Tony Abbott has spoken out against the burqa, but defended the right of Australian women to wear it.
“Frankly, I wish it was not worn,” Abbott said on Wednesday. “But we are a free country and a free society and we are not in the business of telling people what they should and should not wear.”
Nevertheless, Abbott expressed grave doubts about the right of people to wear the traditional Islamic garment at parliament house.
He said the same rules should apply to everyone, particularly around secure settings such as parliament house.
“If the rules require you to show your face, you show your face. This is a secure building and it is important that people are able to be identified.”
He said that, in the end, it was a matter for the “presiding officer” in charge of security at the building.
His remarks came after Labor called on Mr Abbott to rebuke Liberal figures calling for burqa bans.
Fairfax reports that the prime minister’s powerful chief of staff Peta Credlin told Liberal National MP George Christensen she is sympathetic to the idea of a Parliament House ban on the Muslim garb, but didn’t want him to inflame community tensions.
A spokesperson for Mr Christensen on Wednesday insisted the article was nonsense.
“He says it’s crap, and the paper knew it was crap before they printed it,” the spokesperson told AAP.
But Labor MPs are accusing the federal government of whipping up community division over the issue.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Mr Abbott needs to provide leadership and slap down the “fringe dwellers” in his party.
“It is not good enough to talk tolerance and yet have your backbenchers out there pushing socially divisive arguments.”
Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said he wouldn’t like to be Mr Christensen today.
“I suspect he’s on a spit roast in Peta Credlin’s office right now,” he said.
“Because it’s one thing to leak against your colleagues, it’s another thing to leak against one of the most powerful people in the government.”
The western Sydney MP said Christensen’s scaremongering comments play into the terrorist’s hands and the best thing he could do was “put a sock in it”.
West Australian Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan said leaders should be working together with the islamic community during this difficult time, not trying to stoke hysteria and fear.
Mr Christensen and Liberal senator Cory Bernardi have both called for the garment to be banned in all public spaces.
Speaking on Sky News on Wednesday morning, Liberal MP Darren Chester said the conversation was being used as an opportunity to attack Ms Credlin.
“We’re talking about national security; we’re not talking about religion or what people wear,” he said.
I find Tony Abbott confronting pic.twitter.com/IEe15jGhCF
— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) October 1, 2014