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Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
21 June 2022

I rise today to speak on the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022, a bill which I and the Greens absolutely welcome and support. This bill bans the public display of the hateful Nazi symbol, the Hakenkreuz, when displayed with the knowledge that it is a symbol of Nazi ideology. The bill does, importantly, permit the continued use of the swastika by people of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other faiths. This symbol was only co-opted by Hitler’s Third Reich last century but has for thousands of years before been a positive symbol of faith. It is important that practitioners of these faiths can continue to use it.

There are exemptions for the good-faith display of the Nazi symbol for artists, academics, law enforcement and others, including for the display of this symbol in opposition to fascism, Neo-Nazis and Nazis. One of the other key exemptions in this bill is that the Nazi symbol may be used for education purposes. It is vital that we learn from the past and that students and everyone in Victoria understand the events and impacts of the Holocaust. Antisemitism has no place in Victoria. The Jewish community are no doubt deeply impacted and affected by the malicious use of the Nazi symbol in Victoria. We have seen many recent occurrences where the symbol has been used to target their community.

The Legal and Social Issues Committee has just begun its hearings for its inquiry into extremism in Victoria, which I am very pleased to be able to chair. In the hearings last week, we heard of the streets of Caulfield being stickered with this hateful symbol on the very day that this bill was announced. Members of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry spoke of the ongoing impact that antisemitism has on their community and the need for laws like this one to go further.

It is a hefty burden that the Jewish community have to carry to ensure that their members are safe and can learn, pray and congregate in peace. The Jewish community must always be security conscious. They must fund guards for their schools and places of worship, and they must install CCTV. They must limit the symbols and signage on their places of worship, and they must organise and fundraise to undertake all this work. This burden is unacceptable, and this bill is an important first step in addressing antisemitism and racism more broadly in Victoria. Unfortunately the stickering in Caulfield cannot be dismissed as an isolated incident. Within the Jewish community there have been a number of other events where the Nazi symbol has been used to threaten and intimidate. There are people here in Victoria displaying this symbol on flags, on clothing, graffitiing signs and buildings. We have seen Neo-Nazis blatantly parading around the Grampians. It is chilling.

The Nazi symbol is also used to direct intolerance towards other groups within our community. Bigots have used it as a cover-all hate symbol to vilify migrants and asylum seekers, Muslims and people of other faiths, the LGBTIQ community, First Nations people and multicultural communities. We had the disgraceful situation where someone flew the Nazi symbol on a flag on private property and there was nothing that could be done. This symbol has no place in Victoria, and we must strengthen our laws and our resolve to tackle the actual and implied hate of this symbol and the far-right movement more broadly.

We know that far-right extremism is on the rise here in Victoria. Over the past two years the pandemic has been a fertile recruitment ground and vessel for the expansion of far-right groups in Victoria. COVID denialists and anti-vaxxers have rubbed shoulders with the ultranationalists and white supremacists at protests. I acknowledge that most people that attended these pandemic protests were not holding extreme far-right views and did have legitimate concerns, but make no mistake: there was an emboldened and extreme element in these protests, and they were out to recruit and profit from the disenfranchised.

While we all welcome this important bill as an important step in denouncing extremism, we know that this has to be one step of many more to come. The far right do not organise just around symbols but around ideas. Globally we have seen members of the far right organising around a range of hateful ideas, emboldened and platformed by politicians and elements of the media, particularly in the US and in Europe, and touting deeply troubling and dangerous ideas. They are racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic and bigoted in so many ways and put people at risk.

The white supremacist ‘great replacement’ theory, which suggests that white people are being marginalised and replaced by people of colour, is one such preposterous idea. It has gained momentum overseas and has now made its way to Australia and to Victoria. It is our job as a Parliament and as members of society to call out these appalling narratives, to stand with minority communities and to prevent these ideas from coming into our Parliament and our community. That is why the Greens helped establish the current parliamentary inquiry into extremism. We must investigate and understand its reach and work to eliminate it and create a truly anti-racist and anti-fascist state.

Through the hearings it has been troubling to hear about the radicalisation of young people by extremist groups and to learn of the ways that recruitment and indoctrination occur by targeting already marginalised people and manipulating their vulnerability to desensitise and then normalise extreme and bigoted views. We heard that far-right extremists seek out and exploit the fractures in our community—like rising levels of social isolation, distrust and suspicion of institutions like government and the media, and of course growing economic insecurity. We heard that measures such as a proscription of symbols are important but should be considered as part of a range of other actions if we are serious about addressing the problem at its root causes.

To do so, as a Parliament and a community, we need to listen to First Nations people and reckon with our colonial past. All Victorians need to bear witness and listen to the truths coming out of the historic Yoorrook Justice Commission. As a Parliament we also need to confront our own role in the historical injustices committed against First Nations people and our continued complicity in supporting the structures and system that still harm our First Peoples. We need to acknowledge that racism and bigotry exist in Victoria today. We need to stare them down and actively work to dismantle the structure of white supremacy that seeks to undermine the strength and safety of our community.

There is still much work to be done. I welcome the minister’s commitment in the second-reading speech that this legislation will be part of a broader package of anti-vilification reforms in Victoria. We have a collective responsibility to fight extreme and hateful ideas and actions at every turn—with this bill and beyond.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
21 June 2022
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