Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre’s entry rules will be tightened in the wake of complaints about a “regular” patron flaunting a prominent Nazi symbol tattoo.
Footscray resident Tom Tanuki said he was visiting the popular centre last month when he came across the man, bearing a large swastika tattoo on his chest.
When he raised his concerns about the situation with a lifeguard at the pool, he was told that the patron was “a regular” and that complaints had been raised before.
Mr Tanuki escalated his complaint a manager, only to be told that nothing could be done as it would discriminate against the man’s right to use the centre.
“The question was, were they going to do anything about it after we had a conversation with them? Well no, they weren’t,” he said.
“They were doing some sort of free speech absolutist thing to protect the liberties of this fascist.”
Mr Tanuki said such a stance meant the council was failing to meet its obligations to other patrons, despite knowing there is a large multicultural population in Maribyrnong.
“He’s an open white supremacist, but we didn’t say they had to cut the tattoo off their chest, we asked could he not clothe up so as to not intimidate other patrons in there?
“They were talking to us about discrimination – well it’s a discriminatory symbol. It openly advocates for discrimination, genocide in fact. The council needed to be expressing some kind of solidarity with the community.”
Dr Dvir Abramovich, chairman of civil rights organisation the Anti-Defamation Commission, said the situation showed the need for local councils to examine their policies around the appropriate use of council operated spaces.
“There is no denying that it would be traumatising and chilling for parents and children attending a local swimming pool to confront an individual adorned with a Nazi swastika, which is the universal symbol of murderous evil and hate, and is a call for a world without Jews and minorities,” he said.
“We need to remember that for many, especially Holocaust survivors or their descendants, seeing the swastika would tear a hole in their heart, and is as frightening as having a gun pointed at them.”
Dr Abramovich said local councils should declare that the public display of the swastika is intimidating and terrifying to community members, and ensure that patrons are either asked to cover up such symbols or leave council premises if they refuse to do so.
Maribyrnong Council originally responded to complaints by indicating that it only has the ability to exclude someone from the centre is if they breach council policies, break the law, or behave in a violent or aggressive way.
But acting community services director Bridget Monro-Hobbs told Star Weekly that Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre’s conditions of entry will be updated to prohibit any slogans, images, text or otherwise which can reasonably cause offence.
“Council recognises that it is important to be inclusive and we additionally appreciate the importance of making all our patrons feel comfortable using MAC,” she said.
“Maribyrnong City Council takes all possible steps to ensure the health and safety of persons in the municipality, this includes the management of acts which have the possibility of offending a particular person due to their race, colour, or national or ethnic origin.”