A person could be jailed for six months for displaying the Nazi swastika under legislation proposed by NSW Labor to strike a blow against increasingly active far-right nationalists.
The Labor caucus and shadow cabinet this week approved draft legislation that would amend criminal laws to ban the public display of Nazi symbols, with exemptions for use of the swastika by religious communities.
The proposed law outlines a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a $5500 fine for displaying a Nazi symbol. An organisation could be fined $55,000.
“The Nazi flag is deeply offensive to all Australian and Allied veterans who fought and sacrificed to defeat fascism,” Labor’s police and counter-terrorism spokesman Walt Secord said.
“Displaying the symbols of an enemy that Australians died to defeat is an affront to them, to survivors of the Holocaust and to all of their collective descendants.”
Any public display, dissemination or wearing of the symbols, including on private property, would be captured by the prohibition.
The draft legislation, which Mr Secord said was approved unanimously by Labor MPs and is now open for consultation, follows a similar announcement by the Victorian government that it would become the first Australian jurisdiction to legislate a ban on Nazi symbols.
The proposed bill contains an exemption for Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious communities, in which the ancient swastika is a sacred symbol. Meaning “wellbeing” in Sanskrit, the symbol was co-opted by the Nazis in the 1920s.
The proposal allows for the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board to make exemptions for legitimate uses of the swastika, including for religious, academic and artistic purposes.
In a statement, Labor said TV, film and theatre productions should be able to use the swastika in good faith.
Darren Bark, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, said the swastika was offensive to the Jewish community and the memory of World War II veterans.
“We welcome any move to counter the surge of violent extremist ideology occurring both globally and here in Australia. Any measures should be targeted and effective, and we look forward to providing feedback on the NSW Labor Party’s draft bill,” Mr Bark said.
“The banning of the Nazi swastika should be part of a broader strategy which includes educational programs against all forms of bigotry.”
Labor’s multiculturalism spokesman Steve Kamper said the Nazi flag symbolised genocide and racism and flying it was an expression of hatred.
“The Nazi swastika represents a regime that murdered 6 million Jews, including more than a million children,” he said.
In April last year, the NSW government said it was seeking advice on how to ban the display of the symbols.
NSW Police said last week that right-wing extremism now occupies about 20 per cent of counter-terrorism investigations, adding to operations targeting the radical Islamist threats that remain of greatest concern.
Of 1000 religious and ideological extremists across four tiers attracting some level of police monitoring, about 80 on the two highest levels are being closely tracked as posing a violent threat to people in NSW.
A joint investigation by the Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes this month exposed details about the growing threat of organised neo-Nazis in Australia, with people as young as 16 being radicalised.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told a NSW budget estimates hearing last week that right-wing extremism had grown over the past five years – although less significantly in NSW than other parts of Australia – and had surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.