Yesterday Senator Bill Heffernan brought a homemade pipe bomb into Parliament. It was a fake, but he presented it to the Parliament in order to make the point that the new security screening arrangements at Parliament House are flawed. A week ago the arrangements were changed to allow most staff, including politicians, to enter Parliament House without first going through a security screening.
The justification is that senators and their staff have already undergone police checks, however, Senator Heffernan is arguing that any one of those staff members could potentially be blackmailed into brining something dangerous, such as explosives, into Parliament, with security now none the wiser.
Police commissioner Tony Negus said he was warned about the stunt beforehand, and admitted to being unhappy with the new security arrangements.
The controversial security trial has partly been caused by budget pressures on the Department of Parliamentary Services, which funds the security at Parliament House. Senate clerk Rosemary Laing expressed her frustration this morning at the funding cuts. “You know, you cannot let the national Parliament dwindle into insignificance by starving it of funding. It’s simply an unsustainable and impossible situation. The Parliament is an arm of Government, established under the Constitution along with the Executive Government and the Judiciary. I mean, to think that any of those arms of government is effectively crippled through starvation of funds is unacceptable.”
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No, it wasn’t an unhappy student taking the protests a step too far. It wasn’t a pensioner facing a future of reduced pension payments, or a single mother of four whose taxes could go up by as much as 10 per cent because of the budget. It was a senator who brought a pipe bomb into Parliament yesterday, along with some homemade dynamite and some frightening suggestions on what could be brought into Parliament through the new security arrangements if someone had the patience to transport weapons components in over a few weeks.
All of the explosives he produced were fake (and it’s difficult not to picture Senator Heffernan sitting in his loungeroom gluing what appears to be a telephone cord to a metal pipe while watching MasterChef), but they still served to make a very strong point. It’s not that he, or those unhappy with the new security arrangements, expect everyone to start bringing weapons into Parliament House. The warning is simply this: it only takes one. No matter how upstanding an institution may be, there will always be pockets of corruption and people who do the wrong thing. No institution is immune – the Government has seen its fair share of scandal in the past year alone, the church is undergoing a major inquiry and a former police detective is on the run right now.
These instances show us that no matter how much we trust an institution to do the right thing, we should not trust a person simply because of their association with that institution. In past terrorist attacks, it is individuals who have done the wrong thing, and while they may be few and far between, it only takes one to wreak havoc on the lives of innocent bystanders.
Choosing not to perform a simple security scan on senators and their staff as a way to cut costs is not only unnecessary, it is downright dangerous. But perhaps it shows how little even the Government feels we need our national leaders if they are prepared to put the lives of everyone in the Parliament at risk just to save a few bucks. Remember, it only takes one, and with how angry Australians are over the latest budget it seems crazy that the Government is reducing security, rather than increasing it.
What do you think? Do you agree with the way Senator Heffernan made his point? Should the Government seriously reconsider cutting security costs, or are security scans at Parliament House just a waste of taxpayer money?