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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 8612


The SPEAKER (3:22 PM) —I would like to make a statement to the House on security in Parliament House. On 23 October 2002, I presented to the House the final report of a review of certain aspects of the administration of the parliament by the Parliamentary Service Commissioner, Mr Andrew Podger. The President presented a copy to the Senate at the same time. The report dealt in part with security at Parliament House, and I wish to outline to the House, as far as is appropriate given security considerations, the situation regarding security in this building.

Since the events of 11 September 2001, the President and I have been actively seeking to strengthen the security of Parliament House in light of the heightened level of threat. We are determined to safeguard the Australian democratic system of government, the institution of parliament, the occupants of Parliament House and the 1.2 million Australian and overseas visitors who visit Parliament House each year. I know these sentiments are shared by every member of the parliament.

To this end, a number of operational security initiatives were implemented immediately after 11 September 2001, in accordance with the heightened threat assessment issued by the Protective Security Coordination Centre, to which the Parliamentary Security Controller had immediate access. These included the introduction of electronic pass verification for pass holders. Security screening was extended to include all persons entering the building, and restrictions were placed on vehicle access to the ministerial entrance. Restrictions were also placed on the issue of visitor day passes and the delivery of unaccompanied goods. Procedures at the entrances and loading dock were also tightened, and a number of electronic security enhancements were introduced.

The then President and I also agreed, in March 2002, to the establishment of an interim security management board to ensure the better coordination of the strategic, management and technical requirements of security at Parliament House. The board, which has met monthly since March, has provided a much improved and better coordinated focus on the full range of security requirements at Parliament House. It has been undertaking a comprehensive review of the security environment at Parliament House and implementing, with the approval of the Presiding Officers, further security measures. For example, we recently stopped short-term parking at the Senate and House of Representatives entrances. We have also asked the board to hasten the planning process to restructure the entrances in both the House and Senate wings, following the imminent relocation of the Synergy travel offices to the area previously occupied by Qantas. This will be done with the twofold aim of enhancing security and easing congestion at peak times.

Following receipt of the Podger report, the President and I have established the Security Management Board as a permanent body. It is chaired by the Secretary, Joint House Department, and consists of the Usher of the Black Rod, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the Security Controller and representatives from DPRS, the ministerial wing, the Protective Security Coordination Centre and the Australian Protective Service.

We have also decided, as recommended by Mr Podger, to centralise the security function in Joint House Department. We believe that the implementation of these changes will ensure that security at Parliament House is run in a centrally coordinated and professional manner, consistent with the security threat that we now face.

Included in the Podger report on security matters were the following issues:

· The physical design of the parliamentary precincts limits the ability to control vehicles from gaining close access to the premises, possibly endangering building occupants if a vehicle contained an explosive device.

· There are concerns about the adequacy of the current arrangements for the issue and administration of passes within the parliament, including the relatively broad level of access to private areas of the building provided by passes.

· There are better options for the deployment of Australian Protective Service staff in conjunction with Parliamentary Security Service staff to make the protective security of the building more effective.

All of these issues have been considered by the Security Management Board or the Parliamentary Security Controller. For obvious reasons, it is not appropriate to discuss publicly the details of the outcomes of those deliberations. However, I can advise the House that they have either been attended to or are being attended to in an expeditious manner. In addition, these matters will continue to be monitored and measures upgraded if the threat environment changes.

Some of these issues attracted media attention. In addition, various elements of the media have raised the issue of limited access control to the House of Representatives and Senate car parks during sitting weeks. The use of security personnel in these locations is primarily a car park management matter rather than a security initiative. The advice we have received is that an explosion in those car parks is not seen as a significant risk in the current threat environment—


Mr Leo McLeay —Except for the people in the cars!


The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Watson! The advice we have received is that an explosion in those car parks is not seen as a significant risk in the current threat environment and would have a low impact on the structure of Parliament House. This is not to suggest that there is no risk, and the Security Management Board is looking at measures to minimise the risk.

The Security Management Board, with the authority of the Presiding Officers, is continuing its review of security arrangements at Parliament House and is receiving high-quality intelligence from the full range of relevant Commonwealth authorities, as well as other expert advice. Parliamentary security is being integrated with the rest of the Commonwealth in its continuing assessment of threat. As a result of the Security Management Board's reviews, it is expected that further precautionary measures will be implemented to enhance the security of Parliament House.

Clearly, the tightening of security at Parliament House has an impact on all building occupants and visitors. It is necessary, however, that we ensure that any identified weaknesses in the existing security framework are addressed. This may include further aspects related to building access.

We are aware that increased security measures may have an impact on the appropriations to the parliament. The possible need for additional funding for security emphasises the importance of addressing the remainder of the Podger report, which concludes that significant savings can be achieved from changes to the administration of the parliament. As advised when we presented the copy of the report on 23 October 2002, the President and I will be considering these matters at the end of this month, after seeking comment on the recommendations. We will be closely examining the impact on the appropriations to the parliament.

We are grateful for the cooperation shown by members, senators and all other occupants of, and visitors to, Parliament House in the wake of the introduction of heightened security measures. The President and I will continue to do all we can to ensure that new measures balance our obligations to the people in this building with the need to maintain as far as possible Australia's Parliament House as an accessible and open public institution.