The NSW government is one step away from banning the Nazi swastika, with strict new laws expected to be passed on Thursday.
The Perrottet government’s bill to criminalise the purposeful display of Nazi symbols in public has successfully made its way through the Lower House following months of public discussion on the topic.
Passing with unanimous support and backed by months of bipartisan consensus, the legislation is expected to pass in the Upper House on Thursday.
What will this mean for NSW?
When it comes to penalties for individuals, the new offence will include a maximum of 12 months’ imprisonment or a $11,000 fine or both.
While Victoria became the first Australian state to ban the hateful symbols in June this year, with penalties of up to almost $22,000, 12 months’ imprisonment or both for those who intentionally display the Nazi symbol, the NSW government has taken the prohibition one step further.
Corporations in NSW knowingly displaying the nazi symbol will be slapped with a $55,000 fine.
NCA NewsWire understands the laws will outlaw all online displays of the Nazi symbol, including materials posted to social media.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the new laws will provide safeguards against hate speech and vilification in the state.
“New South Wales is a place where everyone can expect protection and safety from serious vilification and hate crimes,” Mr Speakman said.
“The display of a Nazi symbol undermines our shared values and causes harm and distress to others in the community, including those from the Jewish faith.”
Mr Speakman said the legislation will also protect people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as veterans, who are also groups targeted by the hateful symbol.
“This bill recognises that the public display of Nazi symbols is abhorrent, except in very limited circumstances such as for educational purposes, and causes profound offence and distress,” he said.
NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Mark Coure confirmed that the legislation, however, will not inhibit artistic, academic or educational freedoms, and will not prevent the use of the symbol for religious or spiritual reasons.
“This bill also serves another important purpose – to protect those that use a Swastika for religious and spiritual reasons including Buddhists, Hindus and Jains,” Mr Coure said.
“It clearly states that the displaying of a swastika in connection with these spiritualties will not be deemed a Nazi symbol.”
Why does the state need these laws?
In 2020, there were 31 documented cases of Nazi flags being flown across NSW, including from a water tower in Wagga Wagga.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry also reported a 35 per cent increase in anti-Semitic activity in Australia in its annual report in 2021, with Jewish groups recording 447 antisemitic incidents across Australia between 2020 and 2021.
These figures included 272 attacks, including physical assault, verbal abuse/harassment, vandalism and graffiti) and 175 threats via email, phone, postal mail and poster/stickers.
Following the rise in anti-semitism across the country, opposition spokesman for Police and Counter Terrorism Walt Secord ramped up his campaign to ban the symbol.
Mr Secord told NCA NewsWire he was pleased to see the state is on the “cusp” of confirming the new laws.
“I have been calling for action since mid-April 2020 and introduced my own bill in October 2021 – which was the first in Australia,” Mr Secord said, noting a “surge in far-right extremism”.
“We have had some disgusting incidents in NSW, including a person flying a Nazi flag across from Newtown Synagogue.”
Mr Secord said the Bill “strikes a balance between artistic, academic, education and other public interest purposes” and provides adequate protections for the entire NSW community.
“Displaying Nazi symbols goes well beyond the realm of political debate. They telegraph hate for individuals and hate for our society at large,” he said.
“They have no place in our society after so many Australians sacrificed their lives to rid the world of this scourge.”
Jewish groups have also been behind the push, including the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD), which presented evidence to a parliamentary inquiry held in February this year, in alliance with the Hindu Council of Australia.
“This legislation can’t come soon enough,” NSW JBOD CEO Darren Bark said.
“We receive antisemitic incident reports on a weekly basis,” he said, noting a recent incident which involved neo-Nazi stickers being plastered on a postbox in Redfern.
“Nazi symbols are a threat to the entire NSW community and have no place in our tolerant, multicultural society.”
Mr Bark said his team was looking forward to the bill passing in the Upper House.