SYDNEY- A controversial plan to make women wearing the burqa or niqab sit in separate glassed public enclosures at Australia’s Parliament House due to security concerns was abandoned Monday after an outcry.
The back down followed a decision on October 2 by Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry to seat people wearing face coverings in areas normally reserved for noisy school children while visiting parliament.
It followed heated debate about potential security risks since the rise of the Islamic State organization.
The ruling was condemned by human rights and race discrimination groups, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott asked that it be reconsidered.
Race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane told Fairfax Media the original ruling meant Muslim women were being treated differently to non-Muslim women.
“No-one should be treated like a second-class citizen, not least in the parliament,” he said.
“I have yet to see any expert opinion or analysis to date which indicates that the burqa or the niqab represents an additional or special security threat.”
Labor opposition frontbencher Tony Burke welcomed the backdown but said the initial decision should never have been made.
“What possessed them to think that segregation was a good idea?” he said.
“Segregation was previously introduced, apparently, with no security advice attached to it and no security reason attached to it.”