The growing threat of far-right extremism in Australia has prompted opposition lawmakers to propose a new law to federally criminalize the public display of Nazi symbols. Experts say Australia’s response to white nationalism is similar to that in other countries.
A parliamentary inquiry in Australia’s federal parliament Tuesday heard the Nazi salute and swastika were universally recognized symbols of mass murder and hate that have been weaponized by far-right extremists.
The Australian Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is considering a proposed new law introduced by the shadow attorney general, Michaelia Cash, a member of Australia’s conservative opposition.
Her bill was introduced in parliament just days after a group of men from the Nationalist Socialist Network — a fringe Australian organization — repeatedly performed the Sieg Heil salute on the steps of Victoria’s state parliament in March.
Greg Barton, a terrorism expert and professor of Global Islamic Politics at Deakin University, said that the proposed new law in Australia is like those introduced in other countries.
He told VOA Wednesday that the international response to far-right symbols and gestures varies. Nazi symbols are banned in Germany, but not in the United States.
“There is a long-term example of Germany being much tougher for understandable reasons on Nazi symbols and Nazi ideas in public expression. Across Europe there is sort of a mixed pattern,” Barton said.
“It frankly was not a big problem in Australia. So, law tends to follow need once it became clear that there was now Nazi activity and they were deliberately using these symbols to try and get media response and to try and get attention and to try and recruit.”
Barton added that the global rise of white nationalism is a challenge for authorities.
“We have though seen since the Second World War groups all across the world that have been attracted to what they think are the powerful ideas of national socialism and to the symbols and imagery partly perhaps because it is just seen as being so much an outlaw activity that it has its own power of attraction,” Barton told VOA.
“There has been a long history in Australia, not large but increasingly growing — Growing quite rapidly across Europe and North America and certainly if you look at violent extremism the number one motivation for attacks and, unfortunately, deaths in America at the moment is by far various forms of far-right extremism.”
Australia’s Department of Home Affairs has described the current threat from Neo-Nazi groups as “complex, challenging and changing”.
Under the proposed laws, a person who knowingly displays a Nazi symbol in Australia would face a fine of up to $18,000 and up to 12 months in prison.
Most Australian states and territories have already banned the swastika, an ancient hooked cross motif that was appropriated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis in Germany in the 1920s.