Stance toughens on extremism as police thwart neo-Nazis

Sam Lock and Andrew Brown |

Police in Sydney continue to confront a far-right group across the Australia Day weekend.
Police in Sydney continue to confront a far-right group across the Australia Day weekend.

Laws against incitement should be tested in court in order to stop extremist groups flaunting their racist ideology, the Nationals leader says as police tackle a far-right group on the Australia Day weekend.

Police broke up another neo-Nazi demonstration in Sydney on Sunday morning, the third consecutive day such a gathering has taken place on the city’s north shore.

NSW Police said about 30 men at Artarmon Reserve were served with a public safety order prohibiting them from entering further local government areas.

The group dispersed and there were no arrests, police said in a statement.

NSW Premier Chris Minns condemned the gatherings as pathetic and embarrassing.

“No one wants this. They’re importing hate into NSW,” he told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.

“If it wasn’t so serious it would be pathetic.

“It’s clearly embarrassing to see a group of blokes dressed up in all black on a 40 degree day wearing balaclavas.”

NSW Premier Chris Minns
Chris Minns is considering bolstering laws on white power salutes to be more in-line with Victoria. (Flavio Brancaleone/AAP PHOTOS)

Police first took action on Australia Day against a group of about 60 hooded men wearing black masks and clothes who boarded a train at Artarmon before being intercepted by police at North Sydney station.

The swift action thwarted their plans to march through the city, with six arrested and a further 55 fined for offensive behaviour.

Australian neo-Nazi leader Thomas Sewell was among those ordered to stay out of the Sydney CBD on public safety grounds and the group later marched through northern Sydney, closely observed by police.

On Saturday evening police broke up another gathering in North Turramurra, issuing a public safety order extension.

The premier indicated he was open to strengthening laws on so-called white power salutes to be more in line with Victorian laws which overtly ban the hand gesture in addition to the state’s existing ban on Nazi symbolism.

“We’re looking at the laws and examining them to make sure that overt Nazi gestures and symbols are outlawed in NSW and we’ll make sure that the people of NSW are safe and we protect the tenets of our multicultural, harmonious community,” he said.

Nationals leader David Littleproud
Nationals Leader David Littleproud wants anti-incitement laws tested in court to stop extremists. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Nationals Leader David Littleproud weighed in on the issue, saying hate laws banning Nazi salutes and similar gestures will only work if people are actually charged.

“There’s already anti-incitement laws that are in place and neither state or federal government have actually tested them in a court of law,” he told Nine’s Weekend Today show on Sunday.

“So I think it’s important we actually do follow through.”

Australians are lucky to live in a country where people are prepared to call these people out and contact police, because “this isn’t the message that society wants to hear”.

The neo-Nazi group also drew the ire of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who said the head of Australia’s domestic spy agency had repeatedly warned of the rise of neo-Nazis and right-wing extremism.

“It has no place and it has rightly been condemned by all decent people,” Mr Albanese said.

Police officers stand outside the North Sydney train station.
Police stopped a train into Sydney’s CBD carrying a group of men dressed in black on Australia Day. (Brent Lewin/AAP PHOTOS)

It comes as the federal government looks to introduce new religious discrimination laws in coming months.

The proposal would seek to protect people from hate speech and vilification based on their faith.

Laws banning people from performing the Nazi salute in public or displaying symbols such as the swastika came into effect earlier in January.

The federal laws banning Nazi salutes came after similar state prohibition on the gesture in Tasmania and Victoria.

Passage of the legislation came following a rise in anti-Semitism and the use of Nazi symbols by far-right groups.