CANBERRA, Australia – An Australian senator provoked an angry backlash from lawmakers by wearing a burka in Parliament on Thursday as part of her campaign for a national ban on Islamic face covers.
Pauline Hanson, leader of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigration One Nation minor party, sat wearing the black head-to-ankle garment for more than 10 minutes before taking it off as she rose to explain that she wanted such outfits banned on national security grounds.
“There has been a large majority of Australians (who) wish to see the banning of the burka,” said Hanson, an outspoken fan of President Donald Trump, as senators objected.
Attorney-General George Brandis drew applause when he said his government would not ban the burka, and chastised Hanson for what he described as a “stunt” that offended Australia’s Muslim minority.
“To ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments is an appalling thing to do and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done,” Brandis said.
Opposition Senate leader Penny Wong told Hanson: “It is one thing to wear religious dress as a sincere act of faith; it is another to wear it as a stunt here in the Senate.”
Sam Dastyari, an opposition senator and an Iranian-born Muslim, said: “We have seen the stunt of all stunts in this chamber by Sen. Hanson.”
“The close to 500,000 Muslim Australians do not deserve to be targeted, do not deserve to be marginalized, do not deserve to be ridiculed, do not deserve to have their faith made some political point by the desperate leader of a desperate political party,” Dastyari said.
Senate President Stephen Parry said Hanson’s identity had been confirmed before she entered the chamber. He also said he would not dictate the standards of dress for the chamber.
Parliament House briefly segregated women wearing burkas and niqabs in 2014. The department that runs Parliament House said that “persons with facial coverings” would no longer be allowed in the building’s open public galleries. Instead, they were to be directed to galleries usually reserved for noisy schoolchildren, where they could sit behind soundproof glass.
The policy was branded a “burka ban” and was widely condemned as a segregation of Muslim women, as well as a potential breach of anti-discrimination laws.
Officials relented, allowing people wearing face coverings in all public areas of Parliament House after the coverings were removed temporarily at the building’s front door so that staff can check the visitor’s identity.
The reason behind the segregation was never explained, but it seems to have been triggered by a rumour on Sydney talk radio that men dressed in burkas were planning an anti-Muslim demonstration in Parliament House.