Second Reading: Summary Offences Amendment Bill 2023

05 October 2023

I rise to contribute to the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Salute Prohibition) Bill 2023. I would like to just echo some of the other members’ statements. This has been a wonderful and thoughtful contribution by both sides of the house in this debate. It is probably the best I have seen in this house since being here. It has been a wonderful and thoughtful contribution to this bill to improve our state and our legislation in this space.

I will speak a little bit about the bill and what it is intended to do before making some personal remarks. This bill fulfils the Victorian government’s commitment to legislate a ban on the Nazi salute and prohibit the public display or performance of any symbol or gesture used by the Nazi party and its paramilitary arms. This bill amends the Summary Offences Act 1966 and extends the existing prohibition on the public display of the Nazi symbol. The expanded offence is where a person intentionally displays, in a public place or in sight of a person in a public place, a Nazi symbol or gesture if the person knows or ought to reasonably know that the symbol or gesture is a Nazi symbol or Nazi gesture. The purpose of expanding this offence is to ensure that the expression of harmful symbols and gestures associated with these atrocities, ideology and resulting genocide is prohibited.

The government acknowledges, and I think the vast majority of Victorians acknowledge, that Nazi symbol and gestures such as Nazi salutes are indeed there to be used to intimidate and to cause harm to a wide range of groups. These groups include the Jewish community, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, LGBTIQ+ people, people with a disability and other racial and religious groups. This bill is certainly sending that clear message that condemns the Nazi ideology and the use of its gestures and symbols to incite hate. I think we would all here agree that Victorians deserve to feel safe and feel included and accepted in this state. It is in stark contrast that we have seen these displays which, as I have alluded to, are intended to cause fear in our community, and that is why this bill is focused on the harm caused by such hateful conduct, which can be profound. The use of the Nazi salute is unacceptable and has no place in Victoria, and I was saddened and appalled to see it here on the steps of Parliament and indeed in my own home town of Geelong. I thought that I would never see that in my lifetime. It is clear that the Nazi symbol and gestures are there to convey a message of antisemitism, hatred and intimidation, and this offence is also accompanied by powers for Victoria Police to direct a person to remove the Nazi symbol or gesture from public display and to apply to the Magistrates’ Court for a warrant to enter premises to search and seize Nazi symbols.

Just as background, this reform package has been developed in response to a parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s anti-vilification protections. Of course I think indeed the majority of Victorians and – from what I have heard – all in this house believe that this vilification has no place in our community, but sadly, evidence through that inquiry that was presented and evidence that authorities have spoken to suggests that hate conduct and vilification are present in this state.

We have clearly seen that it is on the rise. Exposure to vilification and hate does appear more prevalent for Aboriginal people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and backgrounds, people from particular different faiths, women, people who identify as LGBTIQ+ and people with disability. And sadly vilification occurs in many of our settings. It occurs in our schools, in our sporting clubs and in our services, and of course it does also present itself online. This harm is enormous. The harm caused by hate conduct and vilification is profound. It can affect someone’s physical and psychological wellbeing as well as a whole community’s ability to participate in everyday life.

In doing a little bit of research on this topic, I would like to thank the committee for their work. I note in the chair’s foreword she remarked:

In recognition that prevention is as important as changing the law, the Committee has recommended various initiatives in the areas of research, school-based education, public awareness campaigns, and responsible media reporting to address the causes of discrimination and hostility towards minority groups …

I strongly believe that effective anti-vilification laws can protect … communities and promote social cohesion and harmony. This inquiry has been an important reminder that preventing and addressing vilification cannot be achieved at the individual level but rather is a societal responsibility.

It talks about education and other measures, and this bill is one tool that we can use as a Parliament to be proactive, to be responsible and to call out this behaviour. Legislation is important, but so is education. In an education sense, the Holocaust and the issues surrounding it were part of my education growing up, learning about them in high school. I remember then being so moved that I asked my mum to take me to the Jewish Museum of Australia here in Melbourne. I spoke to a survivor there, and it has stayed with me forever. I learned so much, but I think it is more about the feeling that I learned, and that stays with me. This year my son, who is in year 7, has also learned about the Holocaust and the atrocities in his English class, and I know it has had a profound impact on him – we had a discussion at home about that. I know that that is how we can create further change, through that education, and really call out this behaviour for what it is. While I do not really like to give the extremists the attention that they so desperately crave, their intolerance and their bigotry cannot go unanswered.

In terms of this bill, I will just touch a little bit on the offences and how they will be enforced. This bill expands offences and will extend existing powers available to police for the offence of public display of the Nazi symbol. A police officer will have powers to direct a person to remove from display a Nazi symbol or gesture, whether it is on private or public property, if the police officer reasonably believes an offence is being committed. Consistent with the existing offence, the bill also enables police to apply to the Magistrates’ Court for a warrant to search premises and seize property that displays Nazi symbols or gestures and has a connection to or is evidence of committing that offence.

I know the government sought a variety of feedback from stakeholders, and I really thank those who engaged in that process. Your lived experience and your expertise have informed further work and this bill. Through this engagement I am confident that this bill appropriately gets that balance right in order to address the harm that is caused by the public expression of Nazism, while ensuring that innocent gestures and displays cannot be captured.

As I have talked about, we know this Nazi ideology is rooted in hate and racism. Displaying the Nazi symbol promotes these harmful ideologies and can incite hatred, discrimination and violence against specific groups. We know that that harm can be profound. The use of this symbol is a painful reminder of horrific events and the suffering that they have caused. Banning the symbol and the salute and prohibiting the public display or performance of any symbol or gestures used by the Nazi party does help prevent the spread of ideologies and limits the recruitment and radicalisation of individuals.

Even authorities such as ASIO have argued that neo-Nazis should be deprived of using such symbols to:

… raise their profile and to recruit new members.

ASIO has also indicated that banning the Nazi salute and other symbols would in fact assist law enforcement in early intervention.

In conclusion, this bill really does send a message that we will not tolerate this behaviour and these symbols and gestures in a democratic and inclusive society. I believe that we have seen the best of this Parliament in contributing to this bill, because even though the hate may be there, in our greatest days we here as members of Parliament and as a community need to have the backbone to stand up for what is right. We stand up for what is the best in us. To end on a positive note, we have a tremendously diverse community, and that is our state’s greatest strength. We have the right to feel accepted, safe and included. The government is committed to protecting the rights of Victorians, free from racism and free from vilification and hate. That is the kind of Victoria I stand for – a compassionate, accepting and safe Victorian community. I commend this bill to the house.