We cannot afford to wait another day to ban Nazi symbols of hate

The Nazi swastika is the most hateful symbol we can ever imagine. Under its shadow, six million Jewish people and millions of others were erased from the world, deprived of their right to their share of life’s laughter and tears, robbed of being mothers, fathers and grandparents to their loved ones.

And while the grim narrative of the Holocaust is etched into human history, the hatred encapsulated in the swastika did not end in Europe in 1945.

Many of us have seen Nazi swastikas daubed on buildings or displayed from banners right here in Melbourne, here in Victoria – and I have personally dealt with the emotional fallout suffered by people, particularly Holocaust survivors.

For me personally, and for my Caulfield electorate, including our Jewish community, many of them survivors or their descendants, and for all fair-minded Victorians, this week’s announcement by the Victorian government on the ban couldn’t come soon enough. It was for me my proudest day in politics.

But what really puzzles me now is why we still have to wait another 12 months for the legislation to be enacted into law. We hear the government wants to educate Victorians before the bill becomes law.

But surely, Victorians now understand the hatred represented by this Nazi symbol. People come up to me all the time and are shocked to hear that right now in Victoria, its public display is still permitted. How many more defenceless people will be vilified and traumatised while we wait for the government to take action?

A Nazi flag flying over a home in the Victorian town of Beulah in 2020.

Let me take you back to early 2020, when a flag bearing the Nazi swastika was raised on a property at Beulah in western Victoria, to the horror of its friendly local community. In the neighbouring house lived an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor. After working patiently for days, police succeeded in having the flag taken down, but had no legal powers to ask for that.

The survivor told me he didn’t want trouble and would remain inside his house. I was angered that an individual who had survived Hitler’s Europe should have to confine themselves in their home in Victoria today because of the trauma from an offensive flag.

I have seen this four-pointed symbol of Nazi hatred again and again – from the walls of a Jewish aged care facility, to a front yard in Caulfield. Indeed the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, in its annual anti-Semitism report, found that in 2021, anti-Semitic incidents jumped by more than a third since 2020.

And ASIO director-general Mike Burgess has warned that neo-Nazis now pose one of Australia’s greatest security threats, as cells grow and groups meet to salute Nazi flags and discuss violent measures to advance their sick ideology.

We have found that the pandemic has only made matters worse, with the Nazi swastika becoming a rallying point for fringe causes. And in the election campaign, Jewish politicians – among candidates of all backgrounds – have had their posters defaced by this hateful symbol.

Education is important, but, as overseas experience shows, we also urgently need legislation up and running. In early 2020, the Liberal-Nationals Coalition in Victoria announced our policy. If elected, we would seek a ban on displaying the Nazi swastika. We made the announcement at the Jewish Holocaust Centre. We had a petition from thousands in the Melbourne Jewish community asking for the ban. We worked with the government on the parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s anti-vilification protections. Finally, in early 2021, we welcomed the inquiry’s recommendation to ban the Nazi swastika.

But even though the government publicly accepted the recommendation in September last year, we had to wait again. This week, as the NSW government was preparing its own legislation, the Andrews government finally introduced the Nazi symbol prohibition legislation – but with a 12-month wait built in. Yet what we need is protection right now.

As important as these laws are to send a message that there is no place for hate in Victoria, unfortunately we have fired the gun without bullets. Not even 24 hours after the declaration to ban this evil symbol, we had an attack in Caulfield with stickers plastered throughout the area. The Jewish community were put on high alert but nothing can be done for 12 months. We can’t afford to wait another day – the time to act is now.

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