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Labor has rejected a Coalition proposal to ban the Nazi salute, in a rare split of federal parliament’s powerful security and intelligence committee on the heated issue of restricting the display of hate symbols.
The parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security was, however, united in calling for the government to drop a plan to ban the public display of the Islamic State flag because of concerns that it would criminalise the displays of legitimate Islamic imagery.
Coalition committee member Andrew Wallace.Credit: Rhett Wyman
In dissenting comments in a committee report released on Wednesday, Coalition members said they “strongly disagreed” with the Labor majority on the committee who argued the proposed ban on Nazi hate symbols should be limited to symbols such as the swastika and Nazi flag.
As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton clashed in question time over rising antisemitism, Liberal MP Andrew Wallace, the deputy chair of the committee, said in a written statement: “It beggars belief as to why government members won’t support the banning of the Nazi salute.”
Wallace said that “sickening scenes in our own backyard recently demonstrate we’re not immune from hate and antisemitism here in Australia”.
The Coalition did not issue a dissenting report, but instead disagreed with some of the majority report’s recommendations. In May, Coalition members issued the first dissenting report of the committee’s 17-year history.
Campaigners opposed to immigration give the Nazi salute in Melbourne in May.Credit: Justin McManus
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry called for the Nazi salute to be banned as well as other symbols linked to the Nazis.
“Coalition members of the committee believe that there is no more important time for the … Australian government to stand with the people of Israel and ensure that to the greatest extent possible, all forms of Nazi symbology, including that of the Nazi salute be prohibited under the bill,” wrote the Coalition members, including home affairs spokesman James Paterson and defence spokesman Andrew Hastie.
Peter Khalil, the Labor chair of the committee, said the government’s intention to outlaw symbols but not the salute was informed by federal police advice, noting laws could not be effective unless they could be enforced.
“The Coalition was in government for nine years and never lifted a finger to outlaw these hateful symbols. Peter Dutton was home affairs minister for over three years and did nothing. This inaction occurred during a period of rising right-wing extremism,” Khalil said.
Peter Khalil, the Labor chair of the parliament’s joint committee on intelligence and security.Credit: Alex Ellinghausn
The Labor majority on the committee said it “strongly condemns the actions of those who would seek to intimidate the parts of the Australian community with physical gestures such as the Nazi salute”.
“However, the committee is of the view that such an offence would not be appropriate as a federal offence, but rather is an appropriate matter for state and territory law,” they wrote.
“This acknowledges that it is state and territory police that have a presence in communities to respond to such conduct.”
Victoria recently outlawed the Nazi salute.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Peter Wertheim said he was disappointed the committee had not supported a federal ban on the Nazi salute.
“This issue should be addressed in a uniform way through national legislation rather than through piecemeal, state-based laws,” he said.
While the committee recommends outlawing displays of the Nazi flag and swastika, the ancient Hindu form of the symbol will be protected.
The committee was unified in its view that the government’s bill should be amended to remove the Islamic State flag from the definition of a prohibited hate symbol.
Instead, it called for the government to consider establishing a new offence that would prohibit the public display and trade of symbols associated with listed terrorist organisations.
Muslim groups, religious leaders and experts had warned the committee that the government risked criminalising legitimate displays of Islamic imagery and infringing Muslims’ right to practise their religion by banning the Islamic State flag given its similarity to other Muslim iconography.
“The bill places Australian Muslims in jeopardy of having their religious practices policed and even criminalised,” the Australian National Imams Council said in a submission to the committee.
The black flag used by Islamic State includes the Shahada, an affirmation of faith that states “there is no god but Allah/Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”. It is the first of five pillars of Islam and features prominently in Islamic architecture and artwork.
Raihan Ismail, an expert in political Islam at the Australian National University, said the bill’s wording was “dangerously broad” and, unless it was rewritten, “no Australian Muslim could feel free to display a black flag, or indeed any flag, containing Arabic script”.
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