Skip to main content

Media conference – Melbourne

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: Nazi hate symbols

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Over the past year, just metres from here in Melbourne, we've seen the appalling and disturbing display of hatred, Nazi flags and symbols displayed on the streets of our city. There is no place in Australia for symbols that glorify the horrors of the Holocaust. The Albanese Government will introduce legislation next week, to criminalise public displays of the Nazi Hakenkreuz and the Schutzstaffel, that's the SS hate symbol, and ban the trade in these items. And we will no longer allow people to profit from the display and sale of items which celebrate the Nazis and their evil ideology. I find it almost unthinkable that this legislation is even necessary. Thousands of Australians fought and died to defeat this evil and thousands more found refuge in our country from the evils of the Holocaust. But we do need to act and we do need to make it clear that we will not tolerate this kind of conduct. Today the Albanese Government is acting. I want to thank the many, many community groups that we've consulted about this, Jewish groups and members of other religious communities, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, and I want to assure them that they will not have their sacred symbols affected by this ban. This is a ban that is about those who promote hatred and seek to divide us.

JOURNALIST: Does that include tattoos and if not will that be considered?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is a ban on the public display of two particular Nazi symbols, the most prominent of the Nazi symbols, that's the Hakenkreuz and the Schutzstaffel the SS symbol, and yes, I'd be I would be questioning why anybody in Australia in 2023 would want to have a tattoo of one of these symbols.

JOURNALIST: Have you written to the states about the ban and how it would be implemented?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This law that we'll be bringing to the Parliament next week will mesh with the existing state and territory laws. Most states and territories have already legislated and the remainder have indicated that they are intending to legislate. There are some differences. In particular, this Commonwealth law is going to prohibit trade in these items, and it will be useful complement to the existing state laws. JOURNALIST: (indistinct) history or displaying history. You can't erase history.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is about a trade in this memorabilia and we think that, of course, there's room for museums, there's room for academic work, that there will be exemptions for literary, academic, scientific or religious use of these symbols. But where this is about glorification of the symbols of hate, where this is about glorification of the horrors of the Holocaust, where this is about spreading hate, and violence and anti-Semitism in our community that should have no part to play in modern Australia and that's why we are introducing this ban.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe it will be difficult to police online trade?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course, all activity online is difficult to police but once you have criminalised this conduct it's capable of being reported, and action can be taken.

JOURNALIST: What are some of the punishments that people could expect to face?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This law will provide for a penalty of up to 12 months imprisonment, which sends a very clear signal that the Commonwealth of Australia treats this very seriously.

JOURNALIST: Why can't the Federal Government, or why is the Federal Government leaning on the state and territories to ban the salute?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We think that the appropriate place to deal with that is state law. State and territory police are on the street, if you like, the Australian Federal Police are not. It's already dealt with in some of the state laws and we think that's appropriate. As I said earlier, this is about a law which will mesh with existing state and territory law and the proposed laws that the other states are going to bring in.

JOURNALIST: What about those who say it doesn't go far enough, we should be banning more symbols?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The purpose of this law is to identify, directly prohibit the two most prominent of the Nazi symbols. And no one should think of this as an end. This, if you like, is a beginning, if we need to do more, we will.

JOURNALIST: You spoke of the march, particularly the one a few months ago on the steps of parliament. What do you have to say to the people that engaged in that behaviour?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That they should cease this behaviour. That they should understand that there's no place in Australia for those who are seeking to glorify hatred and violence and anti-Semitism. And we want to send the clearest possible message from the national government of Australia that this conduct should end.

JOURNALIST: We know that far right extremism is on the rise of Australia, particularly here in Victoria, do you know what's driving this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Think that I'll leave that for sociologists and others, and perhaps political commentators to speculate about what might be driving this. What we do know is that there has been a rise in this kind of activity. It's been identified by the Director-General of Security, that's the boss of ASIO, over the last three year in each his annual State of the Nation Security reports, for the last three years. It is a concern, we want to be taking action, we are taking action on something we can deal with, which is the public display of these Nazi symbols and prohibiting the trade of memorabilia bearing these Nazi symbols and we want to make sure that this is brought to an end.

JOURNALIST: You said there was consultation with religious groups who use the swastika as a symbol of divinity. What were some of their thoughts on the Federal Government's actions?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Those groups understandably want to make sure that the use, religiously, of the swastika symbol is exempt from this law and it will be.

JOURNALIST: We've had some people say that this will fix the symptom of the rise of neo-Nazi displays, of far-right, extremism, but not the cause of it. What else is the Government doing to try and tackle the cause?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I'm not going to attempt to explain why a small number of people in Australia today think that adhering to, or espousing the sort of ideologies of hate and glorification of Nazism do what they do. What I can say is that we can bring in laws to ban public display, which is what this is about, and national leaders, everyone in the Australian Parliament, ministers in the Australian Government, state ministers, state parliamentarians and community leaders can call this out. We fought a war, the Second World War, against the horrors of Nazism, of course also against Japan. But tens of thousands of Australian servicemen and women died in fighting against Nazism. One of the things that has really struck me is that the kind of conduct we've seen over the last little while would have been unthinkable in the 1950s, or the 1960s or 1970s in Australia. And it would have been unthinkable because of the recent memory that people had of the horrors of the Holocaust and the recent memory that those returned soldiers had of why they had fought the war against Nazism. And I don't think we should forget. So if it's something that we are seeing, a little bit of a rise in activity from this small number of Australians, let's call it out. And this law is about, in part, calling it out. Nothing further? Thank you very much.