FRESH AIR

Election campaign marred by swastikas, as MPs in various states consider ban

Apr 5, 2022 | Naomi Levin

An unfortunate trend that emerged during the 2019 federal election campaign seems set to remain a regrettable hallmark of the 2022 federal election campaign.

Image: Twitter

Swastikas and other Nazi-related symbols are being scrawled on political hoardings of candidates from across the political spectrum – especially, though not exclusively, Jewish ones. Treasurer and Liberal candidate for the Melbourne seat of Kooyong Josh Frydenberg, his independent challenger Dr Monique Ryan and Labor MP and candidate for the Melbourne seat of Macnamara Josh Burns have all posted images on social media of campaign billboards vandalised with Nazi symbols.

The good news is that there has been widespread condemnation from across the community for this activity.

To quote just a few, Labor Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Penny Wong commented: “This is disgraceful and should be universally condemned. We have seen what happens when hatred takes root in a society.”

Greens candidate for Kooyong Piers Mitchem stated: “This just should not and must not happen, and as a Kooyong candidate I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Never again.”

Dr Fiona Martin, Liberal Member for Reid, said “This is criminal behaviour.”

Dr Martin is correct that vandalism is criminal behaviour, however it is worth noting that defacing campaign posters is not in itself a breach of the Electoral Act 1918 and there is no Australian jurisdiction that currently bans the public display of Nazi symbols, including Nazi swastikas. However, this may be about to change.

Image: Twitter

On March 29, NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman announced the NSW Government would legislate to criminalise the public display of Nazi symbols.

This followed the introduction by NSW Shadow Minister for Police Walt Secord of a Private Members Bill on this issue, followed by a report produced by the NSW Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues expressing cross-party support for such a ban.

In January 2022, Queensland Parliament’s Legal Affairs and Safety Committee conducted an Inquiry into Serious Vilification and Hate Crimes and among its recommendations, proposed a ban on the public display of both Nazi and ISIS symbols.

In September 2021, the Victorian Government signalled its intent to legislate on the public display on Nazi symbols after conducting a thorough review of religious vilification laws in the state. AIJAC understands that drafting of this new law is currently underway.

Nazi symbols and Holocaust comparisons are becoming increasingly common in political discourse, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when they have been appropriated by coronavirus conspiracy theorists and the anti-vaccine movement.

While these laws are unlikely to stop night-time vandals defacing election material, they would send a clear message to the community that Nazi symbols are not acceptable in Australian public discourse.

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