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Victoria bans public display of Nazi symbol

Swastika ban will not affect South Asian faith communities, NSW introduces similar bill

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Victoria has become the first Australian state or territory to ban the public display of the Nazi symbol in recognition of its role in inciting antisemitism and hate.

The Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022 was passed on 21 June which makes it a criminal offence for a person to intentionally display the Nazi symbol (the Hakenkreuz, often referred to as the Nazi swastika) in public.

Penalties will accrue up to the amount of $22,000, 12 months imprisonment or both.

Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ros Spence said, “These laws are part of our unwavering commitment to challenge antisemitism, hatred and racism wherever and whenever they occur.”

Importantly for Victoria’s South Asian community, the Bill recognises 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 Bill does not prohibit the display of the swastika in such religious and cultural contexts.

woman yoga swastika
Source: Facebook Yoga with Yogini

On the same day 21 June, the NSW Government introduced a bill into its Parliament to ban the public displays of Nazi symbols and to provide further safeguards against hate speech and vilification.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said the Government’s Bill will amend the Crimes Act 1900 to create a new offence of knowingly displaying, by public act and without reasonable excuse, a Nazi symbol.

“Under the proposed amendments, the maximum penalty for the new offence will be 12 months’ imprisonment or a $11,000 fine or both for an individual; or a fine of $55,000 for a corporation,” he said.

Again, exclusions apply for the display of a swastika in connection with Buddhism, Hinduism or Jainism – these  will not constitute the display of a Nazi symbol, the NSW Bill explicitly states.

In addition, the Bill provides that it is not an offence to display of a Nazi symbol where there is a reasonable excuse, including artistic, academic or educational purposes or any other purpose in the public interest.

The move towards a Swastika ban comes after much community consultation in both states.

For the faith communities of South Asia, the swastika is a sacred symbol; it was misappropriated by the Nazis as a symbol of hatred and violence.

There was much concern therefore when the strengthening of the anti-vilification laws was mooted in Victoria last year.

However, it gave community stakeholders an opportunity to educate government departments as well as the general public about the ancient Swastika (such as its root words Su and Asti which mean ‘good’ and ‘existence’ respectively, referring together to ‘wellbeing’, and what the four arms signify).

This created broader awareness of the need for differentiating between the terms ‘swastika’ and ‘hakenkreuz’, a distinction that is becoming much better understood today.

Victoria’s new law and the Bill in NSW both respond to reports of rising incidents of unacceptable anti-Semitic and far-right extremist activities.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Darren Bark said, “In recent years we have seen a surge in the use of these symbols by right-wing extremists and for other faith-based attacks, both in-person and online.”

The Victorian legislation will come into effect in six months to allow for time to implement this campaign. This has been brought forward after consultation with affected groups and their feedback, a communique from the office of Premier Dan Andrews said.

For South Asian faith communities the world over, this is a start to the reclaiming of the Swastika from its Nazi misappropriation.

READ ALSO: Calls to reclaim the Hindu Swastika

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