CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday that he had asked officials to reconsider a new security measure that segregates Muslim women who wear face veils from other visitors to Parliament House.
The government department that runs Parliament House announced Thursday that “persons with facial coverings” would no longer be allowed in the open public galleries of the House of Representatives or the Senate. They would be directed to galleries usually reserved for noisy school children where they could sit behind sound-proof glass.
The measure has been widely criticised as a potential breach of federal anti-discrimination law that had dubious benefit to the building’s security.
The controversy comes as the government attempts to assure Australia’s Muslim minority that tough new counterterrorism laws and police raids on terror suspects’ homes in recent weeks were directed at crime, not any particular religion.
Abbott said he had asked House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop to “rethink that decision”.
“In public areas of this building, people ought to be allowed to wear what they want,” Abbott told reporters.
The new restriction was signed off by Bishop, who has campaigned for a ban on Muslim head scarves in government schools, and Senate President Stephen Parry.
Bishop did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.