SUBJECT/S: Burqa ban in Parliament House overturned

JULIE DOYLE: Michelle Rowland, thanks for coming in today. Senator Parry has said this morning before an Estimates Committee that he received credible advice that there was a protest planned to disrupt Question Time from people wearing burqas. It was the last sitting day of the session and he felt it was the right decision to make. Do you think there was any justification for the move?

We still haven’t heard from Senator Parry in Estimates this morning, which is still on and is continuing now, the source of the information that he says was credible, that he says was received. Under questioning from Penny Wong it is clear that in relation to that point about the proposed segregation, the interim measure that involved Parliament House, that that advice and the information about a so-called disruption to Parliament House, didn’t come from the AFP, nor ASIO, nor the Parliamentary Security Operations Manager. So the question still remains: where did this come from? Whilst there has been some questioning today, and Senator Parry is being grilled on these matters, I don’t know that we’re any closer to an answer on that particular point.

Why should he have to reveal the exact nature, where the advice came from – don’t politicians receive advice all the time and it would be problematic if they were forced to reveal that kind of information?

Senator Wong made it very clear in her questioning. She said if it is the case that this advice is classified or would otherwise compromise anything to do with security then she totally understood that. But all that was being asked was who gave it, where did it come from, what did it say. So the actual nature, the actual specifics of it were not been gone into. She was simply asking: you’re saying it’s a credible source Mr President, what is that source?

Looking at the initial decision that was taken back on October 2nd, it was an interim decision – it affected really one afternoon of Parliament that was left in that sitting. Do you think there will be any lasting impact on this Parliament?

ROWLAND:  I think there will be because unfortunately as we are seeing from Estimates right now, decisions seem to have been made that affect how the People’s House operates. This is supposed to be the People’s House. Parliament is supposed to be open and viewed by people, of course subject to appropriate security arrangements. But if this, and I put this question, if this was supposed to be an interim measure, there was no specific sunsetting put on that directive that went out on the last sitting day that we had in the Parliament, that was supposed to be an interim measure. If it hadn’t been revoked or replaced, that would still be operating today.

DOYLE: Looking at the change that has been announced this morning, people have to show their faces at the security entrance to Parliament instead but once they’re in the building they’re free to move around with their facial covering. Do you think that is a sensible result?

ROWLAND: Julie, this is almost exactly what I was saying I think on this very program a couple of weeks ago. In just about every secure building in Australia where people’s identities need to be known; be it courts, be it airports, be it other parliament houses, there are arrangements and protocols in place to enable security to ascertain the identity of someone in a way that is appropriate, in a way that goes about with a minimum of fuss. I don’t see why we couldn’t have gotten to a point where that is exactly what we would have proposed to do in those interim measures, rather than simply saying anyone who has their face covered will be sitting in a certain section of the public galleries.

DOYLE: We’ve had a couple of weeks where the interim decision has been standing. Out in the community, in your electorate, what have people said to you about it?

Not only in my electorate Julie, but I’ve been speaking to a number of community groups in various backgrounds. There is tremendous concern about the decisions, the actions, and the words of Members of Parliament. And the clear message that I’ve taken away from that – reinforced more than any other – is that words and decisions in this place matter in the community. People are taking notice of them, particularly women who feel that they are not free to wear what they choose to wear, women who fear that they might be the subject of some sort of victimisation, people who are concerned about their children. And we’ve even seen media reports about children being victimised, about a woman being thrown from a train in Melbourne. And they’re only the ones that are reported, and I can tell you there are many that are not.

DOYLE: Jacqui Lambie the Palmer United Party Senator has put out a statement this morning that she’s deeply disappointed with the decision to reverse the segregation of people wearing facial coverings. She’s saying that it will put a smile on the face of overseas Islamic extremists and their supporters here in this country. How do you respond to that?

ROWLAND: My response is this: Australia is a multicultural nation. Social cohesion more than anything else is what is important at this time. Things that people say in this place do mean a lot in our community. We, as Members of Parliament, should be saying and doing everything we can to foster social cohesion. That is the only way we are going to ensure that people in our society feel safe, that’s the only way we are going to ensure that everyone feels included in this multicultural country.

DOYLE: Michelle Rowland, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much.

ROWLAND: Thank you very much.