JEWISH leaders and the wider community have applauded a move by the Victorian government to become the first state or territory in Australia to outlaw public displays of Nazi swastikas.
In the same week it announced its adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, the Andrews government introduced legislation yesterday (Wednesday) that will make it a criminal offence to intentionally display the Nazi symbol in public, in line with laws already in place overseas.
Additionally, Premier Daniel Andrews announced a $2 million grant to Jewish community organisation Courage to Care to help it impart its message of racial and religious tolerance to year 9 students across Victoria, to ensure the Holocaust is never repeated.
Once in effect, the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Act of 2022 will make it a criminal offence to intentionally display the Nazi swastika in public, with offenders facing penalties of up to almost $22,000, 12 months’ imprisonment or both.
While recognising the swastika’s cultural significance for Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and other faith communities, the landmark ban on the Nazi swastika “sends a clear message that the dissemination of Nazi and neo-Nazi ideology through the public display of the Nazi symbol has no place in Victoria”, a spokesperson stated.
The government said it consulted widely with religious, legal and community groups, gauging the significance of the ancient swastika – along with appropriate displays of the Nazi variant for educational or artistic purposes. Additional symbols may later be included under the ban.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes stated, “The Nazi symbol glorifies one of the most hateful ideologies in history – its public display does nothing but cause further pain and division. As a government, we want to do all we can to stamp out hate and give it no room to grow.”
Multicultural Affairs Minister Ros Spence added, “We’re working to protect the rights of all Victorians to be free from racism, vilification and hatred.”
Deputy Liberal leader and Caulfield MP David Southwick, who has campaigned relentlessly for the banning of public displays of Nazi symbols, exclaimed, “Today is my proudest day in politics, driving a campaign to finally see the ban on the evil Nazi symbol of hate in Victoria. Our area of Caulfield has the largest Jewish community in Australia and we have all been exposed to this evil symbol and a rise in antisemitism. This ban sends a clear message that there is no place for Nazi symbols or hate in Victoria.”
Noting the community had just marked Yom Hashoah, Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president Daniel Aghion stated, “This legislation is leading edge. It reflects the growing concerns of law enforcement and the wider community, including the Jewish community, about the increasing popularity of neo-Nazi movements.”
He said the JCCV represented the Jewish community in the Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Core Consultation Group and helped the government draft the legislation.
Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich, who pushed strongly for the ban over a number of years, was jubilant. “I applaud the government, the opposition and the parliamentarians across the aisle … Now law enforcement will have the tools they have been asking for.”
Meanwhile, the state government’s grant of an additional $2 million will enable Courage to Care to expand its Holocaust education program to support a mix of school visits, a year 9 outreach program in rural and regional schools, and virtual visits.
Andrews stated yesterday, “It’s critical that we teach every generation about the horrors of the Holocaust to fight intolerance and prejudice in our own communities – because there is absolutely no room for antisemitism in Victoria.”
State Education Minister and Deputy Premier James Merlino added, “Courage to Care’s Holocaust education program is a powerful and compelling experience for students and school communities – and we’re proud to expand it to make sure every Victorian student can participate.”