Minister says burka is 'alien', prompting applause from Libs

THE federal opposition has backed a West Australian minister's controversial comments on the burka, saying the dress goes against Australian culture and should not be worn.

WA Minister for Women's Interests Robyn McSweeney sparked heated debate when she spoke out against the burka at the weekend, labelling it "alien" to Australia's way of life. "I'm saying that it's confronting when somebody's face is not showing and I personally think that they're being oppressed," Ms McSweeney told The Australian yesterday. "I would just love for them to have the freedom to show their faces."

Opposition parliamentary secretary for the status of women Michaelia Cash said the burka had nothing to do with religion because Islam stipulated modesty only, not the wearing of a face covering. She said the dress deprived women of their identity and isolated them from society. "It is inconsistent with our culture and values and I truly believe that women should not do it," she said.

Both Senator Cash and Ms McSweeney said they were not advocating legislation to ban the burka but wanted Australians to have a "conversation" about whether it should be worn.

But Liberal senator Cory Bernardi renewed his calls for a burka ban because the garment was a security threat and restricted social interaction. In Europe to monitor France's anti-burka law -- under which veiled women will be fined E150 ($205) from today -- he supported Ms McSweeney.

Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis said the government was not considering a burka ban and there were differing views about the covering. She said her view was that governments should support a person's choice in dress and encourage understanding of diversity.

Queensland Minister for Women Karen Struthers said Australians respected cultural traditions "as long as no one is being hurt". South Australian Minister for the Status of Women Gail Gago said there was no reason to influence a Muslim woman's choice if it were made freely.

WA opposition women's interests spokeswoman Sue Ellery claimed Ms McSweeney was playing the race card. Victorian opposition women's affairs spokeswoman Jill Hennessy accused Ms McSweeney of engaging in "dog whistle politics".


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