Australian state of Victoria is the first to ban Nazi symbols, swastika

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The Australian state of Victoria – home to Melbourne – passed legislation on Tuesday banning the public display of Nazi symbols such as the swastika. It is the first jurisdiction in the country to impose restrictions on the swastika, which has been appropriated by far-right extremists.

The law comes as Australia faces a spike in ideological extremism. A top federal police official told a public broadcaster in October that the number of far-right terrorism investigations increased by 750 percent in about 18 months, although religious extremism still posed a greater threat. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization, a domestic security agency, said in 2019 that about a third of its counter-terrorism investigations related to right-wing extremism. That year, an Australian gunman 51 people killed at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“One of the most worrying aspects of these studies is the growing number of young people – mainly young men – who are radicalising,” the agency wrote last year.

The The law, which goes into effect in six months, contains punitive measures that can include jail time of up to 12 months, a fine of up to about $15,000, or both. State lawmakers held a hearing last week in which experts largely agreed on the need to deter extremism, although rights groups like Liberty Victoria warned that the law should not undermine freedom of expression.

“The Nazi symbol glorifies one of the most hateful ideologies in history — its public display only causes more pain and division,” Attorney General Jaclyn Symes said.

Although the majority of Australians are of European descent, the country has a rapidly growing Asian population. Immigration has also made it one of the most multicultural countries in the western world.

Legislators in Australia’s five other states — New South WalesQueenslandSouth AustraliaTasmania and Western Australia — have proposed to restrict the disclosure of the swastika. Several European countries, including Germany, also have restrictions on Nazi symbols.

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“Australia has a long history of far-right activity, but it has certainly intensified in recent years,” said Levi J. West, an extremism expert at Charles Sturt University. “The pace has increased dramatically in the post-Christchurch period.”

The new law includes certain exceptions for religious and educational use. “Parliament recognizes the lasting importance of the swastika as an ancient and auspicious symbol of purity, love, peace and happiness in Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other religions,” the bill’s authors wrote. The abuse of the swastika is an insult to these worshipers, she added.

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