One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has refused to apologise for suggesting autistic students should be taken out of mainstream classrooms.
Instead, she blamed the media for taking her speech “out of context” and accused her opponents of “political point-scoring”.
“No, I’m not apologising for that. You are wrong,” a defiant Senator Hanson told reporters on Thursday.
Yet she softened her stance on whether autistic students should learn in mainstream classrooms, emphasising a need for more resources over any so-called “segregation” of school children.
This was in contrast to her widely criticised suggestion on Wednesday that “we need to get rid of these people” because of the impact on other students.
“But if there is a number of them, these children should actually go into a special classroom – looked after and given that special attention,” she told the Senate on Wednesday.
Senator Hanson called the press conference on Thursday afternoon amid calls for her to apologise from disability groups, Labor and the Greens.
Asked by The New Daily what she would say to an autistic student offended by her speech, she replied: “What have I said that’s offensive?”
She denied she had suggested that autistic students did not belong in a mainstream school.
“No, that is wrong. You are taking it completely out of context,” she said.
“I’m not saying they don’t belong there in the mainstream. I’m saying provide other resources if they need that special attention. There are different levels of autism.”
Watch Pauline Hanson’s controversial speech
She said she was not backing down, even when asked if she regretted how she had phrased her remarks.
The Queenslander repeatedly accused journalists of misreporting her remarks throughout the press conference, describing the media coverage as “disgraceful”.
“If I’ve upset people that was not my intention,” she said.
“My intention is to raise these issues, speak about them openly and honestly on the floor of Parliament.”
She also claimed Labor and the Greens were guilty of “political point-scoring”.
Labor MP Emma Husar, whose 10-year-old son Mitch is autistic, gave an emotional rebuttal to Senator Hanson’s remarks on Thursday morning.
“She owes an apology to 164,000 Australians who have autism spectrum disorder – the children and the adults who have been told for a long time that they don’t belong,” Ms Husar told reporters.
Ms Husar also had a message for “every single child on the autism spectrum”, telling them they “ought to be included”.
“And, that even on the days that are hard – when you’re frustrated, and your disability makes you angry – you are still better than [Hanson] is on her best day.”
A number of Coalition frontbenchers also distanced themselves from Senator Hanson’s comments.
But Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who was relying on One Nation votes to pass Gonski 2.0, would not be drawn on the issue during Senate Question Time.
Despite her speech drawing widespread condemnation from disability advocates and education experts, Senator Hanson said teachers and parents had contacted her to say thank you.
“We have to debate these issues. There is a problem in our society. Parents know it, teachers know it,” she said.
“But if you raise anything in this country that is considered taboo by just a few of those on the left, we are not going to find the answers that we need.”
“I feel for every child in this country. Every child has the right to an education.”
Autism Awareness Australia chief executive Nicole Rogerson previously told The New Daily that integrated classes helped autistic students.
“Research over decades has been done that shows the benefits of inclusive education for both developing children and for those with a disability,” she said.
“It’s a hurtful thing for families across Australia to say. She should be ashamed.”