The driver of a car sporting custom number plates that appear to reference the date Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israel has been ordered to return them or risk the vehicle's registration being cancelled.
Earlier today Yahoo News reported an "urgent investigation" was underway to determine how the "offensive" set of number plates were administered, and driven around on roads for months without being noticed. A former NSW Liberal Party candidate posted an image of the plates to X, which read OCT7TH, beside the caption: “Seen in Western Sydney. How is this allowed?”
'Offensive' number plates prompt uproar
People on social media quickly caught on to the fact plates apparently referenced the day 1,200 Israelis were killed during Hamas militants' attack on the country's south on October 7 last year.
The attack prompted an ongoing conflict in the region, which has so far seen almost 30,000 Palestinians killed in response, the vast majority of whom are civilians.
Now, the owner of the white Ford Ranger ute has been ordered to hand the plates back immediately, which were described as "repugnant" by Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief Peter Wertheim.
Roads Minister John Graham on Thursday said his department became aware of the complaint the previous day and "acted immediately". "We don't know the story behind it. But whatever the story is, this is something that if people saw it they would be upset, and we want it off the road rapidly," he told 2GB.
"We've issued an order for it to be recalled ... the request is now that these plates are in within 48 hours, but it might take up to a week. If they don't come back in, the registration will be cancelled altogether and the car is coming off the road."
Mr Wertheim said more needed to be done to prevent people misusing licence plates to spread political messages. "The measures taken by state and territory transport authorities have clearly been inadequate," he said. "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."
The plates drew swift backlash from people all over the country and from the Jewish community in particular, with many airing their confusion over how they weren't detected during the filtering process in the first place.
'Urgent investigation' commenced
Online, former Liberal candidate Freya Leach questioned the date the plates were administered and called on NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen to "do something".
A Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo News Australia that the plates were administered in December, two months after the deadly attack.
The authority apologised for any offence caused and said that urgent recalls of plates take between five and 18 business days. It explained that automatic and manual filtering processes are in place to detect inappropriate plates, but they failed to uncover the offensive content in this instance.
— Freya Leach (@Freya_J_Leach) February 7, 2024
Transport department apologises
It seems authorities have been caught off guard by the uproar. "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 TfNSW spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
"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."
In September, the NSW government told Transport to tighten its filters on hate speech after a neo-Nazi plate was also administered unnoticed.
Transport for NSW told Yahoo it issues up to 100,000 number plates each month, including between 35,000 to 40,000 "special" plates with personalised content each year.
- With AAP
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