7 October was not the start of antisemitism in Australia. For as long as there have been Jewish Australians, there has been an undercurrent of antisemitism in this country. In recent years, that undercurrent has grown significantly.
Dr RYAN (Kooyong) (16:14): None of the 250,000 Jewish Australians were untouched by the Holocaust. Nearly every family has parents or grandparents who are survivors, whose friends or relatives were murdered in German concentration camps. For those families, the collective grief and trauma of the Holocaust—the Shoah, the catastrophe—has never gone away. In the seven long weeks since the incomprehensible terrorist attacks of 7 October, the Jewish diaspora in Australia has been forced to reckon with that trauma again. For many in Jewish congregations across the country, including in my electorate, the events of 7 October and the disturbing, heartbreaking rise in antisemitism in this country since that time have caused acute concern regarding their own safety and that of their family members.
7 October was not the start of antisemitism in Australia. For as long as there have been Jewish Australians, there has been an undercurrent of antisemitism in this country. In recent years, that undercurrent has grown significantly. According to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, during the 12 months to September 2022, 478 antisemitic incidents were logged by the volunteer community security groups, official Jewish state bodies and ECAJ itself. That is an increase of 6.9 per cent on the year prior. Those reports have increased significantly in recent decades. What those reports don’t detail is the effect of those acts of antisemitism on Jewish Australians. They don’t illustrate how Jewish students in Bondi felt in 2014 when their school bus was boarded by teenagers shouting horrendous antisemitic slurs while performing the Nazi salute or more recently how students in Melbourne at Brighton Secondary College felt when they were subjected to antisemitic bullying.
They don’t capture how those attending their Shabbat service at the Central Shule on 10 November in Melbourne felt when they had to be evacuated due to pro-Palestinian protests, how shopholders feel when they arrive at their businesses to find Magen David stickers on their windows or how Jewish adults feel when they see a Nazi sympathiser giving the Nazi salute, the sieg heil, as he leaves court and Neo-Nazis doing the same on the steps of the Victorian parliament. They also don’t capture how Jewish children from Melbourne feel when they’re told not to wear their kippahs or their school uniforms on the streets of our city or how a Jewish businessowner in my electorate felt earlier this year when he received a flyer in the mail which was filled with Nazi slogans and antisemitic abuse targeting me, targeting the member for Goldstein and, most disturbingly of all, targeting the immediate former member for Kooyong.
These weren’t just discriminatory actions. They were visceral reminders of the darkest period in modern history. Those things don’t just make Jewish people feel unwelcome. They make them feel unsafe. They inflame a trauma which touches every member of the small, tight-knit Australian Jewish community. We must do more to educate the community about the Holocaust and about antisemitism. I strongly commend the actions of the former member for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg for his commitment to the establishment of Holocaust museums in every state and territory in this country. I applaud the ECAJ for collecting detailed data on antisemitism in Australia. Unfortunately, we can expect its job to be busier and those returns to be more disturbing in the years to come. Peter Wertheim, the body’s co-chief executive, has said that the council has recorded a 482 per cent rise in antisemitic incidents since the 7 October attacks. This should inspire all of us in parliament to act immediately and forcefully, as we will this week with this legislation.
All acts of discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity are disgraceful. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 both bear testament to this. Governments have a unique responsibility to set the tone, the laws and the expectations around social cohesion in this country. This includes taking very seriously our responsibility to balance the right to free expression with the right to be free from discrimination. This bill strikes that balance well. The bill upholds Australia’s responsibility to take positive action to eradicate the incitement of racial discrimination, as found in article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as our responsibility to outlaw the vilification of persons on national, racial or religious grounds.
The counterterrorism legislation amendment bill 2023 amends the Crimes Act 1914 and the Criminal Code Act 1995 to establish criminal offences for the public display of prohibited Nazi and Islamic State symbols, for the trading of goods that bear a prohibited Nazi or Islamic State symbol, for the use of a carriage service for violent extremist material and for possessing or controlling violent extremist material obtained or accessed using a carriage service.
The bill also expands the offence of advocating terrorism to include instructing on performance of a terrorist act and praising the doing of a terrorist act in specified circumstances. It increases the maximum penalty for the offence of advocating terrorism from five to seven years.
The ban on displaying or trading Nazi symbols is most pressing, given the rise of antisemitism over the last seven weeks. This bill prohibits a person from knowingly—and without reasonable excuse—displaying a Nazi symbol. These symbols include the hakenkreuz and the Nazi double-sig rune, or SS bolts, or images which closely resemble those symbols. Importantly, the sacred swastika used in the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious observances is exempt. There are also exemptions where a symbol is used or displayed for genuine religious worship or for academic, artistic or scientific purposes.
The bill is not exhaustive. It does not stipulate bans on other Nazi symbols, and concerns regarding this fact have been expressed by Jewish community leaders. This will require close monitoring and regular review, and we may need to extend the breadth of this legislation.
The government has now also proposed an amendment that will see the display of the Nazi salute criminalised. That salute has, unfortunately, been given a second lease on life in recent years by Neo-Nazi hate groups such as the National Socialist Network and the Antipodean Resistance. These far-right extremist organisations have grown bolder in recent years, emerging from the shadows to attempt recruitment drives, perform Nazi salutes at rallies, and most recently ambush hikers outside Melbourne in 2021.
In his 2023 annual threat assessment address, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation director-general, Mike Burgess, warned us that ideologically motivated violent extremism accounts for about 30 per cent of the agency’s priority case load. In a submission to a Senate inquiry earlier this year, Mr Burgess wrote of the proposal to criminalise the Nazi salute. He said:
Extremist insignia is an effective propaganda tool because they are easy to remember and understand. They also can transcend language, cultural and ethnic divides; creating, distributing and understanding them is not limited to a select few or one cultural or language group …
I note that this bill has reached its final form, following a rare partisan split on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The government initially intended to only criminalise Nazi hate symbols, not the Nazi salute. The coalition disagreed, urging for the salute to be covered as well. I agree with them that it is appropriate, given the recent sharp increase in antisemitism, for the government to have reviewed and revised its position. I commend it for taking a hard line against Nazi salutes. We should always aspire to bipartisanship on matters of social justice and on the protection of religious and individual rights.
In passing this bill, parliament will be playing one of its most vital roles. It will be working to maintain social cohesion in this country. We must seek to unite our communities by supporting all faith, racial and ethnic groups in this multicultural mosaic of a country—to show all of them, as best we can, our support, our care, our respect, and our love, and to tell all Jewish Australians and Muslim Australians, as the Middle East conflict continues, that they matter, that they are valued and that their presence enriches our culture and makes us better.
There are some lines which must not be crossed. The use of Nazi symbolism is one. Nazi ideology and symbolism are unacceptable and intolerable. The hate that they represent must be rejected today and tomorrow. The vilification of persons on national, racial or religious grounds goes against all of the precepts of what we aspire to as Australians. So I support this bill, and I commend the government for bringing it to the House.