SUBJECT/S: Burqa ban in Parliament House; Federal ICAC, National Security Laws

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Yesterday’s questioning in Estimates and the House of Representatives regarding the interim ban on face coverings and segregation in the public galleries actually threw up more questions than it answered. We now have a situation where the statements of the Prime Minister are contradicting the statements of the Speaker. The Speaker is not a liar, but we know Tony Abbott has form in this area. Significant questions need to be answered about who directed what, who knew what and when did they know it. There are significant questions to be answered here about whether or not these actions that were taken were actually based on security advice, and from the questions we had in Senate Estimates yesterday it is now apparent that the issue of segregation was not based on advice given by ASIO or the AFP or internal parliamentary security. And in all this, what we have seen over the last couple of weeks is a failure of leadership by this Prime Minister to stand up to some divisive elements within his own party in this Parliament, because I can tell you going out in the community and listening to people: words and actions in this place by people who are supposed to be leaders in this country actually matter, they actually matter in our community. And I think it’s high time the Prime Minister actually showed some leadership in this area and we ensure that an incident like this does not happen again.


ROWLAND: We’re willing to consider any proposals that the Government may put forward and you’re right, I am from New South Wales and I am acutely aware of the issues that have been going on. We have a situation where we’re about to have two by-elections only months before a general state election. We have a situation where the Premier of our State resigned because of matters that were found out in ICAC. We have a situation where the Assistant Treasurer, from New South Wales, has actually been stood aside and we’re into a considerable period of time now, probably the longest period in the Parliament’s history, of not having an Assistant Treasurer. So I’m acutely aware of the issues and the outcomes that have come as a result of ICAC’s investigations. And I do believe there’s apparently more to come in New South Wales. But I can tell you as someone from New South Wales, who obviously watches these things closely, I am very prepared and the Labor party is very prepared to consider any proposals that are put forward and scrutinise them closely.


ROWLAND: Look I think that’s something that needs to be assessed against any proposal. So I would like to see any proposal the government puts forward first.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about the terror legislation? Many in the Islamic community are concerned the advocating of terrorism, the use of [inaudible].The Committee has recommended that the Government clarify what that means and many are concerned about what that might mean. Do you share those concerns?

ROWLAND: You make a good point and they are very similar to some of the feedback I was getting in the two weeks of the recess speaking to various communities. Now the recommendation as you rightly say is that we clarify that. We need to see what comes out in the drafting and I believe that we should continue to consult with various communities about how that drafting should actually take place. To make sure that the recommendations, the bipartisan recommendations, of that Committee actually follow through.

JOURNALIST: The Committee seems to have gone soft on this. Rather than recommending that the word promote isn’t in there, they’ve just said it needs to be reviewed. Does that go far enough?

Look, I think it is possible, Laura, to get clarification and actually get to a point where both sides of the argument are balanced on this matter. But, I don’t think it’s going to happen unless we do ensure we continually get community input on this matter. I haven’t seen the final drafting obviously of how this Bill will look, but I am heartened by the fact it was a bipartisan committee report so I think that that’s very important and I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that many people in the community are looking at these measures very closely.

There are suggestions that the burqa ban stemmed from a call to a Sydney radio station. What do you make of those claims?

ROWLAND: I firstly became aware of that when I was questioned on Sunday night actually. I hadn’t heard of that before but it now appears that that is the source. Senator Parry when he was making comments yesterday did not specifically name it, as I understand it from the Estimates hearings that I saw, didn’t name that as the source. But look, I’ll say this: I would have thought if that had been the source then surely there would have been other options to interrogate that bit of information to make sure that the response to that information, if it was indeed credible, was done in a reasonable way. Instead we had an interim decision which we now know was not based on security advice. If people had been planning to turn up then surely there could have been arrangements put in at the front doors to make sure that those people were told, “No you’re not coming inside, this is not the place for that sort of protest”. But instead, the blanket was cast over everyone who might end up being affected by this, and let’s face it, we’re talking here predominantly about people of Muslim faith. The blanket was cast over everyone and resulted in a situation where we had segregation mandated for a couple of hours as part of an interim decision. I just don’t think that that’s an acceptable approach. If that’s the way we’re conducting and making decisions about matters in this Parliament then I don’t think that’s acceptable, but what I find most unacceptable however is the failure of leadership from this Prime Minister on this matter.


ROWLAND: I think it’s worth looking at because it was actually raised by a few groups and I was speaking to Anthony Byrne about it whose been a member of this Committee for some time and has considerable knowledge in this area and he mentioned that to me as well. It looks like that’s the term that’s been used around the world, the reason being that these are not people who are taking actions in the name of a particular faith. This is a terrorist organisation, so it’s very clear that Islamic people, Islamic groups, want to make sure that they are not associated. You’ll see the language has changed a lot and a lot of people refer to IS or just ISIL, but that term has been specifically raised as a request and it’s probably something we need to look at and I note, and I will complement the media also, for indeed withdrawing from the use of Islamic to describe this group. Okay. Thanks a lot.