I rise to speak on behalf of the Victorian Greens on the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Salute Prohibition) Bill 2023. The Greens support this bill. We fully support it. We also believe that banning the Nazi salute is an important step towards curbing the threat of the sort of far-right extremists that we have been seeing, but it certainly should not be the last step in curbing these hateful ideologies. What we would really like to see is all the recommendations of last year’s parliamentary inquiry into far-right extremism being implemented in full as a matter of urgency, because what we have witnessed recently, as has also been articulated by other members, is the re-emergence of this sort of hateful extremism in a certain part of our society – more specifically, nationalist and racist violent extremism with elements of fascism, white supremacy and neo-Nazi beliefs and identity at its core. While this is obviously not new in Australia, what we have seen is just how frequent and blatant these displays of Nazism and far-right hate have been, publicly targeting the Jewish community; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; LGBTIQA+ people, specifically the trans community; and other racial and religious groups. We have seen groups of Nazis engaging in Nazi chants and salutes with immunity whilst the police can only look on.
What is actually leading to this is open to conjecture. There are a wide range of factors, but no doubt one factor is that we have been seeing an increasing number of politicians and leaders, both in Australia and abroad, that have been prepared at a minimum to dog whistle and tactically encourage and facilitate such views of hatred and rhetoric for political gain. A media investigation found evidence that this hateful movement wants to influence politics, with lists of sympathetic MPs to lobby and plans to try and get more politicians elected to espouse these sorts of views. As a local MP with an electorate with a really strong Jewish community, who meets with members of the Jewish community and visits local synagogues, schools and Jewish community groups quite frequently, I am incredibly mindful of the importance of this legislation and the need for further efforts to tackle antisemitic, extremist and dangerous ideologies.
As I said, this bill to prohibit the Nazi salute addresses one aspect, but there is a wider range of policies and approaches that need to be looked at. I referred to the Legal and Social Issues Committee, which undertook the Greens-initiated inquiry into extremism in Victoria and made a number of recommendations, including investing in more social cohesion and community building. We are pleased that the government has provided in-principle support to the recommendations and has committed to a range of reforms to counter violent extremists, but we would like see the government be bolder and go further than what has been outlined in its response to the inquiry. So far there has been a heavy emphasis on a justice response and a heavy emphasis on Victoria Police managing counterextremism. As I said, this is one tool in responding to the rise of neo-Nazis and hateful ideologies in this state. Additional tools that can be effective in stopping these hateful movements include supporting communities, building social cohesion, investing in anti-racism and anti-discrimination education and building trust in our political, social and civic institutions. These are important tools as well. I look at specifically the findings from that inquiry. Finding 38 states:
Anti-racism public education campaigns and education programs that teach respect and appreciation for multiculturalism are important for improving social cohesion in Victoria.
Another finding states:
Education about the Holocaust is particularly important for understanding … the consequences of racism and vilification throughout history and should have ongoing inclusion in the Victorian school curriculum.
Recommendation 7 states:
That the Victorian Government support the ongoing provision of … anti-racism education programs and actively seek to improve and increase the provision of such programs in the community.
There is another finding around digital and critical literacy skills for young people to navigate the internet safely and develop resistance to the influence of extremist messaging so they can critically analyse the information that they are exposed to. As I said, there are a wide range of tools that the government can use in combating the rise of this sort of hateful extremism, looking at what is driving people to these movements. The committee report canvassed risk factors like social isolation, economic insecurity and inequality, and certainly addressing these is part of the tools – like ending poverty, building communities and reducing inequality – that should also be used to tackle these hateful ideologies.
We have also seen links between far-right extremism and transphobia, homophobia and misogyny, and certainly any response to tackling extremism must look at this – the increasing hatred and vilification of our LGBTIQA+ communities. As we have put on the table, what we want to see is the government move on anti-vilification laws, which currently have protections on the basis of race and religion but not sexuality and gender identity. I understand that the government has undertaken its own process, but this has been going on for a very, very, very long time and now these are urgent and necessary reforms to take. The inquiry found that extremist movements cause harm to the community and that mainstreaming of homophobic and transphobic sentiments in the public discourse is legitimising the targeting of LGBTIQA+ Victorians. We saw this in action as recently as at the rallies on the steps of Parliament, where transphobes and neo-Nazis were vilifying and attacking our trans and gender-diverse communities.
The Greens will definitely support this bill, and it certainly must be the first step towards a comprehensive, whole-of-government response to the causes and consequences of far-right extremism and these hateful ideologies here in Victoria. We encourage the government to be bolder and go further and quicker in strengthening our community to stamp out these hateful movements as well as introducing anti-vilification measures to protect our LGBTQIA+ communities.