SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott asked officials on Friday to re-think restrictions on members of the public wearing face-coverings such as burqas in parliament following a public backlash against the measures.
The restrictions, which would have forced women wearing head coverings to view chambers of parliament from a glassed-in gallery, had sparked criticism that the government was inflaming tensions with the Muslim community following a series of security-related raids. "I asked the Speaker to re-think that decision and my understanding is that it was an interim decision, that it would be looked at again in the light of security advice that will come in coming days and I'm sure that the matter will be fully resolved before the parliament comes back in a fortnight,"Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
Abbott describes the burqa as "confronting" and something he wished people chose not to wear, but said it was not the role of government to tell people what to wear outside of secure buildings.
The restrictions were criticised by Muslim groups and opposition members of parliament, including independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who called them "religious apartheid".
Last week Senator Cory Bernardi, a member of Abbott's Liberal Party, said he had requested that all visitors to parliament be barred from wearing the head-to-toe burqa robe and all other facial coverings for security reasons.
Senator Jacqui Lambie, a member of mining magnate Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party, has sought a ban on burqas in public places and demanded that all people practising Islamic sharia law be expelled from the country.