Bill Speech: Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022
Ms SPENCE (Yuroke—Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Minister for Community Sport, Minister for Youth) (13:32): As the Minister for Multicultural Affairs I am very pleased to speak today in avid support of the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022 and the amendment that was moved earlier to bring forward the commencement date from 12 months to six months. I want to begin by acknowledging Victoria’s strong and vibrant Jewish community, a community of survivors which has endured relentless persecution and vilification over the course of centuries. Sadly we are reminded far too often that antisemitism is alive and threatening, not only through the memories of the Jewish people during World War II that are passed down from generation to generation and not only through the current rise of extreme far-right groups which glorify one of the most hateful ideologies in human history but also through the casual displays of racism and antisemitism, which can be the most insidious and destructive because they show how deeply ingrained these harmful attitudes and behaviours are in our society. They tell us that we have still got a long way to go before we can eradicate these attitudes. We must do everything that we can to eradicate these attitudes, because as long as we turn a blind eye to these casual displays of racism and antisemitism there will always be the potential for dangerous and hate-filled scenarios to unfold, and we have seen these scenarios transpire in recent times in Victoria, across Australia and of course overseas. We cannot pretend that it is not happening, which is why this government does not shy away from the challenge of ending the threat that antisemitism poses to the Jewish community.
That brings me to this bill, which is unique and which is unprecedented. This bill is a first for our nation, and I welcome and commend the New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmanian governments for also committing to adopting similar regulatory reform. This bill is incredibly important in our collective quest to eradicate the scourge of antisemitism from society. It is incredibly important when we think about the unfortunate spate of incidents where the public display of Nazi symbols was used by various individuals and groups to intimidate and to convey a message of hate and intolerance.
It is incredibly important when we think of January 2020, when a Nazi flag was flown on private property in Beulah in the Grampians in north-west Victoria, where a group of Neo-Nazis were publicly chanting racist slogans and displaying hateful insignia, or the graffitied Hakenkreuz at the Gary Smorgon Oval in Albert Park, or more recently the defacing of corflutes in the federal electorates of Macnamara and Kooyong, or the stickers that were plastered throughout Caulfield, including on the community centre, the day after this bill was introduced. These are reminders of why the bill that we are debating is so important and necessary.
This is a great day, and we have so many members from both sides of the chamber lined up to speak on this bill. We are going to hear some really personal stories and reflections throughout the day. I look forward to this legislation passing through both houses without contention, because when it comes to racism and vilification in Victoria, we should not hesitate to unite in this Parliament to crush it, and I am glad that we will.
I would like to recognise the extensive work of the Legal and Social Issues Committee, which led the inquiry into the anti-vilification protections in Victoria, and I thank the chair, the member for St Albans, and all of the members of that committee for their work. I would also like to give special thanks to the religious, legal and community groups which were consulted in the development of this bill and helped to shape it. This extends to the core consultative group, which comprised faith leaders from the Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain communities, which are particularly impacted by the bill—because it is important to distinguish between the more recent association of the swastika with Nazism and indeed the misappropriation of the swastika by that hateful regime and the legitimate cultural and religious use of the swastika, which has long been a symbol of good luck and prosperity for Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities. In fact the Nazi hate symbol that is often referred to as the Nazi swastika is correctly called the Hakenkreuz, and we want to ensure that this legislation does not confuse the two.
Our legislation recognises the long history and the significance of the swastika to the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities to ensure that their religious and cultural freedoms remain protected. And before the new law comes into effect, based on the consultation that has been undertaken by the Attorney-General, we will run a community education campaign to raise awareness of the origins of the swastika, its importance to the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain communities and its distinction from the Nazi hate symbol. We have heard that the Liberal and National parties do not want that to occur before the bill is implemented, but I will leave it for them to explain to those communities why they do not want that to happen, even though those communities have asked that that happen first.
To be penalised under this new law, the Hakenkreuz must be intentionally displayed in public with the knowledge that it represents Nazi ideology. In addition to the legitimate cultural and religious use of the swastika, Nazi hate symbols may continue to be used for educational, scientific, artistic or academic purposes. This legislation is designed to prohibit the use of Nazi hate symbols whenever their use seeks to divide us, to incite vilification and to breed hate. It is designed to stamp out malicious acts of antisemitism, which cause an immeasurable amount of harm to our society and particularly to our Jewish community.
For many the horrors of the Holocaust may seem a long time ago now—only they were not. Most adult Victorians have a parent or grandparent that lived during the times of World War II. This atrocity took place in our modern history, and the widespread pain and destruction which resulted from the greatest act of antisemitism should not be underestimated. It should not be forgotten. We should absolutely not ignore it when we see sprouts of it beginning to grow again. Tragically, we need not look further than the weekly newspaper to know that the attitudes and the behaviours that give rise to antisemitism are still present. We have got an opportunity now to stamp out hate and to give it no room to grow.
I support the bill for a number of reasons. I support the bill because it will recognise the religious and cultural use of the swastika. That is, the offence will ensure that the swastika can continue to be used for religious and cultural purposes, such as being displayed at temples, to acknowledge the swastika’s important contribution for Buddhist, Hindu and Jain communities.
I support the bill as it targets persons that intentionally display a Nazi hate symbol in public who know that the symbol is associated with Nazi ideology. I support the bill as police powers will support the enforcement of the offence and enable immediate steps to be taken to address the harm caused by its public display. But most importantly I support the bill as it will help reduce racism and vilification by making unlawful the public display of this insidious symbol of hate in our neighbourhoods and across the state.
This bill sends a really clear message that Victoria does not want and will not tolerate antisemitism—not now and not ever. The introduction of this bill could not come at a more poignant time, with the Community Security Group reporting 490 antisemitic events in Australia during 2021, a 38 per cent increase over 2020 and the highest on record. This is an important bill, and this is a necessary bill. I thank the Attorney-General for her work in bringing this bill forward, and I commend the bill to the house.