Community Safety

Transcript | 2GB Afternoons with Michael McLean | 04 July 2024

July 4, 2024

Thursday 04 July 2024
Interview on 2GB Afternoons with Michael McLaren
Subjects: Security breach at Parliament House by pro-Palestinian protestors

MICHAEL MCLAREN: James Paterson, as you know, is the Shadow Home Affairs Minister. He's on the line. Senator Paterson, good afternoon.

JAMES PATERSON: Great to be with you.

MCLAREN: Well, that's part of the Greens, "I need to see more about this before I make comment", give me a break. You were down there. You've been in Canberra. You been in Parliament while all of this nonsense was going on the roof. What do you understand took place?

PATERSON: It's concerning on a number of levels. Because the Parliament has spent about $126 million of taxpayers’ money to fortify and protect the building, precisely to prevent things like that from happening. You should not be able to, from the outside of the building, get onto the top of the building. There are very significant security fences and other things put in place to prevent that. And on this occasion, it appears to have failed because this group of activist protesters has got into a secure area of the roof and unfurled their protest banner in a way they shouldn't have been able to.

MCLAREN: A secure area of the roof in name. But obviously not in practice.

PATERSON: Exactly right. And we have to very quickly get to the bottom of how this happened. Did they enter the building from the outside? Were they allowed in from the inside? How did they get to this secure area of the building? Because it is not just a threat to the security of the Parliament, which is obviously very serious. These people are protesters and didn't appear to have any violent intent, but someone who does have violent intent could seek to replicate what they've done. But it's also very unsafe. I mean, this is a very serious height. It is not a secure area for walking around in, if they fell, they would do very serious injury to themselves, if not death.

MCLAREN: Well they would. Mind you, who controls security of Parliament houses is it the Australian Federal Police, is it a private network? Who does that?

PATERSON: So the presiding officers, the Speaker of the House and the President are responsible for the security of the building and they have, both Parliament House security, who are uniformed, officials who work for the parliament, who provide some layers of security and the Australian Federal Police in a memorandum of understanding who also provide security for the building. I have the Australian Federal Police appearing before me in a committee hearing this afternoon, and I'll be asking them questions about how this was allowed to occur and what measures need to change to stop this from happening again.

MCLAREN: And when you say how this was allowed to occur, was it a case of it being allowed to occur or is it just simply, it happened?

PATERSON: It's not clear. From the evidence we have so far, all that's clear is that what was designed to prevent this from happening has failed. And it could be a human error. It could be a design error. It could be some other kind of error. And either way, it shouldn't have happened.

MCLAREN: Another question for you, James, that this might be one obviously, to pose to the individuals this afternoon is my understanding was these four, five, six, however many people were up there with their banners, and these are massive banners, it's not like they would have tucked them into a backpack and made that sort of like the scene out of a movie when you got the, you know, the body of Cleopatra rolled up in the carpet. Now, these would have taken a number of people, these are big ten by eight meter things, hardly discreet. How were they allowed to stay up there for the better part of 1.5 hours?

PATERSON: That's right. That's a very good question. It is far too long. They should have been removed from there far more quickly. They made their point very quickly, and there was no need for them to stay any longer than they did putting themselves and others at risk. I don't want an Australian Federal Police officer, putting themselves in harm's way to try and get them down and putting their life at risk. Nor do I want a protester's life at risk and so, really, this is going to have to be about prevention and also consequences What are these people going to be charged with? When are they going to be charged? And what kind of penalty will they pay for this? Because it is trespassing in an area not open to the public. It is, it should be, a crime and there should be consequences.

MCLAREN: Well, just on that, people are asking me, and I don't know, you're in a better position, obviously, than me to answer this, but what sort of punishments are on the table here?

PATERSON: Well, that's what I'll be putting to the Federal Police this afternoon and I'm looking forward to their answers on that, because at face value, the thing it automatically is, is trespassing, accessing the secure area not open to the public and the very least that should be charged with that. But there may be other offences that they can also be charged with.

MCLAREN: Okay then let's look at this broadly. The Parliament House is a metaphor for the Australian democracy, a physical metaphor. This has been breached. And yet this is meant to be the most secure, surely, the most secure building in the entire Commonwealth. And yet it's been easily breached by just a bunch of every day, who knows who they are. The political class tell us James in these difficult times and in, you know, after the war on terror, that we're doing everything to keep you safe, no need to worry. Yeah, it's all under control. Everything is safe. Well, if the Parliament House can be breached, what else can be breached?

PATERSON: The only small comfort I take from this is that they were not actually inside the building. But unfortunately, one of the steps you would take prior to getting into the building to access the building unlawfully is to try and enter through the roof. That is a known vulnerability of Parliament House that has been discussed, for many years, and that is the reason why we spent that public money fortifying the building to prevent that from happening. And in many ways that's unfortunate. This is the people's house. It should be accessible to the public. It is your Parliament. It is our democracy. You should be able to come and watch your MPs and meet with them and observe question time. I don't want to see this becoming a completely fortified place. But if that's what's necessary to protect the Parliament and its occupants, then maybe thereafter we'll have to have a further investment in security here.

MCLAREN: Well, speaking of question time, that's coming up in about what? About an hour and 13 minutes from now. Are we absolutely confident these people don't have any more friends lurking around waiting to go into the gallery?

PATERSON: Well, unfortunately, there has been a significant protest in the gallery this year from both pro-Palestinian and climate change activists. They've typically glued themselves to the building and make it very hard for them to be removed by security, it's very disruptive for question time. So you're right to be concerned about that. We do have lockdown procedures to put in place if we think that there is a threat to the building, and so that the presiding officers are going to have to carefully consider that. And just one further point on this. Let's think about the banners that were unveiled here. It included the inverted red triangle that is a symbol of the al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas, that is the militant wing of a terrorist organisation, and it is used in the Israel-Gaza context to signify a target of the al-Qassam brigades. So for that to be hanging from the parliament is a disgrace and there must be serious consequences.

MCLAREN: It is, just finally the messages that these individuals were trying to convey. It's the usual conflation between what happened in Australia in 1788 and what's going on in Gaza today and this sort of thing. You know, you and I look at all of that and shake our head and say, look, there's really no equivalence whatsoever, but clearly increasing numbers of people and, James, I would hasten to add, younger people, do see a natural coalition between those two moments in history. How do we educate people that there is no connection between the two?

PATERSON: Well, it's shocking historical ignorance when you consider that what these people are doing is saying that, the Jewish people in Israel are somehow, in their words, “settler colonialists.” I mean, there is 3000 years of unbroken Jewish connection to the state of Israel and the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. I mean, the Temple Mount, a significant site in the Islamic faith, is built on top of, what was a Jewish temple, in the beginning. So I think we have to remember that this analogy is a really inappropriate one. It's based on historical ignorance and unfortunately though we have people propagating it, encouraging it, including the Greens. As you said before, they are engaging in seriously dangerous falsehoods and our education system has failed to counteract it.

MCLAREN: Good to talk. Good luck later with the questions you're going to be firing at the relevant parties. I'll be listening. It'll be fascinating to see the answers. Thank you. James.


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