LATE last week, the Victorian government confirmed that it will ban the public display of the swastika and other Nazi symbols – welcome news to the dedicated team of bipartisan campaigners who brought about this historic moment.
Victoria will become the first state or territory in Australia to introduce such a ban, with legislation set to be implemented within the first half of next year.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes told The AJN the government will immediately begin extensive consultations with members of the Jewish community to help craft the new law.
This will include ensuring appropriate exceptions are in place, such as for educational or historical purposes, and discussions about which symbols will be prohibited.
Currently, under Victorian anti-vilification laws, the maximum penalty for serious vilification is a $10,000 fine or up to six months behind bars, however Symes told The AJN that the government will look at adjusting the penalties during these discussions.
Thanking the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee who delivered a report on the effectiveness of the state’s anti-vilification laws earlier this year, she said, “We want to send a strong signal early that this type of behaviour is abhorrent, the state won’t stand for it.”
Symes told The AJN she would also be approaching Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash to discuss a national approach to the online display of Nazi symbols.
“We can ban the display of flags in the public but the online environment we know is a fertile ground for hate recruitment and hate distribution,” she said.
Member for Caulfield David Southwick, who has been at the forefront of the bipartisan campaign, said, “For too long, frontline police and local communities have been powerless to stop the Nazi swastika being used as a tool to spread hate. This ban will go a long way to signal that hate and violence will not be tolerated in Victoria.”
The Victorian Liberals kicked off the parliamentary campaign in February 2020, with Southwick and Liberal MP for Brighton James Newbury securing the ban as a Liberal Party policy position. After an 18-month campaign by a parliamentary committee consisting of three Labor MPs, two Liberals and two independents, Southwick hailed the government’s decision as “an important step forward for all those who have been victims of the ultimate symbol of hate”.
Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, who has been spearheading the public campaign for a ban, said, “This is a day for the history books.
“Above all, this announcement is a resounding triumph for the victims of the Holocaust, the survivors and our brave Diggers who died to vanquish the evil Third Reich regime; and a defeat of homegrown neo-Nazis who seek to keep Hitler’s legacy alive,” he said.
“Bravo to the government,” he added, stressing, “Law enforcement will now have the tools they have been asking for and I look forward to attending Parliament in person when this law is passed to celebrate this milestone.”
Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Daniel Aghion commented, “As the Premier recently said, antisemitism is pure evil. We welcome the ban on Nazi symbols and look forward to consulting with the government on the final form of the legislation.”
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council also said it “looks forward to consulting with the government”, with director of international and community affairs Jeremy Jones urging the Andrews government to also consider adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
Urging “a national approach” to outlawing public displays of Nazi symbols, Member for Macnamara Josh Burns stated, “The swastika shouldn’t be banned in Melbourne but legal in Sydney.”
Australian and Sydney Jewish leaders concurred with Burns.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim said, “We hope that the federal government will follow suit and enact legislation to ban the display of hate symbols across Australia.”
CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Darren Bark called on the NSW government to consider the move, “as a positive step for harmonious society”.
The Attorney-General told The AJN she believes there will be “much interest from state colleagues in relation to what we are doing here in Victoria”.
“I have no doubt that people will follow suit.”
The Andrews Labor Government will also extend the state’s anti-vilification protections beyond race and religion to cover areas such as sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and HIV/AIDS status.
- Nazi flag
- David Southwick
- Dvir Abramovich
- Anti-Defamation Commission
- Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)
- Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)
- Josh Burns
- Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ)
- NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD)