Paul Fletcher MP – in support of the Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures Bill 2023

photo of Paul Fletcher MP
November 28, 2023

We are in the appalling situation in modern Australia in which Jewish families are being advised not to advertise their Jewish identity. In the wake of the Hamas atrocities, the Australian Jewish community was unable to gather at the Sydney Opera House when that had been lit up in blue and white—the colours of the Israeli flag—as a sign of support for the Australian Jewish community. Instead, the Jewish community was told by the New South Wales police minister to stay at home.

Mr FLETCHER (BradfieldManager of Opposition Business) (12:32): I rise to speak on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill 2023. I say upfront that the coalition supports the key measures in this bill. The most important parts of this bill prohibit the public display of some of the most powerful symbols of antisemitism our world has ever seen. Those parts of the bill prohibit the display of the Nazi swastika and the double-sig rune, which represent the most potent and violent forms of antisemitism. They are associated with the murder of over six million Jews and millions of others in concentration camps during the Second World War.

This is an issue which should unite this place. There is no place in our civil society for symbols which are directly linked to one of the most hateful regimes in history. A million Australians served in the fight against the Nazis’ race-based ideologies and those of their allies throughout the Second World War, and 39,600 Australians paid the supreme sacrifice. The public display of Nazi symbols dishonours their memory and diminishes every Australian.

Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler, carried out the deliberate, calculated and organised mass murder of six million European Jews, as well as five million prisoners of war and other victims. The Nazis’ systematic and state sponsored campaign of persecution dehumanised an entire people. But it was much worse than that.

The Nazi regime’s industrialised extermination resulted in the Holocaust, one of the worst crimes committed in history, and the Nazi regime is one of the greatest evils ever visited on humanity. Because of what they represent—this evil, this terror—Nazi symbols are no ordinary symbols. The public display of Nazi symbols is abhorrent to the Australian way of life and has no part in our political discourse. We must condemn Nazi symbols in any form that they are found or are displayed. All Australians are diminished when there is the sharing and glorification of an ideology which is characterised by genocide, mass murder and other forms of persecution.

Australians are entitled to take pride in the fact that this nation, together with allied nations from around the globe, fought against the Nazi threat and prevailed in the Second World War. Prohibiting the display of Nazi symbols aligns with our nation’s values and our heritage as Australians.

It is deeply troubling that we have seen recently a disturbing growth in the glorification of Nazism in Australia. That, of course, is associated with ideologies all too often which present a risk to our security and our way of life. The Director-General of Security has spoken about the growth of grievance-motivated violent extremism. He had this to say:

As a nation we need to reflect on why some teenagers are hanging Nazi flags and portraits of the Christchurch killer on their bedroom walls and others are sharing beheading videos. Just as importantly, we must reflect on what we can do about it.

The display of Nazi symbols is closely associated with extremist groups which may pose a national security risk to Australia. The public display of Nazi symbols is also associated with incitement to violence and with protest action that presents a highly visible threat to public order. For these reasons, amongst others, on this side of the chamber we say that the prohibitions on the public display of the Nazi swastika are justified, proportionate and reasonable. These are not symbols associated with processes of debate and persuasion or with the exchange of ideas; they are symbols of fear and intimidation. They impede the ordinary civil discourse that is the life blood of our democracy, and the prohibition on their public display is a small but important step that is long overdue.

Australia is presently seeing the biggest increase in antisemitism since the Second World War. To borrow some words from my friend and colleague the member for Berowra:

Anti-Semitism is not a new thing. It is a hatred that has endured throughout human history. It robs Jewish people of their God-given individuality. It attributes to Jews a set of common negative characteristics: a selfish, greedy, controlling, privileged people that deserves to be attacked. This old hatred morphs with every generation.

We have seen, following the horrific attacks on Israel on 7 October, that there has been a deeply troubling resurgence in antisemitism in Australia. Just today, newspapers across the country contain announcements in which hundreds and hundreds of high-profile Australians from all walks of life have put their names to a plea for unity and have expressed their grave concern at a 482 per cent rise in antisemitic incidents over the past seven weeks.

We are in the appalling situation in modern Australia in which Jewish families are being advised not to advertise their Jewish identity. In the wake of the Hamas atrocities, the Australian Jewish community was unable to gather at the Sydney Opera House when that had been lit up in blue and white—the colours of the Israeli flag—as a sign of support for the Australian Jewish community. Instead, the Jewish community was told by the New South Wales police minister to stay at home. Jewish people in Australia today are worried about their children wearing the school uniform of a Jewish school when they’re out and about in public. They are worried about doing their food shopping at their local Jewish supermarket. Jewish people are worried about being targeted for practising their faith in a synagogue. There have been reports that Jewish students are avoiding university campuses out of fear and concern for their safety as a result of anti-Israel slogans and material being broadcasted and distributed at a range of campuses across the country. It is deeply concerning and disheartening to hear that Jewish students feel threatened by other students celebrating the atrocious terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas.

According to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, there were 368 anti-Jewish incidents reported in Australia between 8 October and 19 November. This compares to a total of 478 antisemitic incidents for the entire year October 2021 to October 2022.

Australians are aghast. The old hatreds have morphed. Antisemitic sentiment today hides behind labels like ‘anti-Israel’ and ‘anti-Zionist’. These sentiments have been taken on by different groups, by extremists and radicals and, sadly, deeply regrettably, even by some in this parliament, who are, it would seem, happy to be associated with calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. These are new standard bearers, but these new standard bearers are spreading the same old antisemitic hatreds and, all too often, using the same old antisemitic symbols.

We are seeing protests, gatherings and demonstrations by Hamas sympathisers where the images and symbols of the Nazi party are now being invoked against Israel. We saw extraordinary and deeply troubling scenes in which crowds in front of Australia’s most famous landmark were chanting, ‘Gas the Jews,’ and worse. They are, in doing that, both at that event and others, invoking the Holocaust in support of Hamas, a collection of murderous terrorist thugs, rightly listed as a terrorist entity under Australian law. It is our responsibility in this parliament to do all that we can to halt the spread of this virulent antisemitic hatred, and the place to start is with the most potent antisemitic symbols, the symbols of the Nazi party.

I said before that this bill is long overdue. It has taken too long to get here and it falls short. It has taken too long because we as a parliament had the opportunity to address the proliferation of antisemitic symbols back in March of this year. The Leader of the Opposition has been at the very forefront of this effort. Together with the member for Berowra, he asked the House to move urgently to ban the symbols of the Nazi regime, to send a clear message that imagery which glorifies antisemitism and violence against Jews is never to be tolerated. Senator Cash did the same in the other place. The coalition put legislation before both chambers. It was legislation based on existing models which have been proven to be effective.

But in March of this year the Labor Party used its numbers in the House of Representatives to cause the House to decline to consider that legislation. In the Senate, Labor senators took the extraordinary step of calling for the coalition’s legislation not to be passed. Senator Green, on behalf of Labor senators, called for the Australian parliament not to pass legislation prohibiting the display of Nazi symbols because that legislation had been drafted by the coalition. It seems that the motivation was that they wanted it to be a government bill instead. You could not find a more troubling example of putting political imperatives, objectives and expediency above serving the people of Australia.

Instead of the parliament acting decisively on this issue eight months ago, the current Albanese Labor government decided to let the situation fester, and now Australia is in the intolerable situation in which we are seeing ever-rising incidences of antisemitism. This bill has taken too long and it falls short.

I observed before that the bill, as drafted by the government, prohibits some of the most powerful symbols of the Nazi Party but, for some baffling reason, does not deal with the Nazi salute. The salute is as intrinsic to the Nazi Party as the swastika. It is as well-known a symbol of the Nazi Party as the swastika. The salute is a gesture which glorifies antisemitic hatred and celebrates the murder of Jewish people. Yet, for some baffling reason, some inexplicable reason, some indefensible and unjustifiable reason, on three occasions now the Albanese Labor government has refused to deal with it. In March the government first declined to consider the coalition’s legislation. In May the government referred to vague constitutional concerns, the case for which has subsequently entirely failed to be made out, and again objected to coalition legislation. On the third occasion, in November, the government refused to deal with this matter when Labor members on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security said the prohibition of the Nazi salute would ‘not be appropriate as a federal offence’.

This is an approach which is simply cowardly. It represents a desire stated by government members to abrogate their leadership responsibilities, the responsibilities that fall naturally and appropriately to our national government, and instead to leave this matter to be dealt with by state governments. That is not an approach the coalition supports and is not an approach the coalition thinks is justifiable in any way. That is why the coalition will move amendments to improve this bill. The effect of those amendments will be to prohibit the public display of the Nazi salute in the same way this bill prohibits the public display of the Nazi swastika and the Nazi double sig rune. I hope the government will see sense and join us in this very important step in the fight against antisemitism.

I should acknowledge that there are other parts of this legislation. Other parts of schedule 1 prohibit the display of the Islamic State flag. Schedule 2 creates new offences prohibiting the use of a carriage service for violent extremist material. Schedule 3 strengthens offences around advocating terrorism and strengthens the associated penalties. Schedule 4 deals with the listing of terrorist organisations. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has made recommendations in relation to these parts of the bill, and we look forward to seeing the government’s response in due course.

In the meantime, I ask that every parliamentarian examining this legislation, in considering how he or she will vote, consider very carefully the amendments the coalition will bring forward and, in turn, support us in the essential fight against antisemitism.

Debate adjourned.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard