Displaying Hate Symbols (Qld)

In 2023, the Queensland government passed legislation to strengthen the state’s responses to hate crimes and vilification. Among other things, the new laws make it an offence to display ‘prohibited symbols’ that are associated with violent extremism, such as Swastikas. This page outlines the laws against displaying hate symbols, the reasons for their passage and the different community responses they have been met with.

Reasons for the changes

The amendments have been passed in response to a surge in hate crimes in recent years and to the increasing presence of neo-Nazis at public events. The Attorney-General has denounced these elements of society and called for their views to be publicly condemned.

The changes follow a parliamentary enquiry into Queensland’s existing laws, which found gaps in laws around hate speech both online and offline.

It is hoped that the new laws will better protect diverse communities in Queensland from vilification.

Prohibited symbols

Under section 52C of the Criminal Code (Serious Vilification and Hate Crimes) Act 2023, it is an offence to publicly display, distribute, or publish a prohibited symbol in a way that may cause a member of the public to feel menaced, harassed or offended without a reasonable excuse.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of a fine of 70 penalty units or six months imprisonment.

A person has a reasonable excuse if they:

  • engaged in the conduct for a genuine artistic, religious, educational, historical, legal or law enforcement purpose; or
  • engaged in the conduct in the public interest; or
  • engaged in the conduct in opposition to the ideology represented by the symbol; and
  • the conduct was reasonable in the circumstances.

The legislation does not include a list of symbols that are prohibited. Instead, symbols can be listed as prohibited symbols by regulations. This means that the list of symbols that are prohibited can be regularly updated to reflect the symbols that are in use by extremists. Currently, the symbols and gestures that are prohibited include the Swastika and the Nazi salute.

A symbol is publicly displayed if it is displayed in a place used by the public or if it is visible from a place used by the public.

Hate crimes

Under section 52B of the Amendment Act, there is now a circumstance of aggravation that applies to a range of offences under the Criminal Code 1899 and the Summary Offences Act 2005 where the offence was motivated by hate or serious contempt for a person or group of persons based on their actual or assumed race, religion, sexuality, sex characteristics, or gender identity.

When this circumstance of aggravation is present, a higher maximum penalty applies.

This circumstance of aggravation applies to the following offences:

  • going armed so as to cause fear
  • threatening violence
  • disturbing religious worship
  • common assault
  • assault occasioning bodily harm
  • threats
  • stalking
  • wilful damage
  • public nuisance
  • trespass

Offences under the Discrimination Act

Under the amendments, the vilification offences under the Discrimination Act 1991 have been broadened to include public conduct that involves communicating or displaying symbols or gestures.

Responses to the ban on displaying hate symbols

While many lawyers, activists and community groups have hailed the new Queensland laws as offering better protections to minorities, the changes have also received criticism.

Some voices have expressed concern that the laws could be misused to prosecute people using prohibited symbols for legitimate purposes as they rely on police assessing the context in which a symbol is being used.

The changes follow similar reforms that have been made in New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria criminalizing the display of certain symbols and gestures. The federal government has also recently introduced legislation that will make it a commonwealth offence to display Nazi symbols or the Islamic State flag.  

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

Author

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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