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Podcast interview – The Briefing

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: Nazi salute and hate symbols

SACHA BARBOUR GATT: Hi there, Sacha Barbour Gatt with you for this extra episode of The Briefing. The Albanese Government has today made the call to ban the Nazi salute, taking a previous decision in June to outlaw Nazi symbols a big step further. I'm joined today by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to discuss the implications of the ban, how it will work and why it's needed. Thank you, Attorney-General for joining us on The Briefing today. First off, tell us about this legislation and what it will mean.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Over the past year we've seen unthinkable, disturbing and appalling displays of anti-Semitic hatred and violence and symbols in our communities. And in recent weeks, I'm sad to say, we've seen a heightening of that kind of unacceptable behaviour. Back in June I introduced legislation to criminalise the public display of, and trade in, Nazi hate symbols. The simple basis for that is there's just no place for hatred and violence and anti-Semitism in Australia. We've had that looked at by the Intelligence Committee, they reported to the Parliament on the 15th of November. They've made some small suggestions for change to the bill. I'll be moving amendments tomorrow to the bill which will, among other things, ban the public display of the Nazi salute - that's adding to the ban on the display of Nazi symbols. We want to send the clearest possible message that there's no place for this kind of behaviour in Australian society.

BARBOUR GATT: Have you got the states on board with this to enforce it effectively?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Two states, Victoria and Tasmania, have already legislated to ban the Nazi salute. Other states have banned Nazi symbols. It's of course the case that Commonwealth criminal laws can be enforced by either the Australian Federal Police or by state police.

BARBOUR GATT: I want to talk about the whole conflict in Palestine and Israel and what's happening there. We have seen an increase in anti-Semitism and also anti-Muslim sentiment, it's worth noting, since that conflict broke out. Is that kind of the driving force behind this decision to add these amendments to the bill?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We introduced this legislation back in June, several months before the Israel-Hamas conflict again. Our Government is committed to the safety and wellbeing of all Australians. There is no place for anti-Semitic conduct and there is no place in our society for Islamophobic behaviour. Some weeks back our Government announced grants of $50 million to supporting Australian communities affected by the ongoing conflict. There's $25 million to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and $25 million to Australian Palestinian, Muslim and other communities that are affected by this conflict. These measures are intended to address both immediate and longer-term impacts being felt across communities. We do have to do more to promote resilience and respect across the Australian community, but I'd stress this bill was brought to the Parliament back in June.

BARBOUR GATT: Yeah, no, absolutely. And this issue of anti-Semitism and a perceived increase has been in headlines long before the Gaza conflict kind of broke out on October 7.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's right, we've seen a heightening of it in in recent weeks, but it was already there.

BARBOUR GATT: I wanted to ask you, and in fact, this plays right into that, in Melbourne we've seen some really horrific images of groups of men throwing out the Nazi salute at protests. How would these new laws be enforced in that sort of situation where video emerges online of these groups who usually have masks on and they're wearing hats and they're hard to identify? It's been seen as a protest so police haven't had the powers to necessarily prosecute under that specific legislation that they're doing the Nazi salute. How will that work going forward if we see similar images in the future?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Nazi salute is an evil and offensive gesture. I've said that right from the start. It has no place in Australian society. And the police have got - both state police and the Australian Federal Police - have got very strong investigative powers. By criminalising misconduct, we provide a basis for people engaging in this kind of conduct to be charged.

BARBOUR GATT: Do you think it's important, more important now than ever before, for this sort of legislation to be passed through, not only from a criminal perspective in being able to prosecute these people who either display the images or do the salute, but also for the perception of the Australian public of taking a strong stand against anti-Semitism?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Absolutely. This is a moment for the country to come together. That's why we need the support of all members of this Parliament to come together, and I'm confident that that will occur, to pass this legislation. This is personal for me. I find it unthinkable that in this country, which provided refuge to my father, to my grandparents, to thousands more who fled the Holocaust, that some people could still be seeking to celebrate the ideology that murdered those families and millions of others.

BARBOUR GATT: Take us through the timeline of how long we can expect before this is enacted into law and these people can start being prosecuted.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'll be moving these amendments and debate is intended to be completed in the House of Representatives this week. The bill will then go to the Senate and we will be seeking to have it passed through the Senate before the end of the year.

BARBOUR GATT: What about the future, Attorney-General, in terms of, you know, this conflict is still continuing with, like we said, we've seen this anti-Semitism prior to the conflict breaking out, what are you hoping to see in the next year or so in Australia? Not only with these laws, but also with anti-racism movements in a broader context, like I said, also including things like anti-Islamic rhetoric?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It ought to be a matter of pride in our country, which is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, that everybody is free to practice their faith, everybody is free to live in our country without fear of discrimination. We've got a pretty good record, but we can do better. This bill is part of that effort to do better. It's something that every national leader, every Member of Parliament, every community leader should be working towards, that we don't have division that we don't have discrimination, that we don't have vilification of people because of their faith or their beliefs or who they love or anything, any differences. It's very important that we end discrimination in our country. It's a long project. I think we've made great strides over my lifetime but there's more to be done.

BARBOUR GATT: What have been some of the representations made to you by community leaders in the Jewish space? What have they told you about how this impacts them and their communities?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I've sadly had people in the Jewish community, of which I am part, talking to me about an increase in anti-Semitism in recent weeks, but it's been present for a long time in our community. When you now have people experiencing abuse in the street or children at schools being abused because of their Jewish faith, that is obviously a matter of extreme concern and it has to end and we have to do everything possible to make it end.

BARBOUR GATT: Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, thank you so much for your time today and for chatting with us on The Briefing.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's been a pleasure. Thank you