We can rise above Muslim ban: commissioner

Elise Scott

Australia is being tested with a debate about banning Muslim immigration and must rise above appeals to fear as it has in the past, the nation's race discrimination commissioner says.

Tim Soutphommasane was responding to the findings of an opinion poll which showed almost half of Australians support banning Muslims from migrating here.

He puts the result down to heavy media coverage of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation leader's anti-Muslim policies in the past two months.

"Not a week goes by when we don't see or hear from her or her ideas, including on immigration," he told ABC radio on Thursday.

"There is a risk that what were once unacceptable ideas about race, religion and immigration are now being normalised."

Mr Soutphommasane says that's why political leaders should stand up to such rhetoric.

He pointed to polls in 1947 which showed more than half of Australians did not want to accept Jewish refugees after WWII, saying the nation from time to time was tested with such debates.

"It's fundamentally important we have leadership from the political sphere that will resist appeals to fear."

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek appeared to agree with that sentiment.

"We're not doing a good enough job as national leaders to bring harmony and cohesion to our community."

Senator Hanson, who wants a national vote on whether to impose a ban, has used the poll as evidence her party is standing up for the "silent majority".

"Unlike the other parties, who refuse to talk honestly about issues like immigration and Islam, One Nation would like to give the public a voice," Senator Hanson said.

The poll showed more than a third supporting the ban felt Muslims did not integrate into Australian society, with others citing concerns about terrorism and lack of uptake of Australian values.

The federal government is standing by the country's non-discriminatory immigration policy, crediting it with producing the world's most successful multi-ethnic society.

While admitting the country had "issues around some of these matters" Treasurer Scott Morrison said no country managed immigration as well as Australia.