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Australian State Parliament to Debate Burqa Ban

A legislator in Australia is calling for new laws banning the burqa in public places in the country's most populous state, New South Wales. Reverend Fred Nile has introduced a private members bill to state parliament that would make it an offense to wear a full-face veil in shopping centers and on buses.

Reverend Fred Nile, a Christian Democratic Party MP in the New South Wales upper of house of parliament, insists the burqa does not fit Australian values.

Only a small number of Muslims in Australia wear the loose garment that covers a woman from head to foot, including the face.

But Reverend Nile believes Australia should follow the example of European governments, including France, that have outlawed the burqa.

The controversial bill has been introduced to the New South Wales state parliament and while Reverend Nile denies his planned legislation is racist, he says it will help oppressed Muslim women and increase national security.

"My bill only deals with any face-covering that conceals the identity of a person in public," he said. "So, it deals with freedom for women that they won't be forced to wear any face-covering and also provides for security from terrorism and from anarchists who use face-covering to conceal their identity."

Reverend Nile has been accused of religious bigotry and Muslim groups in Australia have branded the proposed laws a "dangerous attack on women's freedom."

Critics of the bill say it will encourage hostility to the Muslim community, which has faced discrimination and contempt in Australia following the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. in September 2001 and the Bali bombings a year later, which were blamed on Islamic radicals. Eighty-eight Australians died in the bombings on the Indonesian resort island.

The tragedy sparked a backlash against Australia's Muslim minority and although much of the antipathy has subsided, many Muslims still complain of alienation from mainstream society.

Australia's Muslim community is about 300,000-strong. Its members come from more than 70 countries, including Pakistan, Somalia and Bosnia as well as Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reverend Nile's controversial bill is scheduled to be debated in the New South Wales parliament in September.