In this presentation I will provide information about the framework for security at the Australian Parliament, the role of the Presiding Officers, some historical background and current challenges and how we are responding to them.
The ultimate responsibility for maintenance of security in the Australian Parliament rests with the Presiding Officers -the President of the Senate and I acting jointly.
This responsibility is exercised on the basis of custom and practice and the inherent powers vested in the Presiding Officers to maintain proper arrangements for the functioning of Parliament. More recently however, this authority has been
given explicit statutory recognition in the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988 (Precincts Act). In addition to delineating the physical limits of the parliamentary precincts, the Precincts Act also expressly provides that the precincts are under the control and management of the Presiding Officers who can take whatever action they feel is necessary to exercise their authority.
In the Ministerial Wing of Parliament House, the Presiding Officers' authority is exercised in association with a designated Minister representing the executive government.
It would be fair to say that, prior to 1978; security at the Australian Parliament House (then Old Parliament House) was minimal. A number of security incidents at Parliament House and wider security incidents, most particularly the bombing of
the Hilton Hotel during Australia's hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting in Sydney on 13 February 1978, led to the first significant tightening of security at Parliament House. The occupation of the New Parliament House in 1988, the building we now occupy, was accompanied by additional security resources and measures.
However, it was only following the terrorist attacks in the United States of 11 September 2001 and the Bali bombings on 12 October 2002 that security at Parliament House was upgraded significantly. The advent of what became known as the 'new' terrorism caused a radical rethink of parliamentary security. A range of measures to strengthen the physical security of Parliament House were implemented and additional security staff -particularly those stationed externally were engaged. There was also a significant reworking of security management and administration. Responsibility for security was centralised as a joint, coordinated, service in the Department of Parliamentary Services which has responsibility to provide a wide range of joint services to the two Houses, and their members, of the Australian Parliament. A statutory Security Management Board also was established as a high level advisory and oversight body to advise the Presiding Officers on parliamentary security. The Board comprises the Secretary of the
Department of Parliamentary Services, the Usher of the Black Rod and the Sergeant-at-Arms. Most recently, the Australian Federal Police have been added as a member of the Board.
The current challenges in our common security environment, with the rise of extremist ideologies, the spread of localised conflicts across borders, the radicalisation of young people and the recruitment of foreign fighters, have seen the need for a further tightening of security at the Australian Parliament. The nature of the threat has shifted with a greater emphasis on the potential for isolated, random attacks that create particular challenges. The attack on the Canadian parliament in 2014 is a good example of how this sort of threat can manifest itself. The attacks in Paris in November 2015 demonstrated an ability to launch concerted attacks adding to our security concerns.
The response of the Australian Parliament has seen a further reworking of our security defences. These have included further enhancement to the physical security of the building, an increased and enhanced armed presence at the entrances to the building and within the building, and other measures to tighten general security procedures and processes. In a significant development, the Presiding Officers have vested the overall coordination of security at Parliament House in the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The AFP work closely with parliamentary authorities and staff to provide a single security response which nevertheless is sensitive to the particular circumstances of delivering security within a parliamentary context.
As can be seen from this discussion of the framework and the history of security at the Australian Parliament, the Presiding Officers have the pivotal role in parliamentary security. Ultimately they are responsible for the security of the building and its occupants. In the current context with the threats that are present, this is a very heavy responsibility. The Presiding Officers must ensure the safety and security of occupants, visitors and the building, and this responsibility must be at the centre of all considerations. However, this overriding responsibility must be balanced by the recognition that the Parliament is a working institution and those who work within the institution and those who visit it must have as free and ready access as is necessary to appropriately support the business of the Parliament.
Achieving this balance is not easy and the tipping point constantly changes as the security environment changes. What might be completely unacceptable within one security context becomes reasonable when the security environment changes and perceptions of risk are increased. Security at Parliament House also is taking place in public view and so is subject to more scrutiny than would apply to other institutions. In the case of the Australian Parliament, there is an added complexity in that the Parliamentary Press Gallery, which scrutinises the activities of Parliament, is also housed within the parliamentary building and so is subject to the same security restrictions as other building occupants meaning any security measures are very visible to them. Of course such scrutiny however should not deter consideration of important security enhancements.
Ensuring the parliamentary institution remains open and accessible is critical. Our democratic system is founded on perceptions that the general public can have ready access to their elected representatives and can participate in the democratic process. When security is seen to impinge unduly on reasonable accessibility, concerns will be raised that security measures have gone too far and there is a need to pull back.
I believe we are achieving an appropriate balance in the Australian Parliament with the implementation of the most recent security measures. We face a serious security situation and it would be negligent not to have significantly upgraded our security measures.
There are three key approaches we have taken which I believe have assisted in
getting the right balance.
First, the task has been approached on the basis that it is a long term response. There is every indication that the security environment we face now will continue well into the future. We need to build an awareness that it is a long term task and implement measures that are aimed at the longer term.
Second and flowing from the first point, the security measures implemented must be considered carefully. It is not helpful to maintaining confidence in the security framework if measures are seen to be hurried, ill-considered, inconsistent or incomplete. As Presiding Officers we have adopted a holistic approach to the tasks of identifying and implementing appropriate security measures. We have carefully evaluated the proposals that have been made to us by security authorities and have sought to ensure that they meet the test of reasonableness and are a proportionate response to the threat we face.
Third, communication is vital. This involves communicating both generally about the security situation we face and about the rationale for security measures that are being taken. Because of the understandable confidentiality that can surround the security environment and the measures in response, it is not always possible to be fully transparent about why particular approaches are being taken. Within these constraints, it is important to be as open and comprehensive as possible about the measures being implemented. Appropriate communication means that building
occupants are not taken by surprise and the security measures taken can be seen in context.
As our parliamentary institutions face the challenges of the future, our response to an increasingly complex and difficult security environment will be critical not only to our institutions but to the democratic systems that underpin them. Presiding Officers, because of their particular responsibilities, are at the centre of this challenge. We can only respond properly by being acutely aware of, the core values and philosophies that our institutions bear, the nature of the buildings that they occupy, and the occupants of, and visitors to, those buildings.
We are also the custodians of our institutions and must have centrally in our minds the damage that can be done to them by overreaction or overreach. In the end it is all about getting the balance right.
To conclude, I would like to quote the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon Malcohn Turnbull MP in a speech he gave recently to the House on national security: When innocent people are dying at the hands of violent extremists, no matter where in the world this is happening, hard questions are asked of societies like our own-hard questions for which there are no easy answers. For all freedom-loving nations, the message could not be clearer: if we want to preserve the values that underpin our open, democratic societies, we will have to work resolutely with each other to defend and protect the freedoms we hold dear.'