LIBERAL senator Cory Bernardi has spoken out in support of anti-immigration Dutch MP Geert Wilders, saying a double standard on free speech is emerging in Australia.
Mr Wilders, who is on a speaking tour of Australia, has in the past called Islam ''a retarded culture'' and in Melbourne on Tuesday called the prophet Muhammad a ''warlord, terrorist and paedophile'' and called for a ban on migration from Muslim countries.
His comments drew widespread condemnation, and a large group of protesters delayed the onset of his speech in Melbourne.
Australian Multicultural Foundation chief executive Hass Dellal told Fairfax Mr Wilders' comments were so outlandish there was no sensible reply.
''He is full of contradictions and is wrapped up in his own notoriety. He never speaks of tolerance, understanding or cohesion.''
Senator Bernardi, who has spoken in support of the controversial Wilders in the past, said Mr Wilders' views should have an airing ''in such a tolerant and open society like Australia''.
''There are a myriad of (sic) reports from a previously harmonious and tolerant Dutch society where Jews and gay people no longer feel safe from attack by Islamic fundamentalists,'' Senator Bernardi wrote in a blog post on his Common Sense Lives Here website.
''These fundamentalists are the same people who want to kill Wilders and establish sharia law under a global Caliphate because Muhammad commanded them to back in the 7th century. And yet, it is Wilders who is characterised as an extremist.''
The Q Society, which hosted the speech, said it had been forced to change locations several times for fear of violent protests. The speech was eventually held at a secret location some 40 minutes' drive north-west of Melbourne.
''It isn't hard to conclude that the threat of repercussions from the hard-left and extremists has impacted on their decision to suspend their normal business terms,'' Senator Bernardi said.
He said there was a clear double standard at play, when Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais – a cleric who has described Jews as ''accursed by Allah'', ''apes and pigs'' and ''scum of the earth'' – was due to come to Australia to speak at the Australian Islamic Peace Conference next month with little controversy.
''Why is it so easy for this man to come to our country and share his bizarre views in a public forum without public controversy and yet it is so hard for Mr Wilders?''
Senator Bernardi resigned as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's parliamentary secretary last year after his comments linking gay marriage to bestiality and polygamy.
Mr Abbott said on Wednesday that Mr Wilders was ''substantially'' wrong on Islam, but said he was entitled to his opinion.
''He's entitled to his viewpoint but I think that the Muslims in this country see themselves rightly as fair dinkum, dinky-di Australians, just as the Catholics and the Jews and the Protestants and the atheists,'' Mr Abbott told Fairfax Radio.
''That's one of the great strengths of our country – we are always conscious of what we have in common, rather than the things that divide us.''
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said he may have ''played some role'' in Mr Wilders being forced to cancel his speaking engagements in Perth.
Mr Wilders was forced to cancel the speaking component of his visit to Perth when he was unable to find a venue to host him, but he still plans to visit the WA capital.
Mr Barnett said on Wednesday his comment that Mr Wilders was not welcome at government buildings might have affected the right-wing politician's ability to get a venue.
''I don't want him here. But he's here, and I'm not going to interfere now,'' Mr Barnett told Fairfax radio.
''But he certainly is not going to use government buildings to promote his message.''
The story Bernardi defends Wilders' right to speak in Australia first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.