Pauline Hanson defiant as speech criticised in Australia

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Media captionPauline Hanson making her maiden speech: Australia is in danger of "being swamped by Muslims"

Pauline Hanson has refused to apologise for her maiden speech to the Australian senate, in which she said the country was being "swamped by Muslims".

Her speech has been widely criticised by the prime minister, the opposition and Muslim community leaders.

It echoed her controversial 1996 speech in which she warned that Australia was in danger of being "swamped by Asians".

Ms Hanson said she would not apologise for trying to "preserve our way of life".

According the latest government statistics, 2.2% of Australians list their religion as Islam, compared to 61.1% Christian.

The two fastest growing descriptions are atheist and agnostic - officially described as "no religion" - and Hinduism.

But Ms Hanson, who leads the anti-immigration One Nation party, said Australians would eventually be forced to live under Islamic religious law, or Sharia, unless changes were made.

"Islam cannot have a significant presence in Australia if we are to live in an open, secular and cohesive society," she said.

"We have seen the destruction it is causing around the world."

She also said she wanted a ban on the burqa and to stop the construction of new mosques.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Greens senators walk out of the chamber during Ms Hanson's speech

'Mutual respect'

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who will be relying on the support of the four One Nation senators to pass legislation, distanced himself from the highly controversial speech.

"Senator Hanson knows I do not agree with her views on migration," he told The Australian newspaper.

"Australia is the world's most successful multicultural society and the foundation of that success is mutual respect."

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale, who led his party's senators out of the chamber in protest of Ms Hanson's speech, said racism "has no place in parliament but that is what we have just heard from Senator Hanson," he said on Twitter.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon, whose parents are European migrants, told Sky News Australia he found the speech "heartbreaking".

"We're an open and inclusive country and Pauline Hanson is wrong when she says Islam and democracy aren't compatible," he said.

Former prime minister John Howard argued Ms Hanson's supporters were not racists or bigots and did not vote for her because of their views on immigration

"They voted for her because they're unhappy with the mainstream political parties," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

'Ideology of hatred'

Ali Kadri, the Islamic Council of Queensland's spokesman, drew a parallel between Senator Hanson and al-Qaeda.

"Before it became a terrorist organisation, it preached an ideology of hatred," he said.

"Unfortunately Pauline Hanson and people like Donald Trump and others are taking the West towards that path as well, and that path only leads towards the destruction of nations and people and we've seen that in the Middle East."

Ms Hanson was unapologetic when she returned to parliament on Thursday.

"Why do you stand here and criticise me for standing up to preserve our way of life that we have peace and cohesion on our streets?" she asked reporters.

"I will not apologise to you, I will not apologise to anyone. I do believe that a lot of other politicians do support what I say."

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