’s move to ban the hate symbol and urged the rest of the country to follow suit.
“This is a day for the history books; this is an uplifting and triumphant moment for every Victorian and it’s a thunderous blow to the solar plexus of the neo-Nazi movement, who would love nothing more than people putting people like myself in the gas chambers in the dream of an Australian Hitler and Fourth Reich,” Abramovich said.
“Having this law in place is in a way a shield, but it’s also a message from the government, from the parliament, we are locking arms with you in this war. This is a war between good and evil, and we have to win this war.”
The new law will only ban the display of the Nazi version of the swastika. Symes said the swastika used by the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain communities was an ancient and sacred symbol of peace and good fortune and would not be outlawed.
She said the government would continue to monitor the display of other Nazi symbols and might consider criminalising them.
Exemptions will also exist for educational and artistic purposes, such as in museums, news reports and educational workshops, and the trading of memorabilia.
The Law Institute of Victoria welcomed the ban but said the legislation fell short of protecting marginalised Victorians from persistent discrimination.
“The current legal framework regarding vilification in Victoria is deficient and does not adequately address the harm suffered by individuals who experience such conduct,” president Tania Wolff said.
“A broader approach to reducing discrimination and the harm it causes is required.”
Daniel Aghion, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, said anti-semitism had risen by 37 per cent since last year across Australia, and the banning of the Nazi symbol would send a strong message to hate groups.
“We’re not going to stop everything; we can’t stop everything. Some people will do it simply because they are malicious, and the risk of a large fine or the risk of imprisonment may not even stop them,” Aghion said.
“But it is important to lead, and it is important that we educate.”
The NSW government announced last month that it was preparing to criminalise the public display of Nazi symbols. Aghion said he believed Queensland was in the early stages of moving in the same direction.
The introduction of the swastika ban bill to parliament came as David Davis, the opposition’s upper house leader, moved a motion calling on Premier Daniel Andrews to stand aside until the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission handed down its report on Operation Sandon, an investigation into land deals at Casey. The Australian revealed last week that the Premier had been examined in private over the probe.
Davis’ motion was defeated 20 votes to 12.