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‘Horrifying’ backlash to Victoria’s swastika ban

Several Nazi symbols which read “you censor the truth” were found less than 24 hours after Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes revealed legislation had been introduced into parliament which would make it a criminal offence to use the Nazi swastika in public. But the new laws – which would see people who intentionally display the swastika slapped with a fine of more than $20,000 or a 12 month jail term – won’t come into effect until at least one year after the Bill is passed. The new laws also won’t be used retrospectively, meaning people who have publicly displayed the symbols recently won’t face justice. It has prompted deputy Liberal leader and Jewish man David Southwick – who has been an ardent advocate for the reform – to call for the legislation to be sped up in a bid to reduce anti-Semitic attacks. Mr Southwick said the latest finds were “horrifying”. “We cannot wait a year for this ban to be implemented,” he said. “It must happen now.”Asked about Mr Southwick’s call, Premier Daniel Andrews said there are a “number of processes” that need to be gone through over the coming months. “I took it last night from the opposition that this would be a bipartisan effort,” he said. “There are some very valid reasons why we need a bit more time.”Ban a ‘thunderous blow’ to neo-NazisPeople who intentionally display swastikas in Victoria will soon face penalties of more than $20,000 or 12 months in prison.Victoria will become the first Australian state or territory to officially ban the public display of the Nazi symbol, with new legislation introduced into parliament on Wednesday. It will soon become a criminal offence for a person to intentionally display the Nazi symbol – the Hakenkreuz, often referred to as the swastika – in public.Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes, who outlined the new legislation on Wednesday morning, said the reform came in recognition of the Nazi symbol’s role in inciting antisemitism and hate.Ms Symes said the landmark reform sends a “clear message” that the dissemination of Nazi and neo-Nazi ideology through the public display of the Nazi symbol has no place in Victoria.“The Nazi symbol glorifies one of the most hateful ideologies in history,” Ms Symes said. “Its public display does nothing but cause further pain and division.“As a government we want to do all we can to stamp out hate and give it no room to grow. “Banning the Nazi symbol sends a clear message that this vile behaviour will not be tolerated in Victoria.”But the Bill will also recognise the cultural and historical significance of the swastika for the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other faith communities as an ancient and sacred symbol of peace and good fortune. The legislation does not prohibit the display of the swastika in such religious and cultural contexts.Ms Symes said there were still “appropriate exemptions” for the symbol to be used including for educational purposes and awareness. The ban will be supported by a community education campaign to raise awareness of the origins of the religious and cultural swastika. The campaign will also highlight its importance to the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain communities and its distinction to the Nazi symbol.It comes as anti-Semitic incidents have increased 37 per cent year on year. It also comes after a group of neo-Nazis duped a Melbourne beer hall into hosting a celebration of Adolf Hitler’s birthday.But Ms Symes confirmed the new laws won’t be used retrospectively. President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Daniel Aghion, said the harm caused by hate conduct and vilification can be profound while also affecting people’s physical and psychological wellbeing. Anti Defamation Commission chairman Dr Dvir Abramovich welcomed the changes. “This is a monumental step … doing something which nobody thought would happen,” Dr Abramovich said. “Not a day goes by where we’re not seeing it (the Nazi symbol). “The neo-Nazis have weaponised the Nazi swastika. For a holocaust victim to see a Nazi swastika, it is as threatening as being faced with a gun.”Dr Abramovich said the announcement was one for the history books. “This is a thunderous blow to the neo-Nazis who would like nothing more than to see me in a gas chamber,” he said.“This decision honours the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazis, the Holocaust survivors who made their home here, and the valiant diggers who gave their lives to vanquish the Third Reich. “Though this has been a long and personal trek, I never lost faith that this momentous occasion would come to pass. “The values of democracy, equality and freedom are ringing loud throughout Victoria, and we should all rejoice.”The move has also been supported by the Victorian state opposition, with deputy Liberal leader and Jewish man David Southwick, stating it was “one of my proudest days in politics following more than four years of advocacy”.“This law will send a clear message that our great state will not tolerate the display of the most abhorrent, offensive and anti-Semitic symbol of all time, and will go a long way to curb the hate that such individuals wish to incite,” he said.Mr Southwick said with the rise of anti-Semitism in the community, the government needed to act now. “We can’t wait another year for the law to come into effect. We have had two years of consultation and education and every day we wait is another day that vulnerable people are exposed to targeted attacks,” he said.In a statement, Zionism Victoria thanked the government for taking action. “Given the significant Holocaust survivor population within the state, and given Victoria prides itself on tolerance, multiculturalism and respect, it is long since time this symbol of hate – a reminder for so many of the horror and pain they and their families endured – should have been placed beyond the realms of acceptable expression,” it said.Law Institute of Victoria president Tania Wolff said the continued display of Nazi symbols is “unacceptable”. “The LIV welcomes laws that ban such flagrant displays of hate,” Ms Wolff said.“While the LIV welcomes the ban of hate symbols, including Nazi symbols, addressing this issue in isolation through prescriptive legislation does not do enough to protect marginalised Victorians from persistent discrimination.“The current legal framework regarding vilification in Victoria is deficient and does not adequately address the harm suffered by individuals who experience such conduct.“A broader approach to reducing discrimination and the harm it causes is required, and the LIV would welcome any further steps taken to address this serious issue.”

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