Displaying Nazi Symbols (SA)

In 2023, the South Australian government passed legislation making it an offence under the Summary Offences Act 1953 to publicly display Nazi symbols. The move has occurred in response to the rising level of activity by neo-Nazi groups and the rise in antisemitic incidents across Australia. This page outlines what will be unlawful in South Australia under the new laws and why they have been passed.

Background

The amendment was introduced to bring South Australia into line with other states, most of which have introduced similar offences. Attorney-General Kyam Maher stated that the laws would send a clear message that the most widely recognized symbols of hate, violence and intolerance have no place in South Australia and to ensure the state remains safe and inclusive.

What is a Nazi symbol?

The legislation defines a Nazi symbol as including:

  • a hakenkreutz (Swastika);
  • a symbol that so closely resembles a hakenkreutz that it could easily be mistaken for one;
  • any other symbol prescribed by the Regulations.

The offence of displaying Nazi symbols

Under section 35B of the Summary offences Act, it will be an offence to intentionally display a Nazi symbol if:

  • the accused knows, or ought reasonably to know, that it is a Nazi symbol
  • the display occurs in – or in sight of a person who is in – a public place, a non-government school or a post-secondary institution.

The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of $20,000 or imprisonment for 12 months.

Defences

A person charged with an offence of displaying Nazi symbols has a defence if they were displaying the symbol for a legitimate public purpose. A display occurs for a legitimate public purpose if it is done in the public interest for one of the following purposes:

  • for a genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose;
  • for a genuine cultural or educational purpose;
  • for the purpose of making or publishing a fair and accurate report of an event or matter of public interest;
  • in opposition to Nazism, fascism or related ideologies.

It is also a defence if the accused can prove that the symbol was tattooed onto their body before this offence became law.

Police may direct removal of the symbol

Under section 35C of the Summary Offences Act 1953, the police will have the power to direct a person to remove a Nazi symbol from display if they believe an offence is being committed.

If a person does not comply with this direction, they may be fined up to $1250.

Other jurisdictions

Several other Australian states have criminalised the public display of hate symbols such as swastikas. In Queensland, the public display of hate symbols generally is prohibited. In Victoria, the display of Nazi symbols is an offence. The federal government has introduced legislation that will prohibit the display of specific symbols associated with violent extremism, including the Islamic State flag and the Swastika.

Responses to the new offences

The new laws have been welcomed by some but criticised by others. While some community voices have praised the new offences as providing better protections for minority groups and making clear society’s condemnation of violent extremism, others have criticised them as being unlikely to achieve their aims.

Criticisms of the offences have included the following:

  • that the laws only address extremism at a very superficial level and that little will be achieved by outlawing the public display of symbols when the underlying sentiments remain
  • that criminalising Nazi symbols may lead extremists to display them more frequently
  • that penalties such as fines and terms of imprisonment are ineffective ways of addressing extremism
  • that criminalizing specific symbols is the wrong approach, given that there are many other symbols in use in association with various violent extremist groups.

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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