The tension between freedom of speech – which encompasses free expression – on the one hand, and hate speech on the other has been a topic of controversy for many years.
Whereas proponents of unfettered free speech argue that a a healthy, functioning democracy must allow anyone to express themselves in any way they please without censorship, those in favour of laws which place limits on expression point to the fact the mental health, reputation and indeed physical safety of other persons can be undermined in an instant if anyone can say anything they pleased.
Indeed, laws have been in place for hundreds of years to prevent the potentially catastrophic effects of unfettered speech and expression, from laws against inciting violence and sexual offences against others, to those against intimidation, to defamation laws and, perhaps less impactful, offensive language laws.
The world’s most evil regime
The Nazi regime is generally considered the most abhorrent and evil history has ever seen.
The genocidal actions against persons of the Jewish faith, and systematic massacre of many other ‘undesirable’ groups saw the merciless slaughter of millions through the late 1930s until 1945.
The impact of the conduct of Adolf Hitler and his followers will never be forgotten to history, and the ability of the Nazi Party to gradually rise to power through the use of extreme right-wing rhetoric – accompanied by symbols and indeed gestures – is a cautionary story – one which demonstrates how exploiting the frustrations and prejudices of a majority group can lead to crimes against humanity, and which we must never allow to repeat itself.
The appalling crimes of the Nazis were perpetrated under the Nazi salute, so one must ask: Why would any right-minded human being use the Nazi salute? And how could any reasonable society do anything other than move to prohibit the glorification of these atrocities, act to prevent further violence and crime being conducted under it and ensure the slow boil towards right-wing extremism never happens again?
Victoria moves to ban the Nazi salute
In a move welcomed by those against fascist ideologies while criticised by right-wing extremists, Victoria has announced it will make it a criminal offence to make a Nazi salute.
The move comes on the back of disturbing scenes over the weekend at an anti-trans protest in Melbourne, where around two dozen men from a group names the Nationalist Socialist Network (NSN) marched brazenly made the salute and chanted hateful rhetoric to intimidate trans people and those who support their right to live freely without being subject to discrimination, hate and indeed intimidation.
Victorian Attorney General Jaclyn Symes says it’s clear the gesture is being used to ‘incite hatred’ against a vulnerable group of people.
Commentators have called far-right activist NSN the ‘modern day face’ of Nazism and their conduct ‘evil, pure and simple’.
The Andrews Government is keen to implement the ban as soon as possible, although Jaclyn Symes has tempered the haste, saying it “will take some time” to get the laws right.
Is an ‘authoritarian’ ban the way to go?
Since the announcement, questions have been raised about whether the Andrews’ Government’s ‘blanket ban’ approach is really the right solution, after all, ‘blanket bans’ have a tone of authoritarianism – a significant hallmark of the Nazi regime.
And while it’s easy to say that we should stop these groups because they’re bigoted and intimidating as well as a threat to democracy and inclusivity – absolutely, that’s true – it’s also true that in a democracy we have the right to personal freedom of choice, when it comes to our beliefs.
Certainly, this is a complex issue, because there’s also an argument that such extremist groups tend to thrive on this kind of notoriety and this makes them more appealing to young people who gravitate to their ideas. So, it stands to reason that the latest media headlines and swift Government response could also potentially become a recruitment tool for the NSN.
There are also questions about whether legislation to ban the Nazi salute will actually achieve anything and suggestions that prohibition could actually have the potential to be used against the very people it is supposed to protect.
And, if the salute is banned, won’t these groups simply find different symbols and gestures, resulting in the Government to continually re-draft legislation everytime something new comes along?
There are calls for the Andrews government to draft legislation that targets Nazi ‘glorification’ rather than specific symbols. Such legislation then, would not amount to a blanket ban across the board, but allow for context and intent to be included in the law.
The ban on Nazi symbols in Australia
Last year, the Victorian Government successfully banned the public display of the Nazi symbol in recognition of its role in inciting antisemitism and hate.
The state’s Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022 makes it a criminal offence for a person to intentionally display the Nazi symbol (the Hakenkreuz, often referred to as the Nazi swastika) in public.
Anyone who intentionally displays the Nazi symbol in public will face penalties of up to almost $22,000, 12 months’ imprisonment or both.
The law in New South Wales
New South Wales was quick to follow suit. Intentionally waving a Nazi flag in New South Wales or displaying memorabilia bearing swastikas (including tattoos) is a criminal offence under Section 93ZA of the Crimes Act 1900. The maximum penalty for the offence is a 12 month prison term and / or a fine of $110,000 for an individual, or $550,000 for a corporation.
In recent days the Queensland Government has said it will make it illegal to display Nazi swastika tattoos as part of its ban on hate symbols. New South Wales has already implemented a ban on displaying the symbol, in applying the restriction to tattoos. Western Australia and Tasmania are also moving to include tattoos in their proposed bans. And Tasmania is now looking to include a ban on the Nazi salute as well.
As many have suggested, perhaps it is time that we outlawed these painful reminders of a particularly horrific time in history.
In the meantime, Victorian Liberal MP Moira Deeming’s future hangs in the balance. She has vowed to fight opposition leader John Pesutto’s push to expel her from the Liberal party room for attending the rally over the weekend. Ms Deeming says she did nothing wrong by attending the event, which she claims was ‘gatecrashed’ by members of the NSN.
And all of this has taken away from what many people found offensive in the first place – the Let Women Speak Rally.
Posie Parker in NZ
The rally was organised by controversial British anti-transgender activist Kellie-Jay Keen, also known as ‘Posie Parker’. The debate of the past couple of days has also focused upon whether Ms Keen should have been allowed into Australia in the first place, given her strong views opposing transgender rights.
The next stop on her tour is New Zealand, but as appalling footage from the Victorian rally over the weekend continues to circulate media and social media, Immigration Officials across the dich are now reviewing her visa application, to determine whether she will be allowed to enter the country. She has denied any association with the neo-Nazi group which turned up at the rally outside Parliament House.