Federal ban on Nazi symbols 'a matter of urgency'

·2-min read

New laws to ban Nazi symbols could be fast-tracked after the government was told it should be a matter of urgency.

The opposition introduced its own bill in the Senate to outlaw the use of such symbols, but a Labor-chaired committee found the draft laws raised problems.

These included how the bill would be enforced, whether it would stand up to a constitutional challenge and unintended consequences included making martyrs out of Nazis.

The Sydney Jewish Museum said language and gestures were also used to promote anti-semitism and discrimination and that neo-Nazi groups would be able to use actions not banned under the legislation.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry said the bill needed to be flexible enough to cover the constant evolution of new racist symbols and actions.

Other religious groups also cited the need to carve out the use of the swastika for cultures that consider the symbol good or benign as it was originally derived from an ancient symbol for wellbeing or peace.

The committee also heard about the unintended consequences of the bill, including that the banning of the public display of Nazi symbols could hinder police investigations into extremism.

But the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation didn't agree it would impact investigations.

Legal academic Bill Swannie said criminal proceedings would amplify Nazi views and cause further harm to marginalised communities.

Doubts were also raised about the bill's constitutionality.

"The committee wholeheartedly supports the intent of this bill," Labor senator and committee chair Nita Green wrote in the final report.

"The committee is concerned that the bill would not be upheld in a constitutional challenge. An unconstitutional law with no legal effect would fail to achieve the laudable intent of the bill."

Senator Green recommended the government introduce its own bill as a matter of urgency.

But she added legislation alone would not be enough to stamp out the abhorrent ideology.

"To be effective, such legislation should be accompanied by a broader suite of measures, including education and awareness raising," she said.

Liberal senator Paul Scarr issued a dissenting report, saying there was no reason the opposition's bill couldn't be quickly amended and passed.

"Whilst some technical issues have been raised ... in good faith, there is no reason why these cannot be quickly resolved through amendments developed in a bipartisan manner and drafted with the assistance of the Attorney-General's Department," he said.

Senator Scarr said states had moved to enact their own bans on Nazi symbols.

"The federal parliament needs to act. The time to act is now," he wrote.