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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21494

Dr LAWRENCE (3:33 PM) —Mr Speaker, my question is similar to one asked earlier. I seek further clarification of the arrangements that are being made for the visit of President Bush. You would be aware that a group of Australian citizens are organising a rally and that they were originally told they could not gather at the authorised assembly area, where other rallies and demonstrations are held, and use a PA system or construct a stage because that would contaminate what was described as a `sterile area'. Are you aware that, as was mentioned earlier, they have now been told that, due to the effect of moving the Lego barriers, they cannot gather in the parliamentary precinct at all and that they will have to meet on the other side of the barriers, on land controlled by the National Capital Authority? I ask you, Mr Speaker: on whose authority and with what justification has such a substantial curtailment been made of citizens' rights to protest and communicate their views to members of parliament?

The SPEAKER —Let me reassure the member for Fremantle and all members of the House that there has been no substantial curtailment of citizens' rights to protest in any exercise—

The SPEAKER —I would have thought that, as I was responding to the member for Fremantle, I was entitled to the courtesy of a hearing. There has been no substantial curtailment of citizens' rights to protest, nor will there be while the President of the Senate and I are in office and, to be fair, nor would our predecessors have tolerated that. All members need to appreciate the fact that the security professionals responsible for the security in the parliament brief the Presiding Officers regularly and that there are a range of security measures in place depending on what is determined to be the threat to Parliament House or Canberra or Australia at a particular point in time. I think we are generally regarded as being at a medium level of security—if I am wrong, I will stand corrected by the Minister for Foreign Affairs—hence the presence of the so-called Lego blocks. The professional security advice we have means that we face dramatically heightened security requirements on Thursday and Friday of next week. All of that information has come from independent professional advice and whatever is being done by way of security or public access to the building is entirely based on that advice. In the case of the comment made by the member for Fowler about the access of schoolchildren, it is in fact in recognition of the need for protection of those children that particular action is being taken.

Mrs Irwin —Oh, gosh!

The SPEAKER —I would add to the member for Fowler's unfounded indignation that arrangements are in place in some instances of security—not on Thursday and Friday—which would in fact dramatically change the way in which this building functions and dramatically change the way in which people are able to protest. We have not reached that level of security, nor is it proposed for Thursday or Friday, but our security advisers have a range of options for all of us in the interests of public safety, depending on the security threat.