The red and black flag, which has a swastika surrounded by several other Nazi-related symbols, has been flying over the couple’s home in the Mallee town of Beulah, about four hours from Melbourne.
Its presence has outraged several neighbours, who have complained to police. The local council has also been made aware of the flag but has no powers to have it taken down.
Mr Andrews said anti-Semitism was on the rise. “That is a fact. Jewish community leadership … made that point to me many, many times. The stats show that,” he said.
“It’s completely unacceptable for anybody to be flying what is perhaps the ultimate symbol of hate and that is just that flag. It’s just disgusting behaviour, nothing justifies that whatsoever and it should come down.”
It comes as the state government prepares to review Victoria’s anti-vilification laws after Reason Party MP Fiona Patten pushed to widen the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. It is expected the committee will look at the public display of paraphernalia such as swastikas.
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews said the inquiry would “see if there are any gaps in our laws” around vilification.
“On the broader issue there is a parliamentary inquiry in relation to racial vilification with a real focus on some of the increased anti-Semitic behaviour that we have seen in recent times. We will make a submission to that if we haven’t already. I know the Attorney-General and I met with a number of Jewish community groups late last year to discuss the nature of the submission we would make,” he said.
Beulah police have received multiple complaints from neighbours about the flag over the past fortnight, but officers are not sure what recourse they have.
“We are currently investigating and awaiting legal advice as to what, if any, offences have been committed,” Leading Senior Constable Shayne Riggall said.
The matter has also been brought to the attention of Yarriambiack Shire Council, however, chief executive Jessie Holmes said the council did not have the power to request the home owners take it down.
When contacted by The Age, home owner Cheryl Lawdorn, who bought the house with her partner last year, defended her right to fly the flag over her own home because of her German ancestry.
The chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, Dr Dvir Abramovich, who has been campaigning nationally to ban the sale and public displays of Nazi materials and insignia, described the flag as a “stomach-turning outrage that is a stain on our community”.
“The flying of the Nazi flag in the skies of our nation is like plunging a dagger in the heart of Holocaust survivors and spitting in the face of the Diggers who fought to defeat Hitler and his genocidal regime,” he said.
“This goes beyond owners’ rights, and we all have a responsibility to speak up when such hateful acts take place.”
When State Parliament resumes this year, Dr Abramovich will call on the government and the opposition to immediately pass legislation banning the public display of Nazi insignia.
Liberal MP James Newbury, who is the deputy chair of the legal and social issues committee, condemned the flying of the flag and said he believed it had “no place” in society.
“The Nazi swastika represents racial supremacy and is in reality a symbol of mass genocide. The Victorian Parliament is currently reviewing our state’s anti-vilification laws. My view is that the flag incites hatred and has no place in our modern society,” he said.
The inquiry will look at the effectiveness and enforcement of the act, whether it should be extended to protect groups who don’t currently fall under the act, how to address online vilification and whether there is increasing vilification in Victoria.
Simone is a crime reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Age, and before that for The Australian in Melbourne.