Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (16:19): I rise to speak in support of the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022. The government moved an amendment in the Legislative Assembly to bring forward the commencement of the bill by six months, from 12 months, which will allow for sufficient education and awareness in the community. I am glad that we have bipartisan support for this legislation.
The main purpose of this bill is to amend the Summary Offences Act 1966 to make the public display of Nazi symbols an offence. The bill implements recommendation 24 of the 2021 Legal and Social Issues Committee inquiry into anti-vilification protections in Victoria to ban Nazi symbols in public. This bill plans to tighten anti-vilification protections in Victoria. This bill ensures all Victorians are free from racism, defamation and bigotry and feel welcome and accepted. Hate behaviour and vilification can injure someone physically and psychologically, prohibiting them from participating in their community. There is a concern about the rise in public Nazi symbolism. Recent displays have used the Nazi symbol, also known as the Hakenkreuz, to convey hate and intimidation, considering its association with Nazism. Nazi and Neo-Nazi symbols are repulsive to all segments of society, especially our Jewish population. Melbourne boasts the world’s biggest per capita population of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel.
Firstly, we must understand the difference between the Nazi symbol and the swastika. The symbol the Nazis used was not the swastika but the hooked cross, and the name that they used for it was Hakenkreuz. The warped Nazi symbol is Hakenkreuz, which means a twisted or hooked cross in the German language. Mr Fowles, the member for Burwood in the other place, very clearly emphasised that we need to get the nomenclature right and have a clear understanding of the word ‘Hakenkreuz’ and the word ‘swastika’. To avoid any confusion, I want to make a clear distinction here that I will use the word ‘Hakenkreuz’ for the Nazi symbol and the word ‘swastika’ only for the symbol that is sacred and is being used by the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities. Education about this distinction begins in the Parliament, starting with us, the MPs.
The Hakenkreuz, or the hooked cross, is a symbol of hatred, embodying painful and traumatic memories of the Third Reich, which committed horrible crimes against humanity, especially Jews. After the atrocities of the Holocaust the Hakenkreuz became a symbol of Nazism associated with genocide and hatred. The swastika is one of the most ancient symbols of purity and positiveness across the world. The Nazis used the distorted version to commit heinous crimes against humanity. The name ‘swastika’ originates from Sanskrit language roots. ‘Su’ means ‘good’ and ‘asti’ means ‘to predominate’, and it indicates welfare, health or good fortune. In Hindu philosophy it represents the four Yugas or cyclical seasons, the four ends or objectives of life, the four stages of existence and the four vedas.
The bill recognises the cultural and spiritual significance of the swastika and differentiates it from the Nazi Hakenkreuz. We see a significant difference between the Nazi symbolism for hatred, which will be banned, and a genuine religious symbol of peace—the swastika—which should be welcomed and celebrated. The government recognises the swastika’s cultural and religious significance for Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cultures. The Buddhist symbol, known as ‘manji’ in Japanese, represents the Buddha’s footsteps. To Jains it refers to a spiritual guide. In India it is a symbol of the sun deity, with a clockwise direction, and the auspicious symbol is drawn on thresholds and store doors as a message of welcome, as well as on cars.
Mr Ondarchie: On a point of order, Acting President, this is a very sensitive bill to many, many communities, and most of the speakers in this house have been afforded silence today. I ask that Ms Vaghela be afforded the same.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Okay. Could everyone just keep it down so we can hear better, thanks.
Ms VAGHELA: Thank you. In India it is a symbol of the sun deity, with a clockwise direction, and the auspicious symbol is drawn on thresholds and store doors as a message of welcome as well as on cars, religious literature and letters. The swastika is displayed for weddings and other festive occasions, the decoration of a new home, the opening of account books at the beginning of the fiscal year and the commencement of a new endeavour. For centuries Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism have revered the swastika. The government says these religious and faith communities should continue using the swastika unfettered and it will not be a crime to do that.
The public display of the Nazi emblems harms and frightens Jews and other Third Reich victims. Swastikas and Hakenkreuz are visually similar and may appear identical, but the sacred swastika and the hated Hakenkreuz have very different meanings. The bill acknowledges these parallels but clarifies that Buddhist, Hindu and Jain use of the swastika should never be considered offensive. All the committee members and the community members involved in creating this bill have done a commendable job by clarifying the distinction between the swastika and the Hakenkreuz.
I am proud to be the first Indian MP in Victoria and the first Indian-born Hindu MP in Australia. Being the only Indian MP in Victoria and also being a Hindu MP, I was approached by the Hindu Council of Australia and many other key stakeholders from the Victorian Hindu community once the anti-vilification protections report was tabled in the Parliament. I am thankful to the Hindu Council of Australia, Melbourne Shwetambar Jain Sangh and all of our Hindu community organisations for giving their valuable time and working closely with me so that I could give them a better understanding of the bill to alleviate some of their earlier concerns regarding this bill. I worked with them to get their feedback and kept them updated with this bill and its context as it is applicable to Hindus and the swastika. The Victorian Hindu community endorses this bill to eliminate the vilification of Victoria’s Jewish population. Though some concerns exist that the violation may lead to the vilification of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities who continue to display the swastika lawfully, the bill itself acknowledges these concerns and the need to ensure the offence does not harm faith communities.
The bill introduces a criminal offence under the Summary Offences Act 1966 that forbids wilfully displaying a Nazi sign in public if the person knows or ought to reasonably know that the symbol is affiliated with Nazi philosophy. The offence in the bill was carefully written to safeguard these faith communities’ right to display the swastika. The bill prescribes a ban for the public display of the Nazi symbol—the Hakenkreuz, not the swastika. The Hakenkreuz is explicitly banned since it is the most commonly recognised Nazi and Neo-Nazi emblem and its display can cause harm and offence to our Jewish community and many other groups mentioned in the bill, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, LGBTIQ+ people, people with disabilities and other racial and religious communities.
The offence in the bill has two elements. Firstly, the offence has an intention element which requires that the person intentionally displayed a Nazi symbol in a public place or in public view. Secondly, the offence has a knowledge element, requiring that the person knows or ought to know the Nazi symbol is a symbol associated with Nazi ideology. Publicly displaying a Nazi symbol can result in a year in prison, a 120-unit fine or both. Unreasonable refusal to remove content is punishable by 10 penalty units. This penalty is commensurate with vilification offences under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.
The bill offers exceptions to the offences as per the committee report. The exceptions are based on the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 with certain adjustments to fit the offence. The bill includes two exceptions which are not currently contained in the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. The cultural exception recognises that while the swastika has Hindu, Buddhist and Jain origins its application is often religious and cultural. The religious purpose exception defined in the bill is crucial for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains to continue displaying the swastika as a sign of purity, love, peace and good fortune. These exceptions represent stakeholder comments concerning various situations where the Hakenkreuz or swastika can be shown legally. Religion and culture are often inseparable. The bill includes a distinct cultural exception to guarantee faith and cultural communities can continue using the swastika with confidence. The bill offers instances of how the swastika is utilised by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain faiths to educate, train and raise awareness about the religious exception.
The bill will commence six months following royal assent. I do understand the intent of the amendment that Mr Davis was planning to bring today regarding this bill. I am advised today that Mr Davis has withdrawn his amendment that he was proposing to put forward, which was seeking to reduce the time frame from six months to two months after royal assent for this bill. There is a general consensus amongst the Victorian Hindu community that if this time was further reduced there would not be enough time to complete community education. Community education’s expected outreach is vast. Some of the major areas where this is required are for Victoria Police, protective services officers, schoolteachers, members of Parliament, councils, shopping centres, retailers, interfaith networks et cetera.
The responsibility for the community education about the sacred swastika lies with the Victorian government. It is recommended that the content of the community education should be in multiple languages. Considering the extent of the education, it is recommended to the Victorian government that it plan and speed up the process of education. The Victorian Hindu community would not have supported a further reduction of the time frame from the current six months for implementing this legislation to two months after royal assent. A six-month time frame after royal assent will give Victoria Police time to plan, develop and conduct a community education campaign on the history of the religious and cultural swastika, its value to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and other religious communities and its distinctiveness to the Hakenkreuz.
In collaboration with the Victorian government and on behalf of the Victorian Hindu community, the Hindu Council of Australia propose to launch a swastika awareness and education campaign, an initiative meant to bring about awareness regarding the swastika, one of the most sacred symbols for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains around the world. Through this campaign, along with awareness and education, they hope to foster a mutual understanding of the swastika with other communities and prevent misunderstanding and misuse while imparting much-needed education on hatred and intolerance in today’s world. The Hindus recognise and acknowledge the transgenerational trauma of the 6 million Jews, 1.5 million Romani and others killed by Nazi persecution and the chilling, intimidating effect of Nazi-inspired hatred on Jewish Australians and others even today. Hindus believe in the fundamental concept of dharma and peaceful coexistence and have never tolerated hatred towards others. Hindus have provided shelters to persecuted communities, including Jews, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists and others due to their inherent aversion to hatred. It is imperative that we equip our children with proper knowledge about world cultures and religions so that they can develop mutual respect, and that must be the cornerstone of any multiracial, multiethnic and inclusive society. Victoria is a very big state with a complex structure of governance consisting of state, federal and local council authorities. A very large portion of the campaign energy will be utilised to bring awareness to and educate frontline workers, police, kindergarten educators and healthcare workers.
Another important pillar of the campaign should be to work with Victorian media organisations and educate and persuade them to adopt appropriate terminology while reporting. Small businesses and big corporate groups that employ a large number of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist Victorians also need to be targeted by education and awareness campaigns. A range of different methods and tools can be used individually or jointly by the Victorian government to reinforce each other and to raise awareness of the swastika—for example, producing educational resources, such as reports, studies and infographics; holding or participating in events, such as thematic discussions, round tables, seminars, webinars, workshops, conferences, debates, exhibitions and presentations; utilising radio, including community radio, as a powerful means to spread information and raise awareness; producing audiovisual material, such as television, video and documentary film; using the internet, including online forums, petitions, groups and interactive websites, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter; engaging the media through press releases, briefings, newspaper articles and opinion pieces; and conducting media campaigns. The arts, including art, satire, spoken word, music and theatre, can be a powerful vehicle to raise public awareness and consciousness. Such an extensive education campaign would not have been fulfilled in two months. The community is looking forward to all the help and support of the government of Victoria and the Victorian Multicultural Commission to achieve an inclusive and respectful place to live and work and get an education for Hindus, Jains and Buddhist Victorians.
The swastika has been around for thousands of years, and it is used by many cultures as a symbol of peace, wellbeing and auspiciousness. We hope that individuals and institutions will learn to differentiate between the swastika and the Hakenkreuz and that they will rightly denounce and condemn the Hakenkreuz and what it stands for. I commend the bill to the house.