CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia’s Parliament House on Monday lifted a short-lived ban on facial coverings including burqas and niqabs after the prime minister intervened.
The government department that runs Parliament House announced earlier this month that “persons with facial coverings” would no longer be allowed in the open public galleries of the House of Representatives or the Senate. Instead, they were to be directed to galleries usually reserved for noisy schoolchildren, where they could sit behind sound-proof glass.
The Oct 2 announcement was made a few hours before the end of the final sitting day of Parliament’s last two-week session and had no practical effect.
Hours before Parliament was to resume on Monday, the Department of Parliamentary Services, or DPS, said in a statement that people wearing face coverings would again be allowed in all public areas of Parliament House.
It said face coverings would have to be removed temporarily at the security check point at the front door so that staff could “identify any person who may have been banned from entering Parliament House or who may be known, or discovered, to be a security risk.”
A DPS official, who declined to be named, citing department policy, said that by late Monday no visitor to Parliament House that day had a covered face. Face veils are rarely seen in the building.
The ban on face veils in the public galleries had been widely condemned as a segregation of Muslim women and a potential breach of federal anti-discrimination laws.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott later revealed that he had not been notified in advance that the ban was planned and had asked House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop to “rethink that decision.”
The restriction had been authorised by Bishop, who has campaigned for a ban on Muslim head scarves in government schools, as well as Senate President Stephen Parry.