A Liberal candidate in a western Sydney electorate where nearly half of voters were born overseas used his campaign launch to urge an end to Muslim women wearing the burqa, drawing a link between the Islamic tradition and criminality.
Ray King, a former Liverpool police commander standing against Treasurer Chris Bowen in McMahon, claimed the burqa was a “sign of oppression”, according to one attendee.
The comments were made in front of guests including the disgraced former detective Roger Rogerson, 2UE broadcaster Jason Morrison and the Assistant NSW Police Commissioner for south-west Sydney, Frank Mennilli.
Also present at the $300-a-head fund-raiser at Candelori’s Restaurant in Smithfield were Liberal Senator Marise Payne, federal Liberal MP Craig Kelly and two members of the Coalition state government, Stuart Ayres and Andrew Rohan.
Mr King’s comments alarmed some Liberal guests as they echoed strident public statements he had made during his policing career, including that migrants should be stripped of welfare to force them to “get off their backside”.
A guest at the May 10 function told Fairfax Media that Mr King was advised straight after his speech that his views had the potential to embarrass Tony Abbott if they became public. Mr Abbott was forced to dump his candidate in Chifley in 2010 for making anti-Muslim statements on Facebook.
Another Liberal Party member present at Candelori’s said: “He said it jokingly that all cultures should assimilate and women who wear the burqa should reconsider their choice. He was also talking about the potential for criminality when people wear the full face cover.”
A former police colleague at Liverpool, where Mr King, 61, was commander until he retired in May, came to his defence, saying he was proudly “not politically correct”. “He’s just someone who speaks his mind but he worked hard to bring communities together. He walked down the street with the Sheikh [of Liverpool Mosque] in the name of harmony,” the former colleague said.
However, some Liverpool community leaders have taken a different view.
Mr King was subject of a complaint to the Community Relations Commission in 2011 over allegedly racist remarks he made at a “meet and greet” with migrant representatives. Kamalle Dabboussy, the manager of the Liverpool Migrant Centre, walked out of the May 26 meeting in disgust.
In a letter to the Community Relations Commission, obtained by Fairfax Media, he complained that Mr King had suggested migrants be stripped of welfare “so that these people get off their backside”.
In his letter, Mr Dabboussy said: “He [King] added that 93 per cent of refugees remained unemployed after five years of being in Australia … I challenged his statements, clearly stating that the work ethic of migrants and refugees is well known.
“He then questioned my credibility, as his facts were from the radio and how did he know my facts were correct.” Mr Dabboussy referred to a report by the Refugee Council of Australia, commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, that found 14.6 per cent of refugees were unemployed after five years.
Mr King said he had no recollection of the meeting. Mr Dabboussy said: “Ray must have amnesia if he can’t remember the meeting. I walked out.”
Mr King appeared before the Wood royal commission into the NSW police force over the practice of Fairfield detectives receiving free meals and alcohol from the Marconi Club in exchange for an informal security presence.
When asked on Wednesday about his comments on the burqa as he campaigned in Fairfield, Mr King said he had no comment but rejected saying they had no place in Australian society.