The Senate leant in slightly as George Brandis began his response to a sitting politician wearing the face veil of a religion she did not follow, as a stunt, in the House of Review.
What followed from the Attorney-General, a moderate but arguably divisive figure in the government, was exactly “what was required” –unequivocal condemnation of an act so inflammatory it drew gasps, then cries of “shame”, from all sides of the chamber.
That was not just the verdict of Senator Brandis’ government colleagues, but also of Labor and the Greens, who offered hearty applause and a standing ovation.
It was also the view of terrorism experts, who warned that One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson’s stunt could serve as recruitment fodder for Muslim radicals and undermine authorities’ efforts to work with the Islamic community.
“George Brandis did exactly what was required,” Professor Greg Barton, a terrorism expert at Deakin University, told The New Daily.
“It’s impossible to stop her doing what she does. That’s democracy, you get the full spectrum.
“What’s important is that the government of the day responds, and that’s what George Brandis did.”
Undeterred by Senator Brandis’ response, Senator Hanson, burqa under her arm, walked out of Parliament and straight into a radio interview.
When she returned, she spoke to her motion calling for a ban of “full face covering” in public places.
The One Nation leader conceded what she has done was “radical”, but said it was required to make a point and start a debate.
No one had checked her identity when she walked into the Senate, Senator Hanson claimed. But Senate President Stephen Parry said he’d verified that the woman underneath the veil had been her.
Coalition senators were also asked why they did not join Labor and the Greens in standing after Senator Brandis’ speech.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash refused to explain the move, saying only that Senator Brandis had articulated the government’s position on the matter.
Watch the whole incident below:
The response from Labor, the Greens and the crossbench was more direct.
“I know a thing or two about stunts. But I wouldn’t even call this a stunt. This was just toxic,” Senator Nick Xenophon said.
Fellow crossbencher Derryn Hinch said her actions were “disgraceful”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described it as “beneath contempt”. The response from Senator Brandis was “spot on”, he said.
“Now let’s give her the attention she deserves – absolutely none,” he wrote on Twitter.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale agreed.
“It’s not often I agree with George Brandis. The Greens stand with him in condemning Senator Hanson’s appalling actions in Question Time,” he wrote on Twitter.
Labor’s Anne Aly, Australia’s first female Muslim MP, said Senator Hanson had made a “mockery” of the Parliament.
Despite Senator Hanson’s actions, the words of Senator Brandis, delivered off the cuff, had shown Australia to be a “tolerant and accepting” society, said Ali Kadri, vice-president of the Islamic Council of Queensland.
The Attorney-General appeared to fight back tears as he told Senator Hanson he could not “ignore the stunt you have tried to pull today”.
“We all know you are not an adherent of the Islamic faith,” he said.
“We have about half a million Australians of Islamic faith. And the vast majority of them are law-abiding, good Australians. And Senator Hanson, it is absolutely consistent being a good, law-abiding Australian and a strict, adherent Muslim.
“To ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garment is an appalling thing to do.”
Before resuming his seat to applause, Senator Brandis concluded: “I would ask you to reflect on what you have done.”