Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


Commonwealth Places and Services (Facial Recognition) Bill 2018; Second Reading

3:49 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Commonwealth Places and Services (Facial Recognition) Bill 2018 ('the Bill') seeks to require that individuals:

        must not do so wearing a full face covering.

        Full or near-full face-coverings have never been part of Australian culture, nor should they be.

        The controversy over full face coverings has emerged due to the various forms of facial veils worn by migrants, particularly from parts of the Middle East.

        The burqa, or burka - in particular - is a full facial covering that by design is meant to be confronting to the observer.

        A slightly lesser version, the niqab, allows the eyes to be visible but nothing else.

        A leading flashpoint on this debate about the burqa and niqab has been the Arab Republic of Egypt – a nation with a predominantly Muslim population. MP Amna Nosseir, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University and member of Egypt's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, backed a ban on face-coverings, saying the veils are not required by Islam and indeed argued it had Jewish, not Islamic, origins on the Arabian Peninsula prior to the emergence of Islam. On that note, the niqab is a cultural, not religious, tradition once worn by women of various beliefs in the Ottoman empire. Its use was most common within harems of concubines, sometimes guarded by eunuchs, but nonetheless seen as the right of elites – not the poor – to wear. The original utility of the burqa was for desert lands, particularly keeping out dust-storms.

        Nossier argued that Quran passages contradict its use and she advocated that the Quran called for modest clothing and covered hair, not facial covering. In 2009 an imam from Al-Azhar issued a fatwa against wearing a full facial covering. Cairo University has banned academic staff wearing the niqab in classrooms, a ban that was subsequently upheld in court. During the October 2015 elections, women were required to remove the veil to be identified at polling stations.

        In early May 2010, I expressed on my Weekly Dose of Common Sense blog website that the burqa has no place in modern Australia. A king tide of political correctness rose up, complete with the froth of confected outrage carried on the winds of left-wing hypocrisy.

        I have remained consistent on this front, ever since – and now, other nations have adopted the position I expressed over 8 years ago.

        France banned the burqa from 11 April 2011.

        Belgium's ban came into effect after France's in 2011, although it had started the debate beforehand.

        It is important to note that Belgium and France's bans withstood court challenges thanks to a 2014 European Court of Human Rights ruling that upheld them, saying they do not breach human rights. The Court ruled, for instance, that Belgium had a right to regulate

        "a practice it considered to be incompatible with Belgian society, with social communication and more generally the establishment of human relations, which were indispensable for life in society … essential to ensure the functioning of democratic society."

        Since 2013, parts of the Catalonia region in Spain have bans on burqas and niqab.

        A limited ban was imposed on the burqa in the Netherlands in 2015, but it was expanded earlier this year. The burqa and niqab are now banned in schools, hospitals, on public transport and within government buildings.

        Chancellor Angela Merkel said on 6 December 2016 that the wearing of full faced veils should be prohibited in Germany 'wherever it is legally possible'. In 2017 Germany banned wearing the full face covering whilst driving.

        Bulgaria, Latvia and parts of Switzerland banned the burqa in public places in 2016. Estonia is considering following suit, as did Austria in 2017.

        The independent-thinking and culturally proud Canadian province of Quebec banned people with a covered face from delivering or receiving a public service in October 2017. Exemptions are available on case-by-case bases. The status of this law is unclear as it is stayed pending a court challenge, which President Trudeau has declined to participate in from a federal level.

        Denmark, part of the often hailed socialist paradise states of Scandinavia, legislated a ban on wearing the niqab or burqa from 1 August this year. Norway banned the burqa in nurseries, schools and universities earlier this year. I note that bill passed by 91 votes to 8.

        Northern and Western African nations Chad, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville and Niger have also banned the burqa in some or all of their territories, largely on national security grounds. Suicide bombings have occurred in some of those countries by fully veiled individuals.

        Full facial coverings make a mockery of our intelligence and national security apparatus. Our policing and national security arrangements rely to an increasing extent on closed-circuit television, body-worn cameras, facial recognition and identity-matching technology. Yet those wearing a facial covering can escape detection using that technology. An individual wearing a balaclava in public places, a Centrelink office or at a citizenship ceremony would immediately attract suspicion as to their criminal intent, but not if they are wearing other types of facial coverings.

        Members of the judiciary have started to insist that full face coverings be removed in Court. Victorian Supreme Court Justice Beale ordered a woman to remove her niqab while attending her husband's trial, allegedly a first in a Victorian court.

        In modern Australia, we can not support the propagation of such ancient, demeaning attitudes towards women as the imposition of a burqa or niqab.

        Indeed, one recalls a speech in the other place in late 2012 by Australia's first female prime minister concerning misogyny that received worldwide attention.

        There are no greater examples of misogyny than the burqa and niqab.

        It is inexplicable to think that women's advocates have been successful in supporting women's right to breastfeed their children in public – say, at a restaurant – but sitting at the next table, a woman has to eat very carefully handing food under her face covering lest her face or any other part of her body or attire be seen.

        In 2006 the former head of Tourism Australia, Mr Scott Morrison, launched an ad campaign which was banned in the United Kingdom for a short time, and caused a media storm. The 'So, Where the Bloody Hell Are you?' campaign featured the bikini clad Lara Bingle encouraging the world to visit our wonderful, free country. Incidentally, then Minister Fran Bailey said the campaign added $4.2 billion to the industry's bottom line after 12 months, thanks in part to the free publicity of the British ban. Yet for this brash campaign Minister Bailey dismissed Mr Morrison from his well-paid job, but then chair of Tourism Australia, Mr Tim Fischer, later said "Scott deserves full credit for the 'So, Where the Bloody Hell Are You?' campaign. It took some courage to run that campaign and he saw it through."

        Here is another opportunity to show courage and see it through.

        It is hard to believe that the same Australia that advertised its desirability to the world through a woman in a bikini, under a Prime Minister who conceived the campaign, would also allow the propagation of a teaching that women must be fully covered lest a man think inappropriately about her. One wonders, indeed, how men demanding full facial and body coverings cope in modern Australia, with so few women covered as their culture allows.

        One young Afghan-born migrant resident in Victoria, in fact, crumbled under the house of cards of misogyny, when he swam between the flags at Surfers Paradise and spent two hours grabbing women aged between 15 and 24 years on their bottoms, breasts and in three cases their vaginas. He pleaded guilty, ultimately, to nine sexual assaults and three common assaults. The offending only stopped when three women asked a lifeguard to notify the police. He was sentenced in April 2017 as a juvenile, to two years' probation with no conviction recorded.

        Just let that sink in.

        It is the proponents of the burqa and niqab who are out of step with modern Australia, not us.

        Indeed, the only remaining ground upon which some seek to wear the burqa or niqab – or compel their wives and daughters wear them – is as a symbol of defiance to 'colonial' or incumbent 'infidel' powers. These, too, are attitudes unwelcome in our own country.

        Among other rationales for this legislation, it can be argued that it will strengthen the hand of moderates within migrant communities against radicals and fundamentalists opposed to Australian democratic principles and freedom. I have had them approach me in Adelaide, telling me they agree with my views on facial veils. They are concerned about aggressive radicals in their midst, and hope their moderate views will prevail.

        The modern day impetus for the burqa and niqab arises from the unfortunate 1979 Iranian revolution. There are plenty of historical pictures of Iranian women living without any facial coverings whatsoever prior to the revolution. The fundamentalists behind the overthrow of the Shah inspired, particularly, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to adopt similar regressive traditions. It is an ideology and cultural-political practice that has since spread by aggressive propagation throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa and now the West – and most glaringly at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

        How remarkable it is that Australian soldiers and their families that fought for the Afghan people's freedom from the radical Taliban, should now be expected to welcome in Australian society one of the key marketing mechanisms of the Taliban – the burqa.

        Indeed, the Afghan story runs long in Australian society, giving its name to the 'Ghan' train line. Yet those cameleers and their families, despite holding the same religious beliefs, did not bring, insist upon or impose a burqa in Australia. Surely with similar desert and dusty conditions, the original Afghan migrants would have readily deployed the burqa in Australian conditions. They didn't.

        The Conservative Party's view is that 21st century migrants must do exactly as most 19th and 20th century migrants did - assimilate into Australian culture and participate in our social and economic life. As such, their prospects of employment and acceptance into Australian culture are enhanced by Australians being able to see their faces and interact with them socially.

        I have been critical for many years of these face coverings which are exclusively worn by women at the behest of men.

        The structure of this bill addresses Commonwealth places, Commonwealth services and citizenship ceremonies.

        When attending public places in a territory – including all of the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and other territories – persons must do so with their face uncovered.

        Face coverings will also need to be removed in the six state capital city airports and Coolangatta airport as 'Commonwealth Places' under the Commonwealth Places (Application of Laws) Regulation 2014. For tourists, this would be addressed via travel advisories, no different to the circumstances in other countries with similar bans and, indeed, no different to the advice our government gives to citizens visiting Saudi Arabia as to how they need to behave to avoid jeopardy under that kingdom's criminal laws.

        If the wearer enters Commonwealth public places with a full face covering, a first offence attracts 1 penalty unit ($210, until 1 July 2020), followed by 5 penalty units for a second offence and for the defiance of third and subsequent offences, 10 penalty units or 1 month's imprisonment.

        We are guided by examples from overseas where full face coverings have been banned in public places. These bans have occurred in democratic nations similarly concerned about the social acceptability and amenity of full face coverings in modern society.

        So as not to be open to unintended consequences, defences are provided if a full face covering is required for:

                  A related offence is created to ensure that responsibility for such offending by minors is sheeted home to the parents or other guardians who are compelling them to do so.

                  We have also been cautious to ensure that 'public place' is tightly defined so as not to impede the free practice of worship or marriage ceremonies. It is also our clear intention that private residences are not considered public places for the purposes of these amendments to the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

                  The attendance at citizenship ceremonies is arguably the highest form of affirmation of the significance of becoming, and being, an Australian. In some instances it means, by implication, the automatic or compulsory forfeiture of citizenship in another country. Of course we know from the extensive exposition of section 44 of our Constitution in this place of late that dual citizenship can arise after attaining Australian citizenship. Yet the swearing of an oath or affirmation of allegiance to Australia may be the most solemn statement a migrant makes in their life aside from their wedding vows. As such, it should be respected for the solemn and symbolic occasion that it is. For a person to wear the flag of fundamentalism, a symbol of oppression of women, from another country in the form of a burqa or niqab, is at best a slap in the face to Australia. At worst it is a cynical act of defiance, a connivance to attain all of the benefits of Australian citizenship without any allegiance to our nation. How can an observer detect the sincerity, or mockery, in the person swearing such an oath with their face covered? As I said, the other solemn swearing of an oath is in marriage, and in Australian tradition, the veil over the bride is lifted by that point in the ceremony so the beneficiary of the vow can detect its sincerity.

                  We affirm the solemnity of the citizenship ceremony and believe that all who partake in it should do likewise – with faces uncovered.

                  In relation to the receipt of social security services, there are likely many instances where a Centrelink office is not situated on Commonwealth land but is a place where a Commonwealth service is delivered. More specifically, attendance at Centrelink is essential to begin receiving the generous social security benefits that a significant cohort of migrants have desired in coming here. The Australian taxpayer is giving money to individuals for their welfare, and it is the least that we can ask that the recipient – be they a citizen, permanent resident or otherwise – respect our laws and culture by removing their face covering when doing so. It is also remarkable that nobody can enter a bank wearing a motorcycle helmet covering their face, but can enter a Centrelink office wearing a face covering. It is also important to be certain that the recipient is the intended recipient – something difficult to verify while the face remains covered.

                  Indeed, the requirement to remove the facial covering in a Centrelink office in a State might be the moment of reprieve that subjugated women get. With modern concerns about protecting women from domestic violence and children from abuse, it may be liberating for the women and the staff they engage with to make face contact. Human conversation and empathy is partly verbal, and partly reading facial expression. Without it, identifying a woman or child in need might be missed.

                  This Bill is about equality for women. We hear in this place many claiming to uphold the rights and equality of women, and for them this Bill is a clear, unambiguous test. They will either side with cultures and ideologies other than Australia's, or with Australian culture and women who deserve to be seen, and heard.

                  I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

                  Leave granted; debate adjourned.