Zali Steggall MP speaks on prohibiting hate symbols (Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment) Bill 2023

29 November 2023



 I rise today to speak to the important Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill 2023, and I will be supporting this bill. It is an important step to stomp out hate speech across our country. The rise we have seen of far-right, white-supremacist and antisemitic ideology in recent years has been alarming. We're also all too familiar with the hateful ideologies born of Islamic State and the damage that has caused across the world, and even more so the rise in Islamophobia and that kind of hate speech. Terrifying is the willingness of those indoctrinated by hateful ideologies of all type to proudly display symbols of hate. These symbols are used to intimidate, harass, cause fear and make many in our community feel unsafe.

This bill establishes new criminal offences in several respects. Firstly, it criminalises public displays of or trading in goods bearing prohibited Nazi and Islamic State symbols. Secondly, it criminalises using a carriage service, such as postal or courier services, to possess or disseminate violent extremist material. Thirdly, it expands the existing offence of advocating terrorism to include instruction on doing a terrorist act and praise of a terrorist act in specific circumstances. Lastly, it removes the sunsetting requirement for classifying terrorist organisations as such. I commend the government for proposing an amendment to the bill in recent days to include banning the Nazi salute in public.

So, we need this bill, and it is important, because it relates to something we need to address. Many in this place will argue that it's about keeping our community safe, but it is about saying what the standards and the values that we wish to uphold are and that hateful ideologies have no place in a liberal democracy and in Australia. It is about protecting our democracy.

But I say that with a little bit of concern, when I consider the bill that the government and the coalition have just voted in favour for. Great consequences may flow from these types of crimes under this proposed legislation, such as a 14-year-old finding themselves stripped of their citizenship and sent from Australia, even if born in Australia. So I am on one hand incredibly supportive of banning and making a criminal offence of this hateful speech and symbols, but I am concerned, when I consider the other legislation just passed, about the ramifications of every conduct that is made a crime.

In protecting our democracy, we do need to keep ahead of morphing and changing threats to national security. The ASIO director-general, Mike Burgess said:

As a nation, we need to reflect on why some teenagers are hanging Nazi flags and portraits of the Christchurch killer on their bedroom walls, and why others are sharing beheading videos. And just as importantly, we must reflect on what we can do about it.

Obviously when we're talking about teenagers we have to then acknowledge the consequences that the government and the opposition wish to flow in relation to children. But I echo the sentiments, and this bill goes some way to addressing the concern that Mr Burgess outlines. I know these are concerns that we all share in this House. We can stop the display and dispersal of overt hate symbols and speech that are vulgar and have no place in Australian society.

Only last month, three Sydney men were charged with behaving in an offensive manner in or near a public place or school and knowingly displaying by public act a Nazi symbol without excuse. This alleged behaviour took place outside the Sydney Jewish Museum in Darlinghurst. The museum is a treasured place for many Sydneysiders. It includes exhibits relating to the Holocaust, during which six million Jews were killed under the Nazi regime. Although this case is still before the courts, it's exactly the sort of behaviour that symbols of hate can help inspire.

The Nazi salute should be banned in public, as the government now proposes to include in this bill. We must never forget why these symbols of hate are what they are today and what they represent. Millions lost their lives. The pain is still felt through the generations of their descendants around the world and the few elderly survivors of the Nazi atrocities who are still with us today. Such symbols play a role indoctrinating those who would cause and have caused harm to this day.

I also note that the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has caused incredible angst amongst many in our Jewish and Muslim communities. Symbols of hate have been used to intimidate and harass. We must call this behaviour out. We must, in this place—as politicians, as leaders of our communities—ensure a respectful discourse. We must ensure social cohesion and not inflame already red-hot tensions. We must ensure social cohesion. As a successful multicultural nation, where over half of our population are in fact dual citizens, we must not import foreign conflict. We must value our social cohesion and value our multicultural aspect. I know that many of my constituents in Warringah share my concern about social cohesion and want more to be done to stamp out the hatred of extremist ideologies and how they manifest. So I support this bill, but I urge the government to continue to examine what further legislation may be needed in this area to stop the spread of hatred and extremist ideologies.

Writing for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in 2022, former police officer Kristy Milligan argues that the implementation of legislation such as the bill before us today is 'critical for law enforcement to effectively manage existing and emerging risks associated with extremist activity'. Ms Milligan's research highlights that there are many far-right symbols beyond those identified in this legislation today that also can be used as tools for recruitment, messaging across social media and causing intimidation in public settings. Other symbols that have often been identified on social media are used for people of certain ideologies to identify with one another and to incite that vilification. It's vital that we ensure our legislative framework is able to give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to eradicate such hatred. It's clear that a constant review is going to be needed as to what hate symbols should be included.

The proper tools are needed to keep our communities safe. We must ensure that these symbols cannot be used to inspire or to recruit for criminal or even terrorist acts. We know what such inspiration can lead to. We must never forget that it was an indoctrinated white supremacist born here in Australia who killed 51 Muslim worshippers in March 2019 in the terrorist attacks in Christchurch in New Zealand. We want to ensure that these symbols cannot inspire these horrific acts of terror ever again. This bill is a step in that direction. I know the government takes this issue seriously. The legislation is needed, and needed now, but more must be done in the evolving and challenging threatscape that inspires extremist ideologies.

I urge the government to further outline measures they will take on this issue, particularly on the monitoring of online content and on holding social media companies responsible. We cannot let hate and division win, so I urge the government to stay vigilant.