Almost two decades ago, for his 21st birthday party, the currently serving Premier of NSW, Dominic Perrottet, wore a Nazi uniform costume. The party, hosted by Perrottet, was attended by about 100 people at his Pennant Hills home. Perrottet, who was president of the Young Liberals at the University of Sydney in 2003, has blamed his actions on “youthful mistake”.
“Error of judgement”
The incident comes as a major blow for NSW Liberal Party ahead of the upcoming state elections on March 25, where the Coalition Government seeks its fourth consecutive term.
If it becomes an election issue for Liberals, it will show disunity of the party, says Dr John Hewson, Professor at the Australian National University and former leader of the Federal Opposition, for Keeping News Local:
“Dom Perrottet has apologised for the act of wearing a Nazi uniform at his 21st, so if it becomes an election issue, it will be about disunity within the party more than anything else. It is very sad that some in the party think that their personal political power games are more important than the interests of the party as a whole or even NSW.”
Perrottet’s surprise revelation during the media conference on Thursday 12 January occurred after an earlier phone call with Transport Minister David Elliott. It has caused a stir among NSW Liberal Party members, potentially jeopardizing Perrottet’s election campaign.
Was Perrottet ignorant?
It is difficult to accept that in 21st-century Australia, a student from one of Australia’s leading universities could be so ignorant about the symbols of evil, by wearing the Nazi uniform. Yet the laws at the time obviously did not prohibit the sales of Nazi symbols, a mistake which was partially rectified last year.
What other “youthful mistakes” could have been made and overlooked by other Australian politicians who chose to move beyond this incident and instead focus on “things that matter most for ordinary Australians” ahead of the March election?
The timing of the Premier’s revelation, after internal NSW Liberal Party rumours started circulating about the alleged Perrottet’s photo in a Nazi uniform, is at the source of internal NSW Liberal Party controversy regarding this issue.
The Oaths Act
SBS News reported that the leader of NSW Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Robert Borsak said that he would refer Mr Perrottet to police, as he could have potentially broken the Oaths Act when he signed a Liberal Party preselection document in 2010 and declared he had nothing to disclose that could embarrass the party.
Anybody who is found to breach the Oaths Act could face up to five years in prison.
“It’s long past time that he be held to account; he is not above the law,” said Mr Borsak, who is also deputy chair of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee.
Apology to the Jewish community
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese shared his view that “voters will judge the NSW Premier on his policies at the upcoming election, not on his youthful sins.”
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who is of Jewish heritage, welcomed Perrottet’s apology but added that “dressing up as a Nazi is not a joke.”
While Mr Perrottet has apologised to the Jewish community for his “grave and terrible mistake”, one of its elders Jeremy Jones, Director of International and of Community Affairs for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said for ABC News that the Premier will have to “live with the consequences of his actions”.
Jones believes that the incident has the potential to educate the wider community.
“It has been a good opportunity for us all to reflect on just how wrong it is to trivialize or to minimize, or to joke about Genocide and how we can now think about what we need to do to make sure that the values that we stand for are upheld by everybody in leadership positions right down to everybody in the community.”
Banning the display of Nazi symbols in NSW
Last August, NSW followed some other Australian jurisdictions in banning and criminalizing the public display of Nazi symbols, except in educational, academic or artistic circumstances.
“The events that occurred under the Nazi regime represent one of the darkest periods of recorded human history”, Attorney General Mark Speakman said on that occasion.
“The atrocities committed during that period are almost unimaginable, and the intergenerational trauma they have caused continues to be felt by many people today. This new offence sends a clear message that the display of Nazi symbols and the hatred and bigotry they represent will not, and should not, be tolerated”, said Mr Speakman.
Premier Dominic Perrottet’s error of judgment and “youthful sins” might cost him votes, particularly in so-called Teal seats where independent candidates are getting growing support ahead of the NSW Election on March 25.