New federal laws to ban the display of Nazi symbols on the table in Canberra

NSW Council for Civil Liberties committee member Stephen Blanks yesterday told a hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in regard to The Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Nazi Symbols) Bill 2023 (the Bill) that the legislation didn’t “go to the heart of the problem”.

Mr Blanks argued criminal law was only one of the required tools to prevent Nazi ideology and wouldn’t be enough on its own. Freedom of expression does not give licence to individuals to engage in expression which engenders hate and incites violence. He said the proposed legislation must iron out any doubts over people who might be displaying Nazy symbols for educational purposes or other reasons who weren’t about promoting hateful ideology.

Far-right extremism is not a new phenomenon in Australia. We have observed that it has been on the rise in during the pandemic where white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups coalesced online around extremist beliefs with common themes. Less than a month after WorldPride, a celebration of the queer community, Australia saw a week of violence and hate perpetrated by far right Christian and neo-Nazi extremists against the trans, and wider queer, community. NSWCCL condemns these actions unequivocally and stands with the queer community in their push for stronger human rights protections in the face of rising hate. Violence has no place in our politics and must be universally condemned.

We especially wish to highlight one recommendation for improvement of the bill. As it stands, the bill would allow for the decision to prosecute lie with police and not the independent Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP). We consider this to be a problem and one which could open the state up to unnecessary critique from far-right extremists for acting oppressively in a non-transparent way. By ensuring that all prosecutions brought under the bill were authorised by the CDPP, who acts in accordance with public guidelines, it would add transparency to the decision to prosecute and ensure that it is above political critique. As the CDPP is used to exercising discretion in the public interest, it also adds another layer of protection for civil liberty in the event that scenarios arise where people engage in prima facie unlawful conduct which should otherwise be exempted from sanction on public interest grounds.

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