Federal Territory passes laws to force removal of burqas

New laws that will allow police to force the removal of burqas, helmets, hats and other clothing concealing a person's identity have been passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The road transport legislation, approved yesterday, will give ACT authorities greater power to order the removal of head coverings in circumstances including random roadside drug tests, traffic offences, and applications for a driver's licence. But women who wear a head covering, such as a burqa, for religious or cultural reasons will be allowed to request that it only be removed in the presence of a female police officer or in a private place in accordance with their beliefs.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said yesterday the laws were not meant to target certain cultural or religious groups in the ACT and had been developed in response to incidents where motorists had refused to remove items of clothing such as motorcycle helmets, balaclavas, large sunglasses and hoodies when police were trying to establish their identity.

"Where drivers or riders continue to refuse to remove the item, sometimes it has been necessary to resort to the arrest power and take the person into custody to establish his or her identity," Mr Corbell told the Assembly. "A new direction to remove the obscuring item is a more efficient and less heavy handed solution."

People wearing facial coverings as part of medical treatment will not be required to remove them under the legislation.

The Canberra Liberals and the ACT Greens voted in favour of the laws, with both parties saying the legislation was sensitive to drivers who concealed their faces for cultural, religious or medical reasons.

However, Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan called for an amendment to part of the legislation that protects police who do not comply when a driver makes a reasonable request for a female officer or a private location to remove a facial covering.

The amendment was voted down by the government and the Canberra Liberals.

Mr Corbell said the laws did not impose an "absolute obligation" to comply with a request because there were circumstances where "all or even part compliance with a request may not be safe or reasonably practical."

Yesterday's amendments to the ACT's traffic laws also tightened the definition of a repeat offender for serious traffic offences, such as culpable or negligent driving.

The change will ensure that a person who commits a second offence when a conviction for a first offence is still being finalised will be charged as a repeat offender and can have their licence automatically disqualified.

Mr Corbell said that the amendment would make ACT roads safer and encourage better driver behaviour.


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