Victoria introduces landmark legislation to ban Nazi symbol

The Victorian government has introduced landmark legislation to Parliament to ban the public display of the Nazi symbol in a move that has been 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 Hakenkreuz, often referred to as the Nazi swastika, enabling police to remove and confiscate items that breach the ban.

A Nazi flag flying over a home in the Victorian town of Beulah in 2020.

“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 will be introduced to the Victorian Parliament and is expected to have bipartisan support. Symes said she expected the legislation 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 12 months in jail and $22,000 penalty.

This is a war between good and evil, and we have to win this war.

The Victorian Opposition, along with Jewish and anti-racism groups, called for a ban on the use of the Hakenkreuz in early 2020 after police were powerless to stop a Nazi flag flying above a house in regional Victoria. The state government in 2019 also 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 ultra-right, far-right, fascist and neo-Nazi 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 last year revealed up to 50 per cent of its counter-terrorism surveillance is being directed to neo-Nazi and similar groups, up from 10 to 15 per cent in 2016.

Dvir Abramovich, chair of the Anti-Defamation Commission, said there was a “Nazi swastika epidemic” in Victoria. He welcomed the Andrews government’s move to ban the hate symbol, and urged the rest of the country to follow.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said Victoria did not want a community that spreads hate and division. Credit:Eddie Jim

“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 laws will only ban the display of the Hakenkreuz. Symes said the swastika used by the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain communities are an ancient and sacred symbol of peace and good fortune, and will not be outlawed.

She said the government would continue to monitor the display of other hateful Nazi symbols and may consider criminalising them.

The ban does not extend to online displays of the hate insignia. Symes said the state government did not have the powers to regulate the digital world.

Exemptions will also exist for educational and artistic purposes, such as in museums and educational workshops, and the trading of Nazi memorabilia, but the Hakenkreuz will need to be covered up if it is on public display.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Daniel Aghion 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 New South Wales government last month announced 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.

Deputy Liberal Leader David Southwick, who is Jewish, said: “Great to see the government has followed [the Opposition] call to finally have the Nazi swastika banned in Victoria. We look forward [to] the detail. We must stand up against hate.”

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