Senator Cory Bernardi
Senator Cory Bernardi Photo Parlview

Senator BERNARDI:: I rise to support the Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Full Face Coverings in Public Places) Bill 2017. I’m mindful of some words that were given to me when I first started in the financial markets. An experienced gentleman said, ‘In order to preserve your financial balance sheet, you’re always better to be six months too early than one day too late.’ It has some parallels with this debate about our national security, and particularly, specifically, about the burqa. I first raised this issue in May 2010—more than seven years ago. I didn’t find a single supporter in this place. Very few in the public sphere publicly came out and made noise in support of what I said at the time. But it seems that we are getting to a point where people are recognising the prescience of the warnings that were sounded. For the benefit of Hansard, I wrote this on 6 May 2010:

In my mind, the burka has no place in Australian society. I would go as far as to say it is un-Australian. To me, the burka represents the repressive domination of men over women which has no place in our society and compromises some of the most important aspects of human communication.

It also establishes a different set of rules and societal expectations in our hitherto homogenous society.The same can be said for any number of areas where photographic identification is required. How many of us would ask for the veil to be dropped so we can compare the photo with the burka wearer’s face? I suspect the fear of being called bigoted, racist, Islamaphobic or insensitive would prevent many from doing what they would not think twice about under normal circumstances.

Equality of women is one of the key values in our secular society and any culture that believes only women should be covered in such a repressive manner is not consistent with the Australian culture and values …

New arrivals to this country should not come here to recreate the living environment they have just left. They should come here for a better life based on the freedoms and values that have built our great nation.

The burka isolates some Australians from others. Its symbolic barrier is far greater than the measure of cloth it is created from.

For safety and for society, the burka needs to be banned in Australia.

Those words today cause almost no reaction. People will, of course, disagree with them, but they cause almost no reaction because people know they’re right. But, at the time, the abuse and the criticism came from all fields. In May 2010, when Mr Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, it was reported:

Mr Rudd suggested yesterday Senator Bernardi was engaged in ”populist politics”—

well, that’s worked pretty well for me so far, so he was wrong there—

and that Australians took a sensible approach to traditional dress.

A sensible approach, Mr Rudd, is not to cover your face while you’re walking around the streets of Australia. He went on to say:

‘The worst thing we can do is actually start ganging up on particular groups within our country.

No-one is ganging up on anyone. We’re saying this is completely inappropriate and it shouldn’t be here.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has never missed an opportunity to jump on a minority bandwagon. She said:

If people want to start banning items of apparel, perhaps we could start with budgie-smugglers?

May I make this point with respect to that: there are items of clothing that are inappropriate to wear in certain circumstances and, if anyone thinks it’s okay to wear budgie smugglers or any other bathing attire into the Senate chamber, for example, they’re barking mad. I would say it is the same for anyone who thinks it’s okay to turn up in a court of law for a judicial appearance in some bathing attire or budgie smugglers. There is a time and a place for those sorts of things. Society renders those verdicts and expects others to abide by them. But let me tell you, I don’t know a time and a place for anyone to walk around with the sack of anonymity over their heads in Australian society. It is a cultural export from the women-hating regime in Saudi Arabia, where they cover their women like chattels and export their extremist ideology to Afghanistan and other Wahhabist Islamic nations. We are in the country of Australia, a homogenous country, a country where we believe in giving people a fair go and you judge someone basically by the smile on their face and the glint in their eye. The burqa prevents that from happening.

Of course, it wasn’t just Senator Hanson-Young and Mr Rudd. My old friend Keysar Trad, the guy who was found by a court to be an anti-Semite, a person who incites violence, steers people to jihadi websites and so forth—a really terrible person—said it’s ‘totally uncalled for to bring these phobias into Australia’. Sticking up for your own culture, sticking up for your way of life is, according to Mr Trad, a phobia, and this is a guy with a track record that I’ve just outlined. He also tried to take over AFIC and was booted out of that because one set of crooks couldn’t get through another set of crooks. These are the sorts of judgements, and the media report these people as being credible.

Western Australian MPs were surveyed: ‘A survey of state MPs found all who responded disagreed with a call by Senator Bernardi for burqas to be banned.’ So all West Australian MPs disagreed with my call at the time. In September, this was reported:

Muslims Australia president Ikebal Patell said that while the burqa was “confronting”, it was nonsense to suggest it was being used as a disguise to commit crimes—notwithstanding the evidence to the contrary—to use this as an excuse to ban the burqa, I would like to think Cory Bernardi has asked for helmets, balaclavas and other face coverings to be banned …

In fact, it’s not appropriate for someone to walk down the street with a balaclava on either, unless you’re in the ski fields or somewhere like that. If someone walked into this place with a balaclava on, people would be alarmed. It is about a time and a place. If you want to wear your burqa in your backyard or your special fete or something like that, maybe it’s appropriate there, but it’s not appropriate in Australian society and culture.

Mr Abbott—I was his parliamentary secretary at the time—walked away from it and said they were my personal views rather than coalition policy, but he did acknowledge:

There is understandable concern in the community about what former prime minister John Howard called a ‘confronting’ form of attire.

It wasn’t long after that that the reality hit some of those people. There was a case in the New South Wales police where a woman wearing a burqa, or a niqab, in fact, was pulled over by the police and questioned for not having P-plates and various other things on. She made a number of allegations against the police officer—that he was a rapist, that he had touched her inappropriately and all of these sorts of accusations. Fortunately, for this police officer, he had his dash cam on, and it demonstrated comprehensively that whomever was hiding under that burqa—because they hadn’t been identified—wasn’t telling the truth. They then sought to prosecute the individual because they had signed a statutory declaration making these allegations against the police. But, of course, the person taking the statutory declaration didn’t ask to see the face of the person signing it, so they couldn’t verify that it was actually the individual. So the prosecution of the person for making a false statement failed because they had the niqab on and society—and individuals involved—was too scared and too ashamed to ask them to show their face for fear of being called an Islamophobic. Shortly thereafter the New South Wales government, to their credit, changed the law.

We could go on and on and on. There are cases after cases after cases, here and internationally, where people have chosen to hide themselves behind the Islamic veil and refuse to take it off in a court of law, so much so that in Western Australia they were considering allowing people to give their evidence via video because they didn’t want to offend them by insisting they show their face in the courtroom. These are the sorts of accommodations we’re making for a subsection of the community which is so small, so minor and yet are so inextricably linked to fundamentalist Islam that the burqa could be called the flag of fundamentalism. No moderate Muslim wears the burqa. No secular Muslim wears the burqa. They are fundamentalists.

Every time you see a terror raid—and we saw one, and I tweeted this actually a couple of years ago, once again to much more abuse, when a family was raided for terror offences. Subsequently, one of the individuals was found guilty. We saw a number of people, individuals, walk out with a niqab and their faces covered. And I made the tweet, ‘Well, there’s the flag of fundamentalism.’ If you want to identify where the radical threats are in your society, look for the individual wearing the burqa. Some may say, ‘Well, that’s good, we should keep it there so we know where the nests of extremism are residing.’ But it’s worse than that. It sends a message to every Australian, ‘I do not want to be part of you.’ It says, ‘I am unemployable,’ because no-one would rightfully give a job to someone who insisted upon hiding their face from everyone else. I can’t imagine the circumstances where they were—maybe in a burqa modelling agency or something. I can’t imagine.

But this is nonsensical. The defenders of this are the same people who have sold out our culture and our values in so many areas. It is this cultural relativism that if we dismantle what we’ve got here, which is something precious and something unique, it will all be okay. But by some quirk of fate, Australia has become the best country in the world. We risk dismantling it every time we surrender our values and our principles at the altar of political correctness.

I’ve only got through 2010 there, of course. I must compliment Senator Cash, who is actually in the chamber, because Senator Cash did say in April of 2011, ‘It is inconsistent with our culture and values, and I truly believe that women should not do it.’ So congratulations, Senator Cash. But very few other people came out and expressed any support. In fact, they would often lay traps so that when a visiting dignitary would come here they would say, ‘Oh, the nutjobs want to ban the burqa,’ or words to that effect. ‘What do you think about that?’ They fronted my old pal Hillary Clinton—I think you will get sarcasm for that. In November of 2010, on the day after my birthday—it must have been a gift from Hillary—an enterprising journalist said, ‘The right-wing want to ban the burqa. What do you think about that on security issues?’

She said: Well I am aware of the difference between a head scarf and a burka and hijab—most people in this place, aren’t, by the way—and I think that there is a difference. I think that a head scarf is a very appropriate manifestation of a woman’s choice, so long as it is her choice, which is a premise of my answer. But I think we have to face the reality that in a society where there is a legitimate threat of terrorism, not being able to see one’s face, not being able to have some sense of communication in that way is for many societies a challenge. So I understand the dilemma and I think it is a legitimate dilemma.

So you had the left-wing cheerleader, who is beloved by so many—and I reckon 90 per cent of the people in the Senate and the House of Representatives were cheering her on for President last year; I wasn’t one of them—prepared to say, ‘Yes, it’s inappropriate to have someone’s face covered because of the security issues attached to it.’ I could go on.

Councils, governments and building owners are spending millions upon millions of dollars on security cameras to identify the people in their area for security reasons alone. Yet if you’ve got a group of people covering their faces, it doesn’t set off any alarm bells. If you saw a bunch of people in motorcycle helmets, you would raise questions. If you saw a bunch of people in balaclavas walking down the street, you would raise questions. But, for some reason, we are meant to suspend belief and reality and say that a bunch of people covering their face in the name of religious piety is okay. It represents exactly the same security threat, perhaps even more so, because it is so irregular in this country. If you can’t identify the individual under that facial veil, how do you know which one of them has committed the crime?

It was brought home very starkly here in the parliament. When I was walking through the public gallery there were five or six women wearing niqabs. I went to security and asked, ‘Did you ask to check their face when they were coming through?’ Their answer was, ‘No, we’re not allowed to.’ I said, ‘What if they had balaclavas on?’ ‘Yes, we’d have to check their face.’ The principle is exactly the same, which prompted me to write to the then presiding officers and ask: ‘What’s the story? Why is it that some people are asked to show their face and others aren’t? If one of that group of burqa-clad individuals damaged or defaced one of the paintings, how would you know which one it was when they all look the same?’

These are legitimate questions in this place. It was raised on ABC radio. I raised in 2010-11 that, if we had a vote and we had multiple people here wearing niqabs or burqas, you wouldn’t know who it was. That is the exact point that Senator Hanson herself made just the other day. They are very valid and legitimate points. Somehow we’re not allowed to have a rational and sensible discussion about it because the snowflakes worry we’re going to upset or offend a group of people. Well, I’m over that. I don’t care about upsetting or offending a group of people. I get upset and offended because people are prepared to dismantle and destroy our culture, our values and our way of life to indulge the desires of a tiny minority.

It’s about time that we confronted the sorts of threats that are in our society. I’m convinced that the reason people wear burqas is to directly challenge us, to say: ‘No, I will not conform to your laws. I will not conform to your requirements.’ We even had the inane circumstance in South Australia where the then prisons minister said it was okay for women to wear burqas in prison. What sort of mindless, mind-numbing stupidity is that? Fortunately, she lost her seat at the next election. But that’s the sort of blinkered understanding or ideology that is behind some of the appeasement processes. Appeasement simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work.

Sticking up for your values and defending your principles is what the Australian people want. They want it from this place. They want it from people in their own communities. I regret to say that every time we sweep these things under the rug. People say it is just a racist, Islamophobic rant; it’s not. This is about genuine issues—about cultural assimilation and integration, about national security and about the type of country we want to see for ourselves.

I’d hazard a guess that the women of Saudi Arabia and the women of Afghanistan would welcome this sort of debate and discussion in their parliament, because they want to be free of this cloak of anonymity, this flag of fundamentalism, this dehumanising garment that reduces a woman to the property of her husband. That’s exactly what it does. Yet the vitriol and the abuse spewed at those of us who are concerned not only about the welfare of the individual but also about the welfare and wellbeing of our nation is extraordinary.

Senator Hanson: Where are the feminists?

Senator BERNARDI: Senator Hanson asks: where are the feminists? That’s crickets chirping you can hear, because they’re nowhere to be seen. Virginia Haussegger, an ABC News presenter here in Canberra, once made the point that she thought the burqa should be banned, and she remarked to me once that the vitriol and the abuse that she received in response was unbelievable. So why is it that so many in our country are prepared to surrender our rights, our history, our values, our societal expectations and our cultural heritage in favour of several dozen—maybe several hundred or maybe several thousand—people who want to directly challenge it? That is what I cannot come to terms with.

Senator McKim: It’s not about telling people how to dress.

Senator BERNARDI: Senator McKim says it’s not about telling people how to dress. But the big problem with Senator McKim and his rhetoric is that he’s blinded by his own ideology. The big deal here is that Senator McKim is prepared to surrender our values and our culture at the altar of political correctness. He is a sell-out. He is the Neville Chamberlain of the Australian debate: ‘Appease everyone, and it will be okay. We can be in some great global environment.’

Senator McKim interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: What I would suggest to you is that if the Greens voters, led by Senator McKim, decided to go and perch themselves in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia for a little while, let’s see how far their discussion gets. That’s the reality of it. We’ve got to defend our culture. (Time expired)

Chamber Senate on 14/09/2017Item BILLS – Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Full Face Coverings in Public Places) Bill 2017 – Second ReadingSpeaker: Bernardi, Sen Cory/ Parliment Transcript used for Reporting the Truth in News

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