Sydney (Reuters) – Australia’s Senate censured an independent right-wing lawmaker on Wednesday for his comments that New Zealand’s mosques shooting massacre which left 50 people dead was a result of letting “Muslim fanatics” migrate to the country.
Senator Fraser Anning has been widely condemned for his comments made shortly after a lone gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch on March 15.
“There is no room for racism in Australia. Sadly, what Senator Anning said after the Christchurch massacre, however shocking isn’t out of character,” Australian Muslim Senator Mehreen Faruqi told the Senate.
“Just a week before I joined this place, he gave a speech calling for a ban on people like me coming to this country.”
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with one murder following the attack and was remanded without a plea. He is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.
Sitting for the first time since the attack, Australia’s upper house overwhelmingly passed a censure motion against Anning – the first such public rebuke of a lawmaker in four years. A censure motion has no direct legal consequences but acts as an expression of the Senate’s disapproval.
Senator Anning denied he had blamed the victims, insisting the censure was an attack on his civil liberties.
“This censure motion against me is a blatant attack on free speech,” Anning told Reuters via email.
Leaders of the major parties in the Senate condemned Anning’s comments, with opposition Labor Senator Penny Wong rejecting his “free speech” defence.
A police officer places flowers near the police cordon for the Linwood Islamic Centre, as people gather to support a remembrance for the victims of last week’s mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/David Alexander/File Photo
“There is a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. The former is a feature of our democracy. The latter is an attack on democracy,” Wong said.
“This motion makes it clear he doesn’t speak for us. He doesn’t speak for the Senate. He doesn’t speak for this nation. He doesn’t represent Australian values.”
Anning’s comments gained international attention after footage of a teenager smashing an egg on the head of the right-wing senator was widely shared on social media.
Reporting by Alison Bevege; Writing by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry