IN recent times, I have been deeply concerned to see increasing reports of the use of the Nazi swastika and other symbols in targeted attacks against Jews and others from a range of ethnic backgrounds.
As many locals will be aware, in January a Nazi flag was flown from a property in the regional Victorian town of Beulah.
Although a small country town of only 150 residents, Beulah is a multicultural community and home to an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, Muslim families and people from many other backgrounds and this incident threatened to shatter the long-term cohesion of this community as tensions risked spiralling out of control.
It took over a week to finally have the flag taken down, with the Victorian state government, Victoria Police command and local council all stating that they were powerless to act.
More recently, a Nazi flag was flown from the top of a light tower at Robertson Oval in the regional NSW city of Wagga Wagga. Once again, shortcomings in the law prevailed as NSW Police Superintendent Bob Noble stated that the display of the flag “isn’t really a criminal offence so we would not be able to do much in that situation”.
More alarming, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess said the rising threat posed by right-wing extremists who regularly gather to salute Nazi flags is becoming Australia’s most challenging security threat.
In this context, it is clear that Victoria and indeed Australia’s anti-vilification laws provide insufficient protections to keep the community free from racial and religious hatred.
Last month, I was proud to announce the Victorian Liberals will ban the public display of the Nazi swastika and other Nazi symbols, which intend to incite hate in Victoria.
A legislated ban on the public display of the Nazi swastika and other Nazi symbols is an important measure to stem the increasing wave of antisemitic attacks in Victoria. It will send a clear message that the display of such hate will never be an acceptable part of our community, provide an avenue for criminal prosecution of offenders and critically, establish new powers for Victoria Police to immediately remove and confiscate materials they reasonably believe are in breach of this ban.
It is an unfortunate reality that we live in a time when vilification is real, perpetrators are becoming more violent, and the targeted use of symbol and imagery is becoming more frequent. While Victoria remains a proudly open society, where everyone is encouraged to speak their mind freely, we must constantly guard against that openness being abused by some to spread fear and incite violence.
Understanding the importance of this issue, I have sought to work in a bipartisan nature with the Andrews Labor Government to develop and introduce legislation to effect this ban.
A community petition in support of the ban has so far received over 800 signatures and I would encourage anyone who supports it to sign the petition on my website or in hard copy at various locations around the community.
A change in this legislation would hopefully encourage other jurisdictions such as NSW to introduce their own laws to ban the Nazi swastika and educate all Australians about the atrocities of the past and the pain these symbols carry.
David Southwick is the state member for Caulfield.