A personalised licence plate has sparked fury in New South Wales, with the Jewish community alleging it celebrates the atrocities committed by Hamas during its attack on southern Israel on October 7 of last year.
An image of the licence plate, attached to a white Ford Ranger, has been widely shared on social media, including by former Liberal Party candidate Freya Leach, a university student who ran for the state seat Balmain in the 2023 election.
“Seen in Western Sydney. How is this allowed?” Ms Leach posted on social media, directing her question at New South Wales Premier Chris Minns.
She also wondered whether the Transport Minister, Jo Haylen, should “do something” about the licence plate.
The plate reads OCT7TH, which has been interpreted as a reference to the Hamas assault on communities in southern Israel.
More than a thousand Israelis were killed in the attack, and hundreds of people were abducted. Many are still being held hostage in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas’s atrocities triggered a sustained counter-attack from Israel. The death toll in Gaza stands at an estimated 27,000, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry, and about 85 per cent of the civilian population has been displaced.
In a follow-up to her earlier post, Ms Leach later said someone had messaged her claiming the licence plate was “registered a few years prior” to the Hamas attack, which would make it a “very unfortunate coincidence”.
However Transport for NSW has confirmed to news.com.au that the plate was, in fact, registered in December of last year – well after the attack.
While automatic and manual filtering processes are in place, in this case they did not detect the offensive content.
“Transport for NSW is investigating how these plates were issued and we apologise the date was not flagged as offensive and for any subsequent offence and distress caused,” a Transport for NSW spokesperson said.
“Unfortunately in this instance the filtering process did not identify the combination.
“Following the identification of an offensive number plate last year, Transport for NSW has also adopted a new process which allows for an urgent recall and we are taking action to remove these number plates from the road.”
Urgent recalls of number plates take five business days.
The Daily Telegraph reports that myPlates, which provides all customised plates in New South Wales, received a complaint about the OCT7TH plate on January 23. The company reviews complaints at a monthly meeting – the next is due on February 20.
Transport for NSW was unaware of the complaint before Wednesday.
“We are going to look at better ways to deal with complaints more rapidly and earlier,” myPlates CEO David McGrath told the newspaper.
“We need to look at the processes to how we pick up hate speech, looking at AI and different human intervention methods.”
Meanwhile the state government’s Road Minister, John Graham, said the OCT7TH plate was “objectively offensive”.
“There is absolutely no place in NSW for hate speech,” said Mr Graham.
“I have asked Transport to urgently review the circumstances in which this was approved. I apologise to any members of the community that have seen or been distressed by these number plates.”
The Minister said the investigation would include “whether this is a deliberate act”.
Last September, the government instructed Transport for NSW to tighten its filters on hate speech after a neo-Nazi plate slipped through the cracks.
The move was sparked by a motorist spotting a plate reading 88-SIEG. Eighty-eight is slang for “Heil Hitler”, while sieg is the German word for “victory”.
“There is no place in NSW for neo-Nazis. We are not going to tolerate hatred and intolerance being spread in the community,” Mr Graham said at the time.
“These number plates should not have been issued. I have asked Transport for NSW to urgently tighten the system to prevent any repeat.”
“I have also asked Transport for NSW to report back to me with options to change the regulations so that we can get plates back faster than is currently possible once a motorist has been served notice in cases that involve anti-Semitism or that incite hatred.
“I don’t want plates such as these on the road a single day longer than they need to be.”
Peter Wertheim, co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, reacted to the OCT7TH plate by saying Australians were “fed up”.
“Australians are fed up to the back teeth with having hateful and violent messages thrust into their faces by extremist groups and individuals who take any opportunity to promote their repugnant views,” he told The Telegraph.
“We have warned about this sort of misuse of licence plates previously – the measures taken by state and territory transport authorities have clearly been inadequate.
“It is time for these bodies to work together to put into effect a nationwide crackdown to stop this appalling practice once and for all.”
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