3:23 am - Tuesday January 22, 2019

Tony Abbott shows support for burqa ban in parliament

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The Australian prime minister has said the burqa is “confronting” and he wishes Muslim women did not wear it as he flagged support for a controversial call to ban the attire inside Parliament House.

Despite resisting calls by some MPs for a nationwide ban on the burqa, Tony Abbott said a ban could be justified on security grounds and people entering secure buildings such as parliament in Canberra should be required to show their face.

“I find it a fairly confronting form of attire and frankly I wish it weren’t worn,” he said.

“But we are a free country, we are a free society, and it’s not the business of government to tell people what they should and shouldn’t wear.”

Mr Abbott two weeks ago said people should not “fret” about people’s clothing after some MPs called for an outright ban on the burqa.

But he has now indicated a ban in parliament could be justified on security grounds and would not affect many, or any, visitors.

“Has anyone ever sought entry to this building so attired? As far as I’m aware, no,” he said.

“But I just want to stress that this is a secure building and it should be governed by the rules that are appropriate for a secure building and obviously people need to be identifiable in a secure building such as this.”

The upper and lower houses of parliament are considering a ban on wearing the burqa inside the building following a push by several of Mr Abbott’s fellow Coalition MPs. The ban would prevent people from covering their faces while entering the buildings.

The statements ended weeks of relative bipartisan cohesion following recent terrorism threats and was criticised by the opposition as “socially divisive”.

Bronwyn Bishop, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or lower house, and Stephen Parry, her upper house counterpart, have held meetings this week with security officials and police to discuss the proposal. Mrs Bishop said a ruling on the issue is likely to be reached in about a week.

The calls to ban the burqa follow a series of counterterrorism operations across the country in the past two weeks and growing concerns about the threat of Australian jihadists returning from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Andrew Colvin, the incoming federal police commissioner, would not say whether he believed a ban on the burqa in Parliament House was necessary but noted officers around the country regularly deal with people wearing the attire.

“We need to be careful not to make something of an issue that police deal with each and every day in suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne,” he said.

The Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights said full-facial coverings were not worn in Australia and those with eye holes were very rare.

“The community in general is feeling under siege,” Tasneem Chopra, from the centre, told Fairfax Media. “There is a constant demarcation between Muslim and Australian as if they can’t coexist.”

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