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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 55

Senator BARTLETT (4:04 PM) —I would like to speak to this motion on behalf of the Democrats as a whole but also, perhaps more importantly, on behalf of our staff and others. As you know, Mr President, I have raised this issue before. This motion in effect seeks the right to extend the time that the temporary vehicle barriers are kept up outside Parliament House. They are usually referred to as the oversized white Lego blocks—horrendously unsightly things, as I think we would all agree; certainly, we would all welcome them going as soon as possible. I recognise of course that they are there for security purposes and therefore should not be removed until the security issues are dealt with, which is what this motion goes to, but I do think it is appropriate to take up some of the Senate’s time to comment briefly on matters surrounding this and matters raised in the documentation that was tabled along with the motion.

Basically, the construction of the wall around the outside of Parliament House should be complete by the end of May. As I understand it, that means that the large white Lego blocks will be removed from that area as the wall will meet the security concerns. But they will still be required in other parts of the surrounds of Parliament House until the bollards that are intended to prevent access to the slip-roads going up to the Senate and the House of Representatives entrances are activated. The intent—as was made clear, I should note, when these works were first proposed—was to prevent vehicle access to those slip-roads on the basis of a security analysis that that was too high a risk. I acknowledge that, in that situation, of course the officers of the Department of Parliamentary Services have to act on those security concerns and seek to reduce them to a more acceptable level.

It is always a difficult balancing act, but I have to put on the record that there are still significant concerns about how adequately the new arrangements will work for occupants of this building who are waiting to be picked up, whether by others in a car, by a cab or through other arrangements. As I understand it, this is not going to apply to parliamentarians: the bollards will retract and Comcars will still be allowed access to the Senate and House of Representative entrances. But, for all other Parliament House occupants, cars will not be able to get to those areas and they will need to be picked up elsewhere.

I realise these matters are still being considered; a discussion paper will be provided. The aspect that concerns me is that the large white Lego blocks cannot be removed until the bollards are activated, and the bollards will not be activated until issues regarding people being collected from outside parliament are resolved. I am not sure how quickly that will happen. All the proposals I have heard to date seem to me to be problematic, particularly for disabled access—that is not just for people in wheelchairs but for others who have mobility problems more generally. Requiring them to walk further distances does not strike me as desirable if it can be avoided. Again, I know that this is being done on the basis of a security report and there is a duty of care obligation to all occupants of the building in relation to those matters, but there is also a duty of care for occupants of the building with regard to waiting outside, particularly in inclement weather. As people know, as well as when it is raining, it does get rather cold in Canberra in the evenings for parts of the year. And there are security issues for people waiting outside at night as well.

Firstly, I am not sure whether 30 June will be sufficient time to get those issues resolved. If not, we will need to come back to get a further extension for the use of the large white Lego blocks, and that is a concern. Secondly, I am worried that we are now basically setting up a dynamic where the Lego blocks will remain unless there is agreement reached about activating the bollards and requiring all other building occupants to be picked up elsewhere than immediately outside the entrances. The public focus may well be, and usually is, on the 226 politicians that occupy this building for 15 weeks or so of the year—that is not as many weeks as we should, in my view, but that is a matter for another debate. But there are many thousands of other people who occupy this building, many of them every working day of the year: the different attendants, various staff, the committee secretariats, people in the library, many parliamentary staff and other service staff. All of them occupy this building far more frequently than the parliamentarians do, and I am concerned that their interests are adequately considered as part of these arrangements.

I know it is a difficult balancing act—I know there are difficult issues there—but I think it appropriate to put on the record my concern. I voiced concern some time back, when the authorisation was given to set forth on constructing the wall, that there was no satisfactory resolution to this problem to date. As you would know, Mr President, that is still a matter of contention for many people here. I am not suggesting that I am the only one with this concern but I think it is appropriate to put on the record that it really does need more thought, because I am certainly not convinced that the solutions that have been put forward to date will be workable.

When considering how to balance out those solutions versus security risks, I think perhaps the views of the occupants of the building in the broader sense need to be taken into account a bit more than they have to date. Putting forward discussion papers is good, but the authorisation only extends to the end of June for the large Lego blocks and there was a specific statement that they will not be removed until the bollards are activated—and they cannot be activated until agreement is reached. There is a bit of an underlying implication that this is all going to be sorted out pretty soon. Obviously I hope it is, but I think, in that context, that time pressure should not be used as a reason to short-cut getting the fullest views possible of the occupants of the building, who, of course, extend much further than the staff of parliamentarians—although they are certainly the ones who have been in my ear about it. There are many other people who occupy this building and provide a magnificent service, as I am sure we would all agree. There are thousands of people who make this a bit of a community of its own, and their interests also need to be considered as day-to-day occupants of this building.