Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will not block the visit of Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, claiming Australia is robust enough to withstand his strong anti-Islamist views.
Writing in The Australian today, Mr Bowen says Mr Wilders is wrong and his views are offensive. "To read his writings is to be struck by their ignorance and their wrong-headed views of other people's beliefs," Mr Bowen says.
Mr Wilders is the founder and leader of the Party for Freedom in The Netherlands and he has campaigned to stop what he claims is the "Islamisation" of his country. His strong views saw him charged in The Netherlands with incitement to hatred and discrimination but he was acquitted in June last year.
Mr Wilders is scheduled to give two speeches in Australia this month and he applied for a visa in August. Members of his staff and police assigned to protect him received visas within three days but Mr Wilders has been waiting until now.
In his piece today, the minister says it has been accurately reported in recent weeks that Mr Wilders has applied for a visa to undertake speaking engagements in Australia.
"Mr Wilders is a provocateur who no doubt revels in the spotlight and would like nothing more than to be denied entry to Australia and garner his cause more attention," Mr Bowen says.
"I have decided not to intervene to deny him a visa because I believe that our democracy is strong enough, our multiculturalism robust enough and our commitment to freedom of speech entrenched enough that our society can withstand the visit of a fringe commentator from the other side of the world," Mr Bowen says.
He says the way to deal with extremist commentators like Mr Wilders is to defeat his ideas with the force of arguments and not by denying him entry into Australia.
"Mr Wilders and people who agree with him are very simply wrong in their beliefs. But in a democracy such as Australia's, you are entitled to be wrong, as long as you don't vilify people or encourage and incite violence. This man, like others who have visited Australia on speaking tours, are subject to Australian law."
See also "Geert Wilders delays Australia trip to next year", Dutch News, 1 October 2012