Australia on Thursday announced it will ban the public display of Nazi symbols, as the country wrestles with a small but increasingly brazen fringe of right-wing extremists.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government would introduce new laws criminalising the display and sale of Nazi insignia, such as the Hakenkreuz swastika and the SS lightning bolt.
Intelligence officials have warned that growing numbers of Australians are being drawn towards neo-Nazi ideologies, as extremist groups step up efforts to recruit new members.
“There is no place in Australia for symbols that glorify the horrors of the Holocaust,” said Dreyfus.
“And we will no longer allow people to profit from the display and sale of items which celebrate the Nazis and their evil ideology.”
The legislation will be presented to parliament next week and is expected to pass with opposition support.
Australian spy boss Mike Burgess last month said fringe cells of Australian neo-Nazis appeared to be growing increasingly bold, after a group of balaclava-clad men clashed with crowds at a transgender rights rally in Melbourne.
“It’s a sign that those groups are more emboldened and able to come out publicly in their recruitment – to push what they believe in and recruit to their cause,” he told a Senate hearing.
“We have seen a rise in people drawn to this ideology, for reasons we don’t fully understand.”
Australia’s national security agency has said that right-wing extremists make up around 30 percent of the country’s counter-terrorism caseload.
“In the case of the neo-Nazi groups, what we worry about is people who get drawn into that ideology and are not satisfied that there is not action, and they go off and do it themselves,” Burgess said.
An Australian-born white supremacist murdered 51 Muslim worshippers in the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand.
The Australia Jewish Affairs Council praised the proposed Nazi symbol ban, saying it was welcome “at a time when anti-semitism is rising globally.”
“Unless and until there are consequences for their actions, we can expect neo-Nazis to become more brazen, with all the destructive consequences they create for communal harmony and the rights of vulnerable minorities,” the council said in a statement.
Australia’s two most populous states – New South Wales and Victoria – have already restricted the display of Nazi symbols in public.
The nationwide ban would exclude the display of Nazi symbols for educational, artistic and similar uses.
It will also not apply to religious symbols, such as the swastika which is used as a symbol of good luck and prosperity by Buddhists and Hindus.