Victoria has brought forward by six months new laws to criminalise the public display of the Nazi swastika.
The state has become the first Australian jurisdiction to ban the hate symbol after parliament passed a bill on Tuesday evening with bipartisan support.
A Nazi flag flying over a home in the Victorian town of Beulah in 2020.
Anyone who intentionally displays the swastika symbol could face 12 months in prison and a fine of about $22,000 when the legislation comes into effect in six months’ time.
The government says it has brought forward the date when the legislation will come into effect, originally planned to take 12 months, based on feedback from religious, legal and community groups.
The new law will only ban the display of the Nazi version of the swastika, recognising the cultural and historical significance of the symbol for the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other faith communities.
A community education campaign will raise awareness of the religious and cultural origins of the symbol.
The bill also includes exceptions for the appropriate display of the Nazi symbol for educational or artistic purposes, and the ban does not extend to online displays of the hate symbol.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the Nazi symbol glorified one of the most hateful ideologies in history.
“Its public display does nothing but cause further pain and division,” Symes said.
The legislation was introduced to parliament in May, when deputy opposition leader David Southwick, who is Jewish and has campaigned for the ban for a number of years, urged the government to have the new laws come into effect immediately.
Southwick wrote in an opinion piece for this masthead earlier this month that the Nazi swastika was the “most hateful” symbol imaginable and that he had personally dealt with the emotional fallout among community members from the symbol being publicly displayed on occasions in Melbourne.
He said that while the legislation’s passing was a “huge success”, he believed the laws could still come into effect sooner.
“We know the government can bring them in at any time, and we want the government to bring them in as soon as possible to ensure the community is protected against ongoing attacks,” Southwick told The Age on Tuesday evening.
There has been a resurgence of neo-Nazis and other far-right groups in recent years, spurred on by disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and other global events.
Symes said on Tuesday she was pleased that both sides of politics agreed the public display of the Nazi symbol would not be tolerated in Victoria.
The Nazi swastika has become internationally recognised for representing anti-Semitism and racism after Adolf Hitler adopted it as the Nazi Party symbol in 1920.
The Victorian government says it will continue to monitor the use of other hate symbols that could also be banned in the future.
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