SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s failure of leadership on calls to ban the Burqa; national security legislation

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Good morning. Yesterday, Tony Abbott had the opportunity to show leadership on issues that have unfortunately been causing unnecessary division. It is very disappointing that he chose not to do that. It’s also very disappointing that some members of this place still feel it acceptable to conflate issues of security with social division and prejudice. This should not be on. On the eve of an important Muslim festival, an important Muslim religious observance, I think all of us in this place should remind ourselves that we need to remain cohesive as a nation and the things we say as leaders of this parliament and of this nation matter. That’s why Tony Abbott’s failure to bring certain members of his government into line on these matters – and we’ve had two weeks of this, failure to bring them into line. I think it’s extremely disappointing.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t Labor just adding more oxygen to this issue by continuing to talk about it if it is so offensive and a problem for Labor, why not just ignore it?

ROWLAND: Tony Abbott could have drawn a line in the sand on this issue some time ago. We have given him ample opportunity to do that and even suggested precisely that. He has the opportunity, he had it yesterday, to shut this down once and for all. The fact is, he failed to do that. That is extremely disappointing.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that the Burqa oppresses women?

ROWLAND: I believe that people in this country, women in this country, should be entitled to wear whatever they choose. And I would actually like to commend at least George Brandis for making the answer that, “I’m not a Muslim and this is none of my business”. And I would say exactly the same thing. I’m not of Muslim faith, this is not my business.  And I think people in this country, women in this country are entitled to wear whatever they like.

JOURNALIST: Has this brought out some solidarity though, is it refreshing to see the flipside of people banding together to support Muslims?

ROWLAND: I think it’s important at this time to have solidarity with people of all faiths in this country. And I take your point, I think that particularly when we see innocent people that have been attacked in Australia simply because of the way they look or the faith that they may have. I think the fact that we can rally around that and say, “this is not on and that this violence is not in my name,” I think that that is a good thing for Australia. And I would hope that that spirit of cohesion actually is fostered as we go into these difficult times of world events and national security in this country.

JOURNALIST: This debate on the Burqa [inaudible] women aren’t actually out there [inaudible] atrocities?

ROWLAND: Look it’s interesting that you say that. I actually made a speech in the Parliament last week on the national security issues noting a number of members of the fourth estate have made that comment, that we talk about this situation with IS being one of a death cult. As pointed out by many of your colleagues it’s also a rape cult. It is also a cult that is severely oppressing women, and young girls in particular, in some of the most atrocious ways.

JOURNALIST: Melissa Parke did make some quite controversial comments on the national security legislation in the Lower House yesterday. Do you share any of her concerns about that first stage of Bills which have now passed the Parliament?

ROWLAND: I think this went through a very thorough process, it went through I think two full inquiries, and the fact is at the end of it the committee came up with a set of bipartisan rules. I was particularly pleased to see the reinstatement of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor was one of those items, and that’s something that the government had initially rolled out as one of the first things to go in its regulatory red tape review. So I think there has been bipartisanship on this by and large. Thanks very much.