Thursday, 1 December 2016
Statement by the Speaker
Parliament House: Security
I wish to update the House following yesterday's events when question time was interrupted by a group of protesters in the public gallery. I made the decision to suspend proceedings yesterday as a last resort in what were clearly extraordinary circumstances. As I noted yesterday, our purpose here is to conduct the business of the House, which we were prevented from doing for a period of time while those people who were disrupting the House were removed from the gallery. The actions yesterday of those people who prevented the House from conducting its business also prevented all other visitors in the galleries from observing their parliament and their representatives at work, as well as those watching and listening to the broadcast from outside the chamber.
We all want members of the public to be able to visit this building and observe the work of the House of Representatives in person. Of course, there is a balance between the rights of people to access the galleries and the need for the House to be able to operate and conduct its work without interruption. Yes, we are a robust democracy, but let me say that this will never give licence to a vocal minority to shout down elected representatives, damage this building, violate the democratic rights of other people wishing to view proceedings and, to be quite frank, alarm and frighten many visitors, including schoolchildren who I know were inside and outside the chamber yesterday, as they are every sitting day.
Yesterday I indicated that a thorough investigation would be undertaken. I can advise the House that this investigation has commenced. Amongst other things, the investigation will cover procedures for security screening of people attending the public galleries, ticketing procedures for question time and procedures for non-ticketed attendees. I have spoken with the head of the Department of Parliamentary Services, Mr Rob Stefanic, and as a consequence of those discussions, we will also look into security response procedures and capacity within the building. The President of the Senate and I are currently considering all aspects in relation to cost recovery for the damage that was done to the chamber and any possible charges.
I want to make a final statement on some protest activity that occurred this morning at the front of the building. Members will be aware that earlier this morning two protesters accessed the Queen's Terrace and unfurled a banner on the facade of Parliament House. A further 13 protesters entered the forecourt pond and poured red-coloured dye into it. The protesters in the pond eventually left after requests by the Australian Federal Police. The protesters who abseiled from the facade removed the banner and lowered themselves, again after a direction from the Australian Federal Police. I am advised that the ACT police are considering charges in respect of the protesters who abseiled from the facade.
As a final word, I wish to thank the officers of the Parliamentary Security Service and the Australian Federal Police who removed the protesters yesterday and today in such a professional and orderly way. I thank members for their time. I will update members on outcomes of the investigation as appropriate.
Mr Speaker, on indulgence, on behalf of the government I thank you very much for your very firm and clear response and for launching the investigation that we discussed yesterday in this place following the incident. We look forward to the updates as they come to hand here.
Mr Speaker, on indulgence, joining the Leader of the House, the opposition thanks you for the way you have kept us updated and for the actions that have been taken so far. We once again reiterate our support for the staff of the parliament who were placed in a particularly difficult situation.