Comments by a Liberal senator linking terror raids with a campaign to ban the burqa have been described as “stupid and ignorant” and designed to “feed prejudice”.
As news broke of the mass counter-terrorism operation across Sydney and Brisbane, in which 15 people were arrested and one charged, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi took to Twitter to rail against the burqa as a “shroud of oppression”.
Senator Bernardi has been a long-time critic of the burqa, arguing that it is a “symbol of female oppression and Islamic culture”, carries security and identification risks and is “un-Australian”.
Labor leader Bill Shorten on Thursday criticised Senator Bernardi’s remarks, telling Fairfax Media that the last thing the country needed was “stupid” and “ignorant” comments from government MPs.
“Why on earth is this out-of-touch, out-of-line senator on a rampage with his ignorant and stupid comments?” asked Mr Shorten. “This senator’s comments should have no part to play in public life, fuelling fear and suspicion.”
Mr Abbott stopped short of rebuking his backbencher on Thursday when asked about Senator Bernardi’s comments at a media conference in the Northern Territory, saying there was no need to “fret about people’s faith” or “fret about what people wear”.
“Well this isn’t about people’s religion, it’s not about what people wear, it’s about potential terror attacks here in Australia and that’s what we’ve got to guard against,” he told reporters in Arnhem Land.
Another senior Liberal, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, warned on Thursday against racial vilification following the raids.
“We must not let what we’re seeing with these raids and arrests poison the relationships within our community,” Mr Newman said. “If anybody uses what’s happened to vilify a group, race or religion they are playing into the hands of these would-be-terrorists. That is, helping the terrorist organisations to achieve what they want to achieve.”
Mr Shorten said he had “no time for Senator Bernardi’s stupid comments”. “The last thing we need at a time like this are ignorant comments from government MPs that feed prejudice,” he said. “We must refuse to submit to this type of fear and intolerance.”
Senator Bernardi hit back at Mr Shorten, saying the Labor leader was in no position to offer criticism. “Given Bill Shorten was part of a government that wanted to facilitate sharia-compliant finance laws in our country, his lack of understanding on this matter speaks for itself,” he told Fairfax Media.
Update: See “Bill Shorten calls on Tony Abbott to haul in Cory Bernardi over ‘ignorant’ comments”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 2014
Update 2: See also “PUP senator Jacqui Lambie says she would not let burka wearers into her office; backs calls for ban”, ABC News, 19 September 2014