Australia's Senate condemns lawmaker over anti-Muslim comments after New Zealand massacre

Senator Fraser Anning during a censure motion against him in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on April 3, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's Senate censured an independent right-wing lawmaker on Wednesday (April 3) 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 Friday, when police say he is likely to face more charges.

Sitting for the first time since the attack, Australia's Upper House overwhelmingly passed a censure motion against Mr 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.

Right-wing 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," he told Reuters via e-mail.

Leaders of the major parties in the Senate condemned Mr Anning's comments, with opposition Labor Senator Penny Wong rejecting his "free speech" defence.

"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," Ms 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."

Mr Anning's comments gained international attention after footage of a teenager smashing an egg on his head was widely shared on social media.

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