— Jane Norman (@janeenorman) August 17, 2017
Australia — Australia’s Senate is rowdy and raucous and often compared to a schoolyard. But after the leader of the anti-immigrant One Nation party walked into the chamber on Thursday wearing a burqa, the room went silent.
Then came the stunned responses: “oh” and “what on earth.”
The party leader, Pauline Hanson, took her seat as political rivals watched astounded. Senators from her party laughed.
Removing the garment, Ms Hanson, who is not Muslim, said that the burqa, a full-body and face covering, should be banned in Australia. She said that she wore the veil to draw attention to her party’s push to ban full-face coverings in public.
“I’m quite happy to remove this because this is not what should belong in this Parliament,” she said as the Senate met during the parliamentary sitting week, in which lawmakers debate legislation and other matters.
“In a speech in the chamber last year, Ms Hanson said that Australia was “in danger of being swamped by Muslims.” A recent report from the Trump administration referred to Ms Hanson in listing her party as a threat to religious freedom.
Critics say that Ms Hanson, who represents Queensland, seeks to make Australia a country where only English is spoken and where non-Christian religions are invisible.
Ms Hanson said in a statement that she wore the burqa because she thought that banning full-face coverings in public “was an important issue facing modern Australia that needed to be discussed.” Such coverings, she said, were “oppressive, presented barriers to assimilation, disadvantaged women from finding employment” and “had no place in modern Western society.”
Ms Hanson’s actions drew strong criticism in the Senate. Attorney General George Brandis, a member of the conservative Liberal Party, denounced the move in an emotional speech in which his voice broke. He said that Australia would not ban burqas.
“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,” he said, referring to Muslims
His response elicited a standing ovation from one side of the floor.
“I would caution and counsel you with respect to be very, very careful of the offence you may do to the religious sensibilities of other Australians,” he said.
Mr Brandis said that about half a million people practice Islam in Australia, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding “good Australians.”
Ms Hanson used her speech on Thursday to address terrorism. She said that the police had uncovered 13 significant threats since Australia raised its terrorist threat level to probably in 2014, calling terrorism “a true threat to our country” and saying that “many Australians are very much in fear of it.”
Clive Bean, a political-science professor at Queensland University of Technology, said he “was not aware of a stunt quite like this happening in Parliament before.”
He said that he was surprised that the president of the Senate, Stephen Parry, let it occur. “The danger of such a strong stunt as that is that it has the opposite of the desired effect,” he said. “The fallout is stronger against than in favour.”