news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | October 1 2014 | 05:50 pm IST

Australia's parliament approved tough new counter-terrorism laws Wednesday but cross-party support for the measures was accompanied a spat over the wearing of burqas.

The opposition Labour combined with the governing conservative coalition to pass a bill designed largely to deal with the threat posed by Islamic State extremists spreading their terror to Australia.

But the united front showed signs of fraying as members of the Labour expressed anger at calls by a small group of governing Liberal MPs to ban the burqa, the full face and body covering worn by many Muslim women.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott weighed into the debate, saying he found the burqa "a fairly confronting form of attire".

"Frankly, I wish it was not worn 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," Abbott said.

He said it was proper that people were required to remove headgear at the request of security staff when entering buildings such as Parliament House in Canberra.

"In certain buildings, people may be required to show their face and I think that is perfectly appropriate," he said. "There can't be one rule for one form of attire and a different rule for another form of attire."

However, Labour MPs accused the government of inciting community division over the issue.

Labour leader Bill Shorten said Abbott needed to slap down the "fringe dwellers" in his party.

"It is not good enough to talk tolerance and yet have your backbenchers out there pushing socially divisive arguments," Shorten said.

Meanwhile, Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt labelled Abbott's comments "shameful dog-whistling." 

With IANS

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