Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration, Senator Kate Lundy, says she is not in favour of attempts to ban the wearing of the burqa in Australia.
Senator Lundy made the comments in a speech on A Multicultural Australia, given at UWA's Centre for Muslim States and Societies on April 14.
The address highlighted the role multicultural policy is playing in supporting the social fabric of Australia through a period of great change.
Senator Lundy referred to the recent controversy involving the wearing of the burqa by Muslim women, saying migrants should be given the opportunity and support to learn Australian values and customs.
"It seems we have yet again seeing a debate as to whether Australia should consider banning the burqa," she said.
"However, I do not think that Australians want the Government to police a national dress code.
"In a modern democracy it is not a state's place to regulate expression - particularly if the rationale relies on the subjective interpretation of the meaning intended by that expression.
"Pru Goward (Australia's former Sex Discrimination Commissioner) made the observation that there is a very thin line between the argument that we ‘must ban the burqa to prevent women from being seen as second-class citizens' and the argument ‘we must prevent the sexualisation of women by banning any dress that is too revealing'.
"If the concern is gender equity then the tactics need to be more meaningful. I am more interested in our settlement services and the role they play in supporting new migrants to understand Australian values and a new culture.
"Part of multicultural policy is ensuring new migrants understand our democratic values and are given the opportunity to learn our customs and culture through orientation support."
Senator Lundy pointed out that Australia today is comprised of migrants from more than 200 countries.
"Our Chinese population has grown sixfold and more than 50 per cent of our Indian-born community arrived in the past 15 years. Our Muslim community is now 340,000, up from a base of 22,000 in 1971 - a 15-fold increase," she said.
"We now claim representation from every culture and every corner of the globe. We include among our numbers more than 270 ethnicities who speak 260 languages and observe all the world's religions."
Senator Lundy said the Federal Government's recently launched multicultural policy, The People of Australia, was an attempt to answer the challenges of managing the diversity of Australia's increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-faith society. She said the policy embraces four key principles:
- celebrating and valuing our diversity;
- maintaining social cohesion;
- communicating the benefits of Australia's diversity;
- and responding to intolerance and discrimination.
(You can view Senator Lundy's full speech at her website.)