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Senate President Announces Decision On Covered Visitors To Parliament House

The President of the Senate, Senator Stephen Parry, has announced that visitors who do not wish to be identified when visiting Parliament will be required to sit in the public galleries enclosed in glass that are normally reserved for school groups.

Parry announced the decision in response to a question from the Opposition’s Senate leader, Penny Wong. He said the decision was an interim measure, pending further advice from specialist agencies.

Visitors who cannot be clearly identified will be asked to be identified and to produce identification. They will then be free to move around the building but will be required to sit in the glassed enclosures in order to view parliamentary proceedings.

Parry’s announcement comes a day after Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to Muslim women wearing the burqa as “confronting”. Two government backbenchers, George Christensen (LNP-Dawson) and Senator Cory Bernardi (Lib-SA), have called for the burqa to be banned, as has the Tasmanian Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie.

  • Watch Parry’s Statement (4m)

Statement by Senator Stephen Parry, President of the Senate.

Senator WONG (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:00): by leave—Mr President, during question time today senators would have received by email an information circular entitled Access changes to the private areas and to the Chamber galleries in APH. I wonder whether now or at a convenient time you intend to inform the chamber of the changes and the reasons for your decision and also why there has been no consultation with senators in relation to these changes.

The PRESIDENT (15:01): Senator Wong, I am happy to address that matter now. Immediately prior to question time the Speaker and I had some lengthy meetings involving department officials, also the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives and the Usher of the Black Rod of the Senate.

It was decided that, as an interim measure—not a permanent measure—whilst we are awaiting further advice from specialist agencies in relation to identification upon entering this building and clear identification whilst remaining in the building, as a security measure and also as a management measure in relation to the public galleries and control of the public galleries, we would implement a number of measures.

The first one is that anyone entering the building covering themselves in such a way they cannot be clearly identified will be asked to be identified and to produce identification that matches their identity. If people have a cultural or religious sensitivity in relation to this, they will be given the privacy and sensitivity that is required in relation to that identification. Anyone is then free to move within this building in whatever manner they wish, provided it does not breach any security aspects, in all public areas barring segmented areas of the chamber galleries. Those are the galleries that do not have the glass enclosure. If people do not wish to be readily identified in the galleries of each chamber, they may use the galleries that are fully enclosed in glass.

One of the key reasons for this decision is that if there is an incident or if someone interjects from the gallery, which, as senators would know, happens from time to time, they need to be identified quickly and easily so that they can be removed from that interjection. Or if they are asked to be removed from the gallery, we need to know who that person is so they cannot return to the gallery, disguised or otherwise. These are the reasons that these interim measures have been placed into the Parliament House precinct until we get a firm set of advice from some key agencies, including the Australian Federal Police and ASIO, with whom we discussed this matter earlier in the week.

I hope, Senator Wong, that clarifies your question in relation to the substance. In relation to consultation with senators, I have not seen the circular, as I have been sitting in the chair whilst it was being circulated. However, I understand the content of the circular. That was the immediate advice that we have circulated to senators and members and all building occupants. This measure takes effect as of now. If any further statements need to be made, I will certainly make those statements to the Senate and I am sure the Speaker will to the House of Representatives.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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