Australia: opposition leader is deliberately allowing extremists to promote Islamophobia, says Labor

Labor has accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of harbouring extremists, as debate heated up over MPs’ comments on Muslims and immigration policy.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called on Mr Abbott to send two senior coalition members – Senator Cory Bernardi and immigration spokesman Scott Morrison – to the backbench over their recent comments.

While Mr Abbott has resisted the call, he used a party room meeting on Tuesday to admonish the two members for going “a little too far” in their public comments.

Senator Bernardi told a radio station last week that: “Islam itself is the problem – it’s not Muslims”. He added that: “Islam is a totalitarian, political and religious ideology”.

Mr Morrison gave a qualified apology a day after he publicly questioned the taxpayer-funded travel arrangements for asylum seekers attending the funerals of people killed in the Christmas Island boat tragedy. It also was reported that Mr Morrison had suggested to shadow cabinet last year the coalition capitalise on fears about Muslim immigration.

But, Mr Abbott said, the coalition did not support a discriminatory immigration policy and believed Australia benefited from being a multicultural society. “We will never say to perfectly good Australians that they are not fully valued in their own country,” he told coalition MPs.

However, the federal parliament’s only Muslim MP, Labor’s Ed Husic, said Mr Abbott had allowed the comments to be “deliberately floated in the public arena for political advantage”. “The extremists continue to cloud commonsense and decency within the coalition,” Mr Husic said.

AAP, 23 February 2011