Community Safety

Pro-Palestine protesters arrested, MPs condemn trespassing

July 4, 2024

Thursday 04 July 2024
Brittney Levinson, and Dana Daniel
Canberra Times

Pro-Palestine supporters have been arrested after scaling the roof of Parliament House to unfurl large banners protesting Israel's military operation.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese condemned the actions of the protesters, who were heard chanting: "We're calling to end to Australia's complicity in war crimes" and "the whole damn government - blood on your hands".

"Those responsible should feel the full force of the law," Mr Albanese told the Parliament on Thursday.

"Peaceful protest has an important place in our society, but this was not a peaceful protest. These actions have done absolutely nothing to advance any cause, indeed they have hurt the cause that those engaged in this reckless activity believe they are advancing."

Speaker of the House of Representatives Milton Dick, who is responsible for the Department of Parliamentary Services, has ordered a review of the building's security, including strengthening the "consequences" for such incursions.

The protesters have been banned from Parliament House for two years and, if charged and convicted, could receive fines of $3130.

"I have spoken with the AFP Commissioner and organised an investigation into today's events," Mr Dick told the Parliament at the opening of question time.

"I've asked the commissioner for a wider review of security arrangements. I do not want a repeat of today's events."

Mr Albanese said Parliament House "is symbolic of who we are as a people and indeed was designed so that the representatives are below where the people can go".

"This is a seat of our democracy, not just an institution made up of walls and the beautiful architecture that we have here," he said.

"We don't want any unnecessary restrictions. Of course, people should be able to come and watch their parliament function in real time - but [today's actions] undermines our democracy," he said.

Four protesters arrested, expected to face trespass charges

Australian Federal Police Specialist Protective Command officers and ACT Policing responded to the incident on Thursday morning.

"Three men and one woman have been arrested and are expected to be charged with Commonwealth trespass offences," an ACT Policing spokesperson said in a statement.

"The AFP is committed to ensuring the safety of the public and those working in and visiting Parliament House."

During the protest, the four individuals could be heard chanting from the forecourt as they launched paper planes from the building, emblazoned with messages about Julian Assange and war crimes.

Dutton blasts 'anti-Semitic' banners, Payman defends slogan

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton condemned the protesters' actions and the slogan on one of the banners, which read: "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

"We need to send a clear message that it is completely and utterly unacceptable in our society, in our democracy that we would see those messages hanging from the front of this parliament," Mr Dutton said.

"They are anti-Semitic, 'river to the sea' is a statement about wiping out and eliminating a race of people."

Former Labor senator Fatima Payman, in an interview with Sky shortly after resigning to sit on the crossbench, said the slogan had another meaning to her.

"For me, that phrase is a call to freedom from injustice, freedom from occupation, freedom from inequality, and it's a call to be able to live harmoniously. It's a call for self determination, for liberation, of the Palestinians," she said.

Senator Payman acknowledged that "tensions are high and people are feeling frustrated that they're not being listened to and heard."

"But what happened outside ... I do not condone any form of trespassing, that was not correct," she said.

"People are angry and ... can express it, but they shouldn't be trespassing on buildings where ... it's also putting themselves and the public at risk."

Mr Dutton queried why the banners were allowed to remain in place for 90 minutes, saying "they should have been taken down immediately".

"Serious questions need to be asked about how these people were permitted entry into the building, in a couple of cases, as I understand it, who provided support to those people."

Mr Dutton said the images of Parliament House draped in the banners "will be beamed around the world, as they were when we saw those disgraceful, repugnant behaviours on the steps of the Sydney Opera House on October 9".

The incident comes as the Albanese government grapples with divisions over its handling of the Middle East war.

Opposition home affairs spokesperson James Paterson called the protest a "serious breach of the Parliament's security".

Nationals MP Keith Pitt said: "We are a peaceful nation. We support a person's right to protest but you can't put yourself at risk. You cannot put others at risk."

During the incident, half a dozen Australian Federal Police officers stood below, not interacting with the protesters.

Police stationed on the roof were observed speaking with protesters.

Another group of protesters stood further down the forecourt and were moved on by another dozen or so police officers.

After almost an hour, the protesters began packing up their banners and were later taken away from Parliament House in police vehicles.

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