Victoria will become the first state or territory in Australia to make the public display of Nazi symbols illegal.
According to a statement by the Andrews Labor Government, it will extend the state’s anti-vilification protections beyond race and religion.
This would also cover areas such as sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and HIV/AIDS status.
According to Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ros Spence:
“Nazi symbols glorify one of the most hateful ideologies in human history. We must confront hate, prevent it, and give it no space to grow.”
The Victorian government will also make civil and criminal vilification easier to prove.
This is to help people subjected to vilification seek justice through the courts.
Shadow police minister David Southwick told the Age that this announcement was an important step forward.
“For too long, frontline police and local communities have been powerless to stop the Nazi swastika being used as a tool to spread hate.”
In 2021, the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee had delivered its report on the effectiveness of the state’s anti-vilification laws.
This report found that vilification is too common for many Victorians.
This included people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, particular faith groups, those who identify as LGBTIQ+ and people with a disability.
According to Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes:
“All forms of hate are unacceptable and have no place in Victoria – expanding our anti-vilification laws to protect more Victorians sends a clear message that this vile behaviour will not be tolerated.”
The committee noted that the harm caused by hate conduct and vilification can be profound.
This could affect both the physical and psychological wellbeing of individuals and often preventing them from feeling comfortable participating in their community.
To tackle this, the Victorian Government will legislate a ban on all public displays of Nazi symbols.
This ban is expected in the first half of 2022.
Anti-Defamation Commission Chairperson Dvir Abramovich applauded the decision.
Abramovich told the Age:
“This is a day for the history book, a joyful and profound moment. Bravo to the government for rising to the challenge and declaring in a clear and unmistakable voice that the ultimate emblems of inhumanity and racism, that are meant to break our spirit and instil fear, will never find a refuge in our state.”
As per the media release, extensive consultation will be undertaken on how the Nazi symbol ban is crafted.
This is to ensure appropriate exceptions are in place, such as for educational or historical purposes, or for other uses of the symbol.
The Government’s Anti-Racism Taskforce is also developing Victoria’s new Anti-Racism Strategy, which will complement the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.
While most groups such as the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Equality Australia and the Victorian Pride Lobby have welcomed these bans, some Hindu, Jain and Buddhist community leaders have expressed their concerns.
Swastika which in Sanskrit means ‘well-being’ has been wrongly appropriated by the Nazis, neo-Nazi groups and even advertising or product design.
Over centuries, this auspicious symbol has been used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.
In fact, Hindus adorn the auspicious Swastika symbol on new houses, vehicles, machines, and other valuable items as a symbol of prosperity and abundance.
The straight-armed Hakenkreuz (Christian angled or hooked cross) was presented to the world as Swastika, an Aryan symbol to boost a sense of ancient lineage for the Germanic people.
Were the Hindu community leaders in Victoria consulted to implement a ban that would cover Swastika?
There were several submissions by Hindu community organisations and a few by individual members.
Hindu Council of Australia’s Victoria chapter also submitted a detailed report on how Hindu Swastika is different from Nazi symbol.
Makarand Bhagwat, President, HCA Victoria told The Australia Today:
“We want a legalised assurance from the Victorian government that the religious interests of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist communities will be protected.”
Hindu Council of Australia has called an urgent meeting of the Hindu organisations and community leaders tonight to discuss the future strategy to engage with the Victorian government.
Karthik Arasu, Convener, Temples Council, which represents Hindu temples in Australia, told The Australia Today that Swastika is our sacred symbol for thousands of years:
“Victorian Government should first understand the difference between the Nazi symbol “Hakenkreuz” meaning Hooked-Cross & Swastika. Hitler or Nazi’s never referred to their symbol anywhere as Swastika. This horrendous wrongful association of the Swastika with the Hakenkreuz is due to mistranslation.”
Mr Arasu added:
“We are engaging with domain experts who are able to explain how [The Nazi] symbol is completely different.”
Hindu community is in favour of banning the Nazi symbol. However, the Hindu leaders feel that if the Victorian government ends up banning ‘swastika’ it will demonise hundreds of thousands of Hindus living peacefully all over Australia.