Jewish community celebrates landmark introduction of hate crime legislation

The ability for antisemites to spread, disseminate and inflict hate in Queensland is one step closer to being criminalised, thanks to the landmark introduction of hate crime legislation into the Queensland Parliament today.

The Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies (QJBD), the roof body of Queensland Jewry, celebrated this achievement and acknowledged that in the past those who chose hate were let off lightly.

“Previously, people could peddle their antisemitic venom with only a potential misdemeanour, civil penalty and slap on the wrist,” QJBD president Jason Steinberg said.

“We thank the Parliament’s Legal Affairs and Safety Committee and the Queensland Government for their efforts to introduce this legislation, which will send a clear message that racial hatred and vilification is not welcome in this state. 

“We know that 60% of Jewish Queenslanders have experienced hate, and I’d like to acknowledge the courage of those who came forward to share their personal stories to the Parliamentary Committee – their testimonies, as painful as it was for them to share, were so important for lawmakers to hear,” Mr Steinberg said.

The legislation will make it a criminal offense to display Nazi hate symbols, which was part of the QJBD’s submission to the Parliamentary Committee review in July 2021. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry also played a significant role in assisting the QJBD with important input and high-quality research that was included in the submission.

“Hate begins with words and symbols and we’ve seen a number of public displays of Nazi hate symbols over recent years. Most recently, the Queensland Police arrested three men for their role in propagating these hate-fueled symbols – but could only charge them with minor offenses,” Mr Steinberg said.

“Our society needs to remember the lessons of how these symbols of hate became the visual identity of the Nazi regime that slaughtered 6 million Jews and 5 million others – people with disabilities, Roma and Sinti communities, gay men, political opponents and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“The introduction of this legislation and criminalisation of these symbols means that future generations of Jewish people in Queensland can breathe a little easier knowing the police will now have laws under which they can act.”

Mr Steinberg also commended the efforts of other multicultural communities involved in the Parliamentary Review.

“I’d like to thank and acknowledge the contribution of the Cohesive Communities Coalition who provided the clarion call to initiate a review of the 30 year-old laws. This forum gave communities a respectful space for individuals and groups to come together to work towards a unified goal: a more harmonious Queensland.

“This new legislation protects the basic right of all citizens, not just Jewish people, to go about their daily lives free from racial hatred and vilification with the unimpaired capacity to participate – to the best of their abilities – in all aspects of the life of their community.”

The banning criminalisation of racial hatred was part of the QJBD’s submission to the Queensland Parliament’s Inquiry into vilification and hate crime laws in July 2021. The QJBD also advocated that legislation would need to be flexible enough to accommodate the constant evolution of new hate symbols, and the recognised ancient religious use of some symbols such as the swastika.

“We are pleased that the legislation provides mechanisms for the evolution of hate symbols and recognition that symbols are permitted when the purpose is clearly not to promote hatred,” Mr Steinberg said.

“For example, the swastika in certain formats has, for centuries, been a religious and cultural symbol in several eastern and European traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. 

“Similarly, Nazi symbols should be available to be used as a way to educate the public about the appalling history of Nazism or for other genuine academic, research or scientific purposes.”