My goodness, what a fuss!
Peter Hartcher, the Sydney Morning Herald political and international editor, is in a pet below because Tony Abbott is not prepared to put a blanket ban on wearing the burka. Hartcher says that banning the burka is standing up for the freedom of women -- but not the freedom of women to wear what they like apparently. Abbott is clearly the one standing for freedom. The amusing thing is that burka bans are usually promoted by the Right -- while the Left oppose such bans. So is the SMH now to the right of Abbott? That would be a turn up. But it appears to be so. Hartcher could well get a rap over the knuckles from his bosses over this. Hartcher as an Islamophobe -- that has an certain ring to it!
Does Australia stand for the freedom of women? Or for their oppression? As the country confronts the barbarians of the so-called Islamic State, the answer from the national leader should be strong and clear.
The Prime Minister had an ideal opportunity to demonstrate leadership today with a powerful affirmation of the freedom of women.
But, asked whether he thought that women should be banned from wearing burqas, Tony Abbott hedged. He missed the opportunity.
He reverted to the same position he held as head of the opposition, a tribal leader and not a national one.
"I have said before that I find it a fairly confronting form of attire," Abbott told a press conference today. "Frankly, I wish it was not worn."
When he first used this formula, the world had not heard of IS. It did not know that these barbarians were committed to the indiscriminate butchery of anyone who disagreed with them.
The world did not know that they were about to take over a swath of territory twice the size of Switzerland.
And the world did not know that they operated what the former Egyptian minister for families, Moushira Khattab, has called a "master plan to degrade and demean women".
The savages of IS have imposed on women mass rape, mass sexual slavery, genital mutilation, and a market in Mosul where women are sold for 100,000 Iraqi dinars, or about $90, each.
The barbarians are the worst kind of oppressors. Australia is going to war to defeat them. An Australian prime minister should be a forceful champion of freedom, including the freedom of women in Australia to wear what they choose, whether burqa or bikini.
Abbott did go on to make a statement of principle in favour of freedom: "But we are a free country, we are a free society and it is not the business of government to tell people what they should and shouldn't wear."
Unfortunately, he then hedged again: "It is a little different, obviously, in a situation where peoples' identity is important. My understanding is that in courts, for instance, people may be required to show their face. In certain buildings, people may be required to show their face and I think that is perfectly appropriate."
Why say this? Because he wanted to show sympathy for the two members of his government's backbench, Cory Bernadi and George Christensen, who are campaigning for a burqa ban in Parliament House.
Even though all visitors go through metal detectors. Even though members of the public have never, in the history of the building, been required to have their identities checked. Even though motor registries in western Sydney have perfectly acceptable procedures to check the faces of covered women where necessary, without fuss or offence.
The two backbenchers argue that a ban on burqas is necessary for security purposes. So if they are so concerned about security, where are all their other proposals for better security? They have none.
They are not interested in security. They are only interested in fanning prejudice.
Abbott has implicitly endorsed their dirty, divisive dogwhistle politics to appease them. Instead of winking at their intolerance, a real leader would have shut them down in a moment of crisis.
He would have done well to heed the words of his own Attorney-General, George Brandis, who told the National Press Club on Wednesday that, in the face of a rising risk of terrorism, "there could be no greater error than for Australians to demonise our fellow Islamic citizens".
Australia's social cohesion is at risk. The Prime Minister's responsibility is not to play with it but to protect it.