THE Gold Coast is embroiled in an ugly dispute with a company executive it accompanied on a trade mission to Dubai and all because she wore a 'burqa' at a trade stand.
However, questions have arisen over whether the woman is a practicing Muslim and whether her attire was worn for purely business rather than religious purposes.
Sue Lamb, general manager of Varsity Lakes-based Elanra Medical which manufactures therapeutic ionisers, has revealed she has clashed with Craig Ford, the City of Gold Coast export development boss, during the first day of a trade expo in Dubai.
The stoush, which has captured the attention of world media including Al Jazeera, is even more embarrassing in light of the sister city relationship the Gold Coast has with Dubai.
Lamb, who made headlines a year ago when $10 million was incorrectly deposited into her ANZ credit card, says the 'cultural burqa' and head scarf she was wearing were a gift from 'one of the most influential Arab families in Abu Dhabi' and that she had donned it to respect her 'beliefs and faith'.
"When I and my colleague Deb Black arrived yesterday at the Gold Coast Australian expo stand we were demanded by Craig Ford to get off the stand go back to The Palace where we are staying and told get into western clothing," she wrote in an email sent to Gold Coast Business News.
"I refused because of my beliefs and faith. I said I am Australian and you are discriminating against my beliefs and rights as a woman in business to wear whatever I wish.
"This attire was given to me as a gift of respect by very influential Arab people and it would be a dishonour not to wear it."
Lamb says she had received an interview request from local media and that the interview was only facilitated because she was wearing the religious garments.
However, uncertainty surrounds Lamb's religious faith after she declared in an email that she would not disclose whether she is a Muslim or not. Lamb is flying back to Australia this evening and says she wants 'no drama' in leaving Dubai.
The City of Gold Coast has defended the actions of Ford, their export head who is TradeStart advisor to the city as part of a collaboration with Austrade.
"No Gold Coast City employee would ever ask a Muslim to refrain from wearing clothing appropriate to their religion," says a council spokesman.
"The council employee did advise a visiting Gold Coast exhibitor who was wearing a hijab that wearing such attire could be considered offensive unless the person was a practising Muslim.
"The exhibitor obliged and consequently removed the hijab and dressed in western attire. This was done out of respect to the religion, not in offense.''
Lamb, who says she was told she could wear the religious garments for the day but had to don western attire for the remainder of the trade show, says she wore it to respect 'Arab health and all business association re the culture here'.
Lamb is no stranger to media attention after last year revealing that she was shocked to find $9.99 million had been deposited into her credit card account. The error was reversed after Lamb informed the bank, even though it initially confirmed that the money was hers.
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