The issue of the burqa has erupted in the Coalition, with Tony Abbott suggesting a ban should be considered in places “dedicated to Australian values”, and the Nationals set to debate a prohibition on “full-facial coverings”.
Abbott said he was “a reluctant banner”, but “on the other hand, this thing frankly is an affront to our way of life”, a “confronting” and “imprisoning” garment.
“I think it is worth considering whether there are some places that are dedicated to Australian values such as our courts, our parliaments, our schools – maybe we do need to think about whether this garment is appropriate to be worn in places that are dedicated to upholding Australian values”, he told 2GB.
Abbott was commenting on a motion for a ban that Nationals MP George Christensen will move when the party’s federal conference meets this weekend.
The Christensen motion, supported by his Dawson federal divisional council, calls on the government “to implement a ban on full-facial coverings in all government buildings and public spaces, excluding places of worship, where it assists with security and public safety”.
Christensen said the qualification about security was to make exceptions for face coverings that for example were part of an entertainment.
The motion puts Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on the spot.
“One of the great things about our party is that any person and any branch can bring forward any motion,” Joyce said.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean it becomes policy. That’s a matter for the federal conference, and I’ll be watching and listening to the debate like any other delegate”. Pressed on his own opinion he told reporters: “You can turn up the conference and find out exactly what I believe.”
In the Senate on Wednesday Pauline Hanson launched a vitriolic attack on Attorney-General George Brandis over his criticism of her stunt last month when she wore a burqa into the chamber. In his emotional speech that drew a standing ovation from Labor and the Greens, Brandis said it was appalling for her to mock the religious garments of Muslims and told her “we will not be banning the burqa”.
Brandis’ speech has since had a mixed reception in Coalition circles. On the day, there was limited and hesitant applause from his own ranks.
In her attack on Brandis, Hanson invoked the Anzacs when she accused him of defending “the most recognised symbol of radical Islam”.
“Whether or not you agree with my decision to wear a burqa in parliament is not the real issue”, she said. “The real issue is that Australians want a debate on full-face coverings and they want a debate on the issues that the burqa raises.
"It is, after all, a sign of radical Islam, which threatens the true Australian way of life. What would our Anzacs say? They fought for our freedom and way of life. There is room for only one flag, one language, one loyalty and one law.
"Recently, the lives of precious Australians have been lost in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to stop radical Islam. But, senator Brandis, you forgot those lives when you defended the most recognised symbol of radical Islam, the burqa”, she said.
“You have a right to a view on my decision to wear the burqa into the Senate, but it is arrogant, incorrect and ill-informed when you presume to speak for most Australians”, Hanson said.
She said that all Brandis’s colleagues had “remained seated and stunned while you strutted the Senate stage with your quivering lip”.
Christensen said he thought Brandis had “over-egged” his reaction to Hanson. He said there had been criticism of Brandis’s speech among Coalition MPs, and the standing ovation had been “from people with values that are antipathetic to ours”.
He said the burqa was not a religious requirement but a “a cultural practice that is based in the oppression of women”.
Christensen said his motion talked “not about the burqa and the niqab specifically but full-facial coverings, so this would even apply to violent people that we have seen in the past violent protesters on the far left and the far right … who put the balaclavas over their nose and mouths to disguise themselves”.
A ReachTEL poll taken after Hanson’s stunt found majority support for banning the burqa.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra