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A leading Jewish group and a police union have warned that the federal government’s proposed legislation banning two Nazi symbols won’t work because it will be easily circumvented by right-wing extremists.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s co-chief executive, Peter Wertheim, said neo-Nazis would be able to get around the proposed banning of two symbols — the Nazi hakenkreuz (sometimes mistaken for the Swastika) and Schutzstaffel symbols (SS lightning bolts) — by using other well-known symbols.
A Nazi flag flying over a home in the Victorian town of Beulah in 2020.
“I’m sure the [federal] government doesn’t want this legislation to be mere window dressing,” he said. “It’s got to be a workable law and effective as well.”
Wertheim said it would be almost impossible for anyone to be prosecuted for displaying a Nazi symbol under the federal government’s legislation because of its narrow focus.
“We’d like to see a good effective law apply in Australia.”
Wertheim said legislation just passed in Tasmania was superior because it was not a limited ban of a few specific symbols and it gave courts discretion to determine what constituted a Nazi symbol.
The federal government introduced legislation in June banning the two Nazi symbols, the sale of Nazi items and also the black flag associated with Islamic State which includes the Shahada, an affirmation of faith. The moves have attracted controversy, with Muslim groups saying the IS flag ban risks criminalising legitimate displays of a key tenet of their faith.
State governments have implemented or proposed legislative bans on the display of Nazi symbols after a spate of public displays of Nazi flags and salutes, particularly in Victoria.
The Tasmanian and New South Wales approaches give courts the greatest discretion to determine what is a Nazi symbol.
In contrast, the Victorian, Queensland and federal approach is limited to a number of specific Nazi symbols. The Victorian government has said it is considering expanding its laws.
A recent investigation by this masthead uncovered how major sporting and cultural clubs in the nation’s Croatian community openly celebrate fascist anniversaries and display flags and emblems of the murderous Ustasha regime.
That included six men at the Melbourne Knights soccer club on April 10 – the anniversary of the creation of the Nazi-backed puppet state – doing fascist salutes as they sang a song extolling the Ustasha. These kinds of incidents fall outside the Victorian law.
The federal legislation was referred for review to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security which will hold a public hearing in Canberra next month.
A spokesman for federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said it would also consider changes. “The attorney-general has previously stated that the government will closely consider any recommendations made by the inquiry to improve the legislation,” the spokesman said.
The Police Association of Victoria wants to have the federal legislation broadened and said the Victorian laws showed the limitations of a narrow ban on symbols.
It said in its submission to the Intelligence and Security committee that legislation should be allowed to “empower police to respond to hateful conduct beyond hate symbolism”.
Liberty Victoria, in an earlier submission to a federal inquiry, said that while it was “concerned about extremism in all its forms”, it did not support the ban on Nazi symbols because it was unlikely to have “any substantive impact in preventing the rise of extremism”.
It also said it would be too hard to enforce. “Such measures are likely to be used by extremists to gain attention in the public arena and be leveraged to attempt to recruit new members. Prohibition gives extremists the attention they crave.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, in its submission, welcomed aspects of the legislation including the ban on the sale of Nazi memorabilia. It said there was need for laws to ban Nazi symbols and trade in memorabilia due to the extraordinary extent of mass murder by Nazi Germany.
“Nazism is not merely an abstract or theoretical ideology. It has a concrete history — the history of the Third Reich in Germany — that is drenched in human blood and misery,” the submission said.
“Given this history, the public display of Nazi symbols and gestures goes well beyond the realm of ideas, freedom of expression or legitimate political communication. Such displays are, and are usually intended to be acts of menace and intimidation.”
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