Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s argument that banning the burqa could damage Australia’s trade relations with Islamic countries has carried the day at the Nationals’ federal conference.
Delegates narrowly rejected the move by MP George Christensen to ban the Islamic garb in Parliament buildings, government offices and departments.
Mr Christensen wanted the matter to be debated at the party’s national conference in Canberra on Sunday, but failed to convince his colleagues to vote against his party leader, Mr Joyce.
The motion failed by four votes, 51 to 55.
The North Queensland federal MP argued the ban was needed not only for for security reasons but also to stop the party base “bleeding to the right” and embracing One Nation.
“I love the democracy of my party,” Mr Joyce said.
“George is a good mate but we don’t necessarily agree on every issue. I do a lot of business into Indonesia, I do a lot of business into Saudi Arabia, and I want to make sure we continue to do that.
“When I go to Saudi Arabia and Indonesia — and I have a good close working relationship — they have never asked me once to become a Muslim and I have never asked them once to become a Christian.
“They don’t insult me and I’m going to make sure that I don’t insult them.”
The federal government has made it clear it will not be banning the burqa.
Attorney-General George Brandis received bipartisan applause in Parliament last month when he rebuked One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s call for a similar ban.
Mr Christensen had been confident he could get enough support to bring on a debate on Sunday but was less sure the measure would pass.
Mr Joyce urged caution, warning of unintended consequences.
“It could stir the possum out of the tree that you didn’t want to toss out,” he said.