Abbott Says Burqa ‘Confronting’

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he finds the Islamic burqa “confronting” and believes it should be removed in public buildings that are subject to security checks, including Parliament House.

“I’ve said before that I find it a fairly confronting form of attire,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra today. “Frankly, I wish it was not worn but we are a free country, we are a free society and it’s not the business of government to tell people what they should and shouldn’t wear.”

Australia raised its terrorism alert to the highest level in a decade last month, citing the threat posed by supporters of Islamic State, and days later police carried out their largest anti-terrorism raid, foiling an alleged beheading plot. The nation, which will host leaders of the Group of 20 economies at a summit in Brisbane in November, is backing U.S. President Barack Obama’s coalition against Islamic State.

It was “perfectly appropriate that in certain circumstances people may be required to show their face” such as in the courts, Canberra’s Parliament House or other secure, public buildings, Abbott said. “There can’t be one rule for one form of attire and a different rule for another form of attire, it’s got to be the same rules for everyone.”

Abbott, who said he will make an announcement about the role of forces stationed in the United Arab Emirates “shortly,” saw his government today implement laws that boost the ability of its security agencies to monitor and act against home-grown extremists.

Population Surge

Asked if the burqa -- a head-to-feet loose garment worn by some Muslim women in public -- should be banned in Parliament House, Andrew Colvin, who was announced by Abbott today as the new commissioner for the Australian Federal Police, said “not necessarily.”

“This isn’t about religion, this isn’t about particular headdress, this isn’t about what someone may or may not choose to wear,” Colvin said. “Policing in this country is done in order to provide the freedoms so that people can live their life the way they want to live it.”

Waves of Middle Eastern migrants have seen Australia’s Muslim population surge 69 percent in a decade, with security experts warning that disaffected young men facing fewer job prospects on the fringes of major cities are susceptible to Islamic State propaganda. The number of Australians identifying themselves as Muslim rose from 281,600 in 2001 to 476,300 by 2011 -- about 2.2 percent of the population.

Backing U.S.

Australia has deployed 400 air force personnel, 200 special forces soldiers and eight Super Hornets and support aircraft to a U.S. base in the United Arab Emirates. Abbott and his cabinet have yet to announce whether they have signed off on their involvement in the U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State.

The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, which passed in the lower house of parliament today with support from the major opposition party, allows Australia’s intelligence agencies to better share information and conduct covert operations against terrorism suspects.

The laws increase the maximum penalties for existing secrecy offenses from two years’ imprisonment to 10 years and enact new offenses for placing intelligence information at risk of compromise.

Other planned measures include allowing the cancellation of passports and welfare payments for suspects. The government wants to counter Australian citizens who have “fought alongside listed terrorist organizations in overseas conflicts and return to Australia with enhanced terrorism capabilities and ideological commitment,” according to an explanatory memorandum of the Foreign Fighters Bill, which is yet to be passed.

The government says at least 60 Australians are fighting alongside militant groups in Syria and Iraq, with 100 more funding or facilitating them.

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