Thursday, 1 December 2016
Approval of Works
I want to put on the record that the Greens will not be supporting this motion to increase the security arrangements at Parliament House. The Greens have huge concerns about this particular proposal. We have concerns because we believe it attacks the fundamental principle on which this parliament was built—that is, this parliament was built to ensure that it welcomed the community into the parliament and to ensure that it was politicians who were connected to the work of ordinary members of the community. In fact, the very design was made in such a way that it was politicians that served at the feet of the people—that politicians would be subservient to the people. Integral to the design is this grass roof that allows people to walk above us. I think that says something very profound about the Australian democracy. It is hugely disappointing that these changes go to the very heart of that and they ring fence parts of the parliament to prevent ordinary people from communicating with their politicians.
I think this goes to the heart of the problem that democracies right around the world are experiencing—that is, there is a growing disconnect between politicians and ordinary people. We are here with this measure to further entrench the developing gulf that exists between modern democracy and the people it purports to represent. While we understand that it is important to always remain vigilant and do everything we can to keep people in this building safe, we think these changes go far too far and really do change the fundamental principle that we are here to serve the people.
Before I put the motion, I wish to make some comments in relation to the proposal before the Senate for the security works. The Speaker in the other place gave some information to the House of Representatives this morning, and I intend to also pass on some information and to dispel some myths.
First of all, the Speaker and I take the role of parliamentary security exceptionally seriously. For the last couple of years, we have been working with a security task force. We receive constant professional advice from the Australian Federal Police, from ASIO, from the Attorney-General's Department and also from departmental officials. This advice is always taken into consideration when considering hardening security arrangements within the building and on the external perimeter. The reason this has come before the parliament is that we are required by law to present matters to the parliament where there is a change to or erections on the exterior of the building, which we are doing. The capital works are required to be presented to both chambers. The House of Representatives has passed that without dissent this morning.
Can I just dispel some myths, and these have been in the media in the last couple of days. Firstly, this package of measures will not do some things. It will not restrict the current entry to Parliament House that the public enjoy. In fact, some of the security measures and some of the enhancements within this package will actually make it easier for members of the public to move into the public entrance. The public will still be able to come across the forecourt enter and be screened as normal. But we are enlarging the entrance and enabling more people to come through at a quicker pace. Secondly, this will not in any way change the ability for people to walk over the top of Parliament House. In fact, in 2005 fences were put in place to restrict people from walking over Parliament House. For over 10 years you have not been able to walk over Parliament House. We are realigning fences; we are moving fence lines to a more appropriate position. The fence lines will also be less obtrusive. The fence lines will have no cross members. They have been tested to provide the security enhancement we need but also be less visually obtrusive. Also, some of the security measures will involve the planting of hardened shrubs, which will have an aesthetic appeal as well as providing a security measure. People will still be able to access the roof of Parliament House like they always have done, certainly in the last two years, and that is by elevator. After they have been screened, they can go up to the roof of Parliament House and still walk on the top of Parliament House.
These matters have been placed before the Standing Committee on Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee. Also, as a number of senators in this room would attest to, I have briefed the Senate leadership meetings on a regular basis. We have had professionals attend those meetings, and every party and every independent senator has been represented at those meetings. I have also made it available in the statement I also tabled yesterday that if any senator wished to view any of the detailed diagrams and detailed plans in relation to those works they had that opportunity to do so. Some senators have taken me up on that offer and I briefed some senators again as recently as yesterday.
Does any other senator wish to seek leave to make any comment? Senator Hinch.
I oppose this. I know the severity of it is because of the security aspects. We must take it seriously, and this is post 9/11. But I think what you are planning is like putting barbed wire on the Opera House. This is an aesthetic building; it is the people's building. I accept what you say, and it is true that since 2005 you have had that fence at the very top. It is unobtrusive. It is almost an optical illusion. You do not see it when you drive in. I checked again this morning, and you barely see it. But your plan to put in place this huge fence, whether it is vertical or not, the way you described it to me—I think it is too much. I cannot see why you cannot amend the situation, and I realise how serious it is. But, where you come up the drive and come into the Senate area, or its mirror image on the other side, you could put the big fence where the building starts, take it down to the ring-road down there, put the big doors across that you have to have and keep the retractable bollards there. All of that I agree with 100 per cent.
I am just asking you to reconsider taking away the thing that the building's architects won prizes for. They won awards for this building because of the sweep of that hillside—because it was a building built under a hill. It is so Australian, and to me what you are doing is totally ruining the aesthetics. I know people will look at me and say, 'The stupid aesthetics don't count when it comes to security.' I am sounding like a member of the Greens here! But the aesthetics do count, and I think these works are something that future generations will regret. I accepted it is post 9/11, I accept that these things have to be done, but I would ask you to just not put that there. You already have a fence to stop people going up the top.
That was today, Senator Lambie, and I do not particularly want to enhance any aspect in this public forum. But suffice to say that, if the measures that the Speaker and I have put before both chambers had been implemented, that most likely would not have occurred.
I rise to support this motion. None of us not want to see this. It is a beautiful Parliament House the way it was designed—and, yes, to be open to the public. We would all dearly love to live in a utopian world; it does not exist. We are now faced with terrorism, murder on our streets and threats of bombings. It is the police and ASIO only that have protected us. It is not about having a connection with the public, as Senator Di Natale said, and for them to have access to us. We also have a responsibility to the public that come to this place. They have to feel safe when they come here.
When I arrived this morning and I saw protesters putting up a huge banner—and it would have taken a lot of time to get it to that stage—and scaling the walls, I was very concerned about that and I questioned the security here. No, I do not want to see barriers and fences. No, I do not want to see this cost to the taxpayer. But I know friends and other people who are frightened to go to the shopping centre.
Senator Hinch made the comment about the look of it. Well, then, I question him about his own home. Has he got security grilles on it? Has he got a huge fence? Does he protect his own house from people who may want to invade it? What harm does he live in fear of? Because we all live in fear.
So the fact is I do support this. I am sorry to see it, but this is a fact of life, and I say to the other senators here: wake up.
Before I put the motion, I indicate that this is not about protecting parliamentarians. This is about protecting the 3,500 building occupants who are here on an average day. It is about protecting the one million visitors that come through this place every year, of whom 100,000 are schoolchildren. This is about the occupants of the building, not about parliamentarians. With those words, I put the motion. The question is that business of the Senate notice of motion No. 166 standing in my name, relating to security works at Parliament House, be agreed to.
Senators, we have quite a lengthy list of motions to be discovered in formal business. I may deal with a number that I believe to be not contestable in the first instance, and then, when we get back to contestable motions, the bells will be rung for four minutes for any divisions.