04 October 2023

DE MARTINO (Monbulk) (12:02): It is an honour to speak on the Summary Offences Amendment (Nazi Salute Prohibition) Bill 2023. I would like to begin by acknowledging the powerful contributions today in this place from the members for Malvern and Caulfield and you, Acting Speaker Hamer. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the Attorney-General and all those who have worked so hard on this important legislation as well as the previous legislation which banned the Nazi Hakenkreuz last year. We were the first government in this country to do so. Once again we were leaders and we were not laggards, and we continue to ensure that Victoria is a place where people are respected and where diversity is recognised as a strength.


This bill goes another step further to address the performance and display of the Nazi salute as well as Nazi gestures and symbols in public. Many of us here – I am sure all of us here – remember the egregious display of this offensive and repugnant gesture, being the Nazi salute, by the members of the National Socialist Network on the steps of Parliament back in March. We were all shocked, as well we should have been. As a government at that point in time we committed to banning that salute, and that is what this bill proposes to do. It will also ban the public display or performance of any symbol or gesture used by the Nazi party and its paramilitary, including the Schutzstaffel, the SS, the bolts symbol; the Totenkopf, which is the Nazi skull used by the SS; and any symbol of the Nazi paramilitary organisations such as the SA or Sturmabteilung – excuse my poor pronunciation – the National Socialist Motor Corps and the National Socialist Flyers Corps.


Whilst I am incredibly proud to be part of a government which calls out hate and division in our society and commits to doing something about it – and I am incredibly proud of the bipartisanship which exists for this too – I am also profoundly disturbed that a need exists for us to have to do this in the first place. It is incongruent to me that in this beautiful state of Victoria and in one of the most multicultural and livable cities in the world we have neo-Nazis. That anyone would glorify, even deify, the Nazis and Adolf Hitler and adopt their symbology to intimidate and incite fear and hatred is baffling to me, but here we are. I support this legislation with every fibre of my being. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, and here in Victoria the previous Andrews and the current Allan Labor governments have stated quite forcefully that we simply do not accept these displays of hate, division and racism in our society, especially when the intent behind them is to incite fear and foment unrest. I have said it before, and I will say it again: our diversity is our greatest strength. Division merely fractures a society and leaves devastation in its wake.


Acting Speaker Hamer, thank you for sharing your compelling arguments and stories for why this legislation is so vitally important. I was listening to the list of the performance of Nazi salutes, and it was far too long. It was staggering in its length. The experience of Jewish students being subjected to antisemitism is truly awful. As a former teacher, there is nothing worse than seeing children throw around words that they should not use. Thankfully in my time I did not hear it, but it is rising now, and the question was posed – why – by you, Acting Speaker. That is a question we all do need to ask ourselves: why? I feel that probably part of the answer is that these children are so far removed from the generations who experienced it. I am the granddaughter of a World War II veteran. His story was part of my story, so it was spoken about in the family. I will talk about him a little bit more. My children were not around to even meet him or know him, so they are a generation removed. That is why education, as has been mentioned in here today, is so vitally important. The legislation is important – the education equally so. I will talk on that a bit more as well.


The member for Caulfield’s discussion of the Holocaust survivor Abe was particularly touching, and I would just like to pay my respects to Abe – and I wish him all the best on his 99th birthday tomorrow – as well as the other 19 Holocaust survivors, who have, I am sure, pushed through trauma in order to continue telling their stories. It is incredibly painful to revisit things like that, and the courage that they have displayed and continue to display to keep the memory of the atrocities alive so that we do not forget is something to behold. We must remember or be consigned to repeating the mistakes of history if we do not become good historians and learn from them.


The bipartisanship here today sends a clear message to those out there who identify as neo-Nazis, that their symbols of hate, division, racism and death will not be tolerated in our state of Victoria. Their numbers, we have to remember, are minuscule, and their ideology is abhorrent to the vast, vast majority of Victorians. There is simply no place for that salute or their symbology in our society. Almost a million Australians, both women and men, served in the Second World War. Across Monbulk, in my district, there are six RSLs with a proud history and a significant veterans community. There are still a few World War II service personnel with us here today. They have fought against the Nazis, both literally and figuratively. Seeing neo-Nazis on the steps of our house, our Parliament House, our symbol of democracy in this state, is an affront to them, is an affront to all those they are related to who were persecuted and is an affront to those who survived the persecution. It is an affront to us all.


I know my nonno, who fought in the Second World War as a conscripted soldier in the Italian army, would have been appalled. Despite the fact that Italy was originally in the Axis group with Germany, most of my nonno’s compatriots despised the Nazis. They saw their brutality and immorality. I know that my husband’s grandfather, the son of a German Jew who moved to England, would have been disgusted. He was born in England, but his father was a German Jew, and he fought in the Second World War. For him it was even more personal. He had Jewish relatives back in Germany, many of whom did not survive the Nazi regime. It so happened that my husband’s grandfather was in the British battalion that liberated Bergen-Belsen. It took him half a century to mention it to his family. He could barely talk about the horror that he saw. Thanks to the British archives I have actually listened to the firsthand accounts of those who were there to liberate the 60,000 prisoners who were on the brink of death. In fact about 19,000 of them died shortly after liberation; they could not be saved.


All I can wonder is what they would make of the cowards who call themselves neo-Nazis and adhere to the philosophies of one of the most hated and murderous regimes we have ever known. That is why I think it is important that we address the history behind these symbols and salutes – so that we do not forget. It was murder on a level never seen before. It has already been explained: 6 million European Jews were killed. To put that into context, greater Melbourne’s population this year is estimated to be 5.235 million. The population of Victoria is 6.78 million. It is pretty much wiping out all of us. And it was not just the Jews who were targeted and murdered, as has also been mentioned. They were responsible, the Nazis, for the persecution of many other groups of people. Poles, Sinti and Roma were viewed as racially inferior and were subjected to death in labour camps. Church leaders and Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to salute Hitler or opposed Nazism were rounded up. Gay men and transgender women were arrested. Some were sent to concentration camps. Lesbian communities were harassed and destroyed. People with mental and physical disabilities were also killed as part of a euthanasia program, part of the Nazis’ belief in eugenics and eliminating people with so-called ‘inferior genes’. They also persecuted political opponents, revolutionary authors and artists, Red Army political officers and Soviet prisoners of war, to name a few.


In total, it is estimated that in addition to the 6 million Jews who were murdered, another 6 million to 11 million non-Jews were also killed. That means the Nazi regime murdered somewhere between 12 million and 17 million people. So it is vitally important that our younger generations are aware, and a significantly important reform we have made in education is the requirement that all Victorian government school students must be taught about the Holocaust in their year 9 and 10 history curriculum program. Our future adults need to know about the horrors of the past to inoculate themselves from history repeating itself. So when we see those symbols and gestures and we feel that revulsion, we need to ensure that our younger generation feels that revulsion with us as well. We will not stand for that here in Victoria, and I am proud to be a part of this government.