The public display of Nazi symbols is now an offence in Victoria. There has been a recent increase in the public display of Nazi symbols in Victoria and the legislation was introduced to 'assist in combating racism, vilification and far-right extremism in our community'.1
Amendments were made to the Summary Offences Act 1966 in June 2022 to introduce new Division 4C (sections 41I to 41M) which contains an introductory statement, definitions and the offences. These offences will come into effect from January 2023 to allow time for compliance with the new laws.
Meaning of 'Nazi Symbol'
The introductory statement in the legislation distinguishes between the swastika used as 'an ancient and auspicious symbol of purity, love, peace and good fortune in Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and other religions' and the distorted version of the swastika used by Nazi groups known as the Hakenkreuz (meaning twisted or hooked cross in German).
The legislation explains that 'the Hakenkreuz became a symbol of the Third Reich, under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people. The Hakenkreuz is a symbol of antisemitism and hatred and of an ideology fundamentally incompatible with Victoria's multicultural, multiethnic and democratic society'.2
The Act defines a Nazi symbol as either being the swastika version known as the Hakenkreuz, being a symbol of the cross with the arms bent at right angles in a clockwise direction OR a symbol that so nearly resembles it that it might be mistaken for that symbol.3
It is now a criminal offence to display a Nazi symbol or refuse to remove a Nazi symbol.
41K – Public Display of Nazi Symbols
Under s 41K4, it is an offence to intentionally display a Nazi symbol if the Police can prove that you know (or should reasonably know) that the symbol is associated with Nazi ideology and this display is in a public place or is within sight of a person who is in a public place. The penalty for this offence is 120 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment (or both).
There are a number of exceptions to the offence. So long as you are acting in good faith, these include:
- for a genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose; or
- for a genuine cultural or educational purpose; or
- in making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or
- in opposition to fascism, Nazism, neo-Nazism or other related ideologies.
Further, it is not an offence if a Nazi symbol is displayed on your body by means of tattoo or other process.
Under s 41L – Direction to Remove Nazi Symbol From Public Display
The Police may direct that you remove a Nazi symbol if they believe you are committing an offence against s 41K.5 This direction can be given orally or in writing and must include the compliance period. If the direction cannot be given in-person, the Police can leave a notice at the property where the Nazi symbol is displayed or leave a notice on a vehicle where the symbol is displayed. You can be fined 10 penalty units for not complying with a valid request for removal of a Nazi symbol.
It is now an offence to display a Nazi symbol in public unless you have a legitimate cultural, artistic or religious purpose. A Nazi symbol is specifically the swastika version known as the Hakenkreuz (meaning twisted or hooked cross in German). If you should reasonably know what this looks like and purposefully display it in public, you may be charged. You can display the symbol also if you are protesting against Nazism (for example displaying the Hakenkreuz with a line or a cross through it). You will not be charged for having a Nazi symbol tattooed on your body. If the Police ask you to take down a Nazi symbol, you must comply or you can be fined for refusal.
1 Explanatory Memorandum, Summary Offences
Amendment (Nazi Symbol Prohibition) Bill 2022 (Vic)
2 s 41I, Summary Offences Act (Vic)
3 Definitions, s 41J, Summary Offences Act (Vic)
4 s 41K, Summary Offences Act (Vic)
5 s 41L, Summary Offences Act (Vic)