Australia outlaws Nazi salute and hate symbols

The law is introduced amid a surge in anti-Semitic and hate crimes.

Neo-Nazi protesters face off with transgender rights supporters in Melbourne, Australia, March 18, 2023 [EPA]

The Nazi salute and associated hate symbols have been criminalised in Australia as legislation drawn up last summer came into force.

A law banning the salute and the display or sale of symbols associated with designated “terror” groups took effect on Monday. The new regulations were a response by the Australian government to a rise in hate and anti-Semitic incidents in recent months, which have taken on new significance amid the Israel-Gaza war.

The legislation criminalises the sale and display of Nazi motifs including the swastika and lightning bolt insignia of the SS (Schutzstaffel), the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party.

“It is now unlawful to perform the Nazi salute in public or to publicly display, or trade in, Nazi hate symbols,” Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement. “The new laws also ensure that glorifying and praising acts of terrorism are criminal offences.”

The passage of the bill through parliament by a unanimous vote on December 6 sent a clear message that there is “no place in Australia for acts and symbols that glorify the horrors of the Holocaust and terrorist acts”, Dreyfus said.

Worrying rise

Initially, a ban on the Nazi salute was not included in the bill, with the federal law planned to leave the issue to the discretion of individual states. However, following several incidents, the bill was amended.

In March, a group of neo-Nazis clashed with transgender rights protesters in Melbourne and members were seen raising their arms in a Nazi salute near the state parliament building.

In October, three men were charged after allegedly performing a Nazi salute outside the Sydney Jewish Museum. In a separate incident the same month, an unverified video showing a group of men outside the iconic Opera House shouting “gas the Jews” during a pro-Palestinian protest triggered outrage around the world and a police investigation.

There were more anti-Jewish incidents in October and November last year than in the twelve months prior, according to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

Dreyfus noted in June, as the legislation was presented, that it would see federal law mesh with state legislation, all Australian states and territories having already either passed laws or announced plans to ban Nazi symbols.

“We’ve seen, very sadly, a rise in people displaying these vile symbols, which are symbols that have no place in Australia, they should be repugnant,” he said as he explained the plan. “There is no place in Australia for symbols that glorify the horrors of the Holocaust.”

The new law also bans the public display or trade in symbols associated with organisations that Australian designates as “terrorist,” such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

That means that the display of the Hamas flag is now banned, which cause legal complications for pro-Palestine groups and demonstrations.

Australia’s spy agency has been warning that far-right groups are on the rise in Australia and that they had become more organised and visible.

An Australian-born white supremacist murdered 51 Muslim worshippers in the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies