New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet has told The AJN he thought about coming clean about wearing a Nazi costume at his 21st birthday when awarding $6.25 million to the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) in 2021 and when legislating to ban Nazi symbols last year.
Perrottet admitted to wearing the offensive garb at a specially convened press conference last Thursday, apologising and saying he was “deeply ashamed” of his younger self’s actions. Later that day he met with representatives of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) at the SJM and released an apology letter to the community.
“It’s obviously something that’s been a personal anguish to me for some time,” he told The AJN this week. “There were relevant points in time where I’d thought about [publicly admitting to wearing the costume].”
Asked if it was at the back of his mind when announcing the museum funding and banning Nazi symbols, he said, “They were some of the moments … it’s one of those difficult decisions that you’re weighing up in your mind at those at those points in time.”
But he said that ultimately, when Transport Minister David Elliott raised it with him last week, “I think it was most important for the people of NSW and particularly the Jewish community, to hear my truth from me.
“It’s obviously something that I am ashamed of,” he said.
“My strong connection to the Jewish community, I really believe that was what was most important.
“I knew the hurt the truth of this terrible mistake that I made would bring to particularly the Jewish community.”
Before last Thursday’s press conference, the Premier spoke to JBD CEO Darren Bark and his predecessor Vic Alhadeff.
“Obviously they were very difficult discussions to have, given how close I have been with them,” Perrottet said.
“[I’ve] worked with Vic particularly so closely over the time I’ve been in Parliament, and I thought it was very important for them to hear [it] first.”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has recorded the following video message after revealing on Thursday that he dressed up in a Nazi costume on his 21st birthday.
Posted by The Australian Jewish News on Thursday, January 12, 2023
To rebuild trust with the community, Perrottet intends to “continue the work that I’m doing”.
This includes, he said, looking into creating a portal for school students to report bullying, noting that Bark had raised with him that “many Jewish students didn’t feel comfortable actually speaking to their teachers or principals about it”, and supporting the state’s new collaborative Religious Communities Advisory Council.
He also indicated the possibility of increased support for the SJM.
“We’ll work very closely to see where we can provide greater support, so that as many students as possible in schools right across our state, get the opportunity to go and hear firsthand from Holocaust survivors,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s any more powerful place than the Jewish Museum in teaching us and young people of the atrocities of the past and ensuring that they never happen again.”
He said he hopes other young people “don’t ever make the terrible mistake that I made”.
“My focus now is to really ensure that what occurred all those years ago becomes a force of good for our young people moving forward,” he said.
Bark and JBD president David Ossip said their meeting with Perrottet last Thursday was constructive.
“We outlined to the Premier the hurt and offence to our community caused by his actions. The Premier expressed deep remorse and contrition for his past actions and underlined his commitment to Holocaust education and fighting rising levels of antisemitism,” they said.
In an earlier statement they said they appreciated that he “personally reached out to the Jewish community to express his deep and sincere regret”.
But they said the incident was a reminder of the need to “continually educate” all Australians – particularly youth – about “the abhorrent nature of the Nazi regime and the evil perpetrated in service of the Nazi ideology”.
Alhadeff told The AJN, “It’s important that the Premier acknowledged that his actions were wrong and it’s relevant that he has been a staunch friend of the community throughout his career; that speaks more loudly than any indiscretion which took place two decades ago.”
Member for Vaucluse Gabrielle Upton said, “I acknowledge the deep offence and hurt this has caused our Jewish community and Holocaust survivors. I know the Premier is a passionate supporter and friend of the NSW Jewish community and I acknowledge his sincere regret and apology.”
Meanwhile, New York-based Jewish Australian expat Jeremy Balkin told The AJN this week that reports in the News Limited press about him being at Perrottet’s 21st birthday were false, and the inferences that he and London-based Jewish Australian expat Anthony Orkin, who the reports also said was present, were comfortable with Nazi symbols “are reprehensible”.
Asked about the pair, Perrottet said, “The honest answer is I can’t remember – it was such a long time ago. [But] what is most important here is that I did it.
“I’m very close friends with Anthony and Jeremy and have been for some time. But ultimately, it’s not about others. It’s about the mistake that I made.”