I rise today to speak on the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Salute Prohibition) Bill 2023, a bill that is sadly addressing a significant problem in our society today. I would like to thank several of the members here today that have spoken so eloquently and emotively on this matter. Like others have said, there is simply no room for neo-Nazis and the hatred they perpetuate in a modern society like ours. The fact we have to address this and legislate for it is something that is deeply concerning. That being said, it is so pleasing to see this entire house join together as a collective and make it clear that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated in Victoria. The emotional side of this topic goes without saying, and I am proud to speak on this piece of legislation and what it aims to achieve.
The purpose of this bill involves amending the Summary Offences Act 1966 to make the public display or performance of Nazi gestures an offence, while also extending the scope of offences relating to the public display of Nazi symbols. Essentially the bill’s purpose is to make the public display or performance of Nazi gestures an offence. Legislative changes have been made recently to address concerns with the growing presence of neo-Nazis in this state, most notably through the passing of another summary offences bill relating to Nazi symbols at the end of 2022. After that bill was passed there were sadly still several high-profile incidents by this group, many of which involved the Nazi salute. These incidents made it clear that the existing law, while having the right intentions, still had limitations and more needed to be done. Notably, that bill did not deal with Nazi gestures like the salute, and this is what has led to the bill in front of us today.
This bill makes some definitions to provide clarity and help this legislation achieve what it needs to. A Nazi gesture includes the Nazi salute and any other gesture used by the Nazi party. This also includes gestures that closely resemble Nazi gestures or are close enough that they are likely to be confused with or mistaken for a Nazi gesture. The scope of Nazi symbols in this legislation will now include any symbol used by the Nazi party – an extension of what previous legislation has outlined. When it comes to the offence, this legislation provides further clarity. A person must not intentionally perform a Nazi gesture if the person knows or should reasonably know that the gesture is a Nazi gesture; if the performance occurs in a public place, non-government school or post-secondary education institution; or if it occurs in sight of a person who is in a public place, a non-government school or a post-secondary education institution. The offence would carry 120 penalty units, imprisonment for 12 months or both.
There are some exemptions within the bill. These include when the display or performance is engaged in reasonably and in good faith for a genuine academic, artistic, educational or scientific purpose; when making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; where the display of the Nazi symbol is engaged in reasonably and in good faith for a genuine cultural or religious purpose; and where the display of the Nazi symbol is engaged in reasonably and in good faith in opposition to fascism, Nazism, neo-Nazism or other related ideologies.
This bill, like most relating to offences, will require some policing. Under this legislation a police officer may give a direction to a person to remove a Nazi symbol or Nazi gesture from display if the police officer reasonably believes the person is committing an offence against section 41K. This policing also includes making these directions to the owner or occupier of a property on which the Nazi symbol or gesture is being displayed. However, the police power does not currently extend to a direction to a person to make them stop performing the Nazi gesture.
Those involved with this bill appear to have consulted several relevant groups to ensure this is a step in the right direction. This includes several Jewish groups, including local museums, community councils and anti-defamation commissions. There have also been several legal groups that were contacted to help ensure the legal side of this important legislation can be effectively undertaken.
It is important to note that there is an effective balance that must be reached when it comes to allowing free speech and preventing hate speech and symbols. The goal is to strike a balance that respects individuals while safeguarding society from hate and its consequences. When it comes to combating hate speech and extremism, legislation like this plays a critical role. This legislation will help to curb the spread of such ideologies and by preventing the use of hate symbols in public spaces can help stop the inciting of violence and discrimination. Legislating against Nazi gestures sends an important message to our society. It shows that our society values inclusivity and the safety of all its members. We want to create an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can coexist peacefully without fear of intimidation or violence. By putting this bill into law, we show we will not tolerate this hatred in Victoria.