Lawmakers in Australia's most populous state voted against banning the burqa Thursday, with one accusing the Christian MP who moved the bill of stigmatizing Muslims.
Fred Nile, of the right-wing Christian Democrats Party, urged the New South Wales parliament to vote in favour of banning the full Islamic veil for security reasons and to "set women free from domination of males".
But his bill was quashed in the state's upper house by 26 to three votes, with the centre-left Labor and more radical Greens parties condemning it as racist.
"There is no urgency in spreading further fear and hatred in our community," said Islamic Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane.
Nile's real intent was "stigmatizing an entire community", added Greens MP John Kaye.
It follows heated public debate sparked earlier this month by calls from conservative national Senator Cory Bernardi for a ban on the burqa, which he claimed was "emerging as the preferred disguise of bandits and ne'er-do-wells".
Bernardi's comments, prompted by the use of the Islamic veil in an armed robbery in Sydney, led both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his opposition counterpart Tony Abbott to declare that such a ban was not current policy.
Muslims make up about 1.7 percent of Australia's heavily Christian population of 22 million, and religious tensions have run high in recent years.
Anti-Muslim sentiment flared on Sydney's southern Cronulla Beach in December 2005 when mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians there in a bid to "reclaim the beach".
The race riots, the country's worst of modern times, sparked a retaliatory campaign in which churches, shops and cars were attacked.
The French cabinet on Wednesday approved a draft law to ban the Muslim full-face veil from public spaces, paving the way for a parliamentary vote in July.
Belgium last month became the first country to pass such a national ban.