News National Protest overshadows Malcolm’s big day
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Protest overshadows Malcolm’s big day

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Protesters have returned to Parliament House in Canberra the morning after Question Time was shut down due to rowdy asylum seeker advocates who superglued themselves to the House of Representatives public gallery.

At around 8.30am (AEDT) Thursday, images emerged of a banner being unfurled on the front of Parliament House.

Two men gained access to the roof of Parliament House and abseiled down its front to unfurl the sign. There was a heavy police presence at the scene.

Other protesters have dyed the water feature out the front of Parliament House red and are standing in it with signs.

They eft Parliament House “peacefully” by 11am on Thursday.

Police negotiators had been at the scene but it was unclear if any of the protestors were arrested, particularly the two that abseiled down Parliament House.

Meantime, questions remained as to how dozens of protesters were able to invade Parliament House on Wednesday, closing down Question Time and ruining Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s big day.

Mr Turnbull had a significant industrial relations win on the year’s second-last day of Parliament, but the Prime Minister’s moment was overshadowed on two fronts by the refugees issue. 

Basking in the victory of his controversial construction watchdog legislation passing in the Senate – through genuine negotiation and compromise on his part – Mr Turnbull was barely allowed to gloat before a well-orchestrated protest shut down the House of Representatives for 45 minutes on Wednesday.

It was the most effective parliamentary protest in recent decades.

About 25 protesters from the group Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance interrupted Question Time from the public gallery with loud chants demanding offshore asylum seeker detentions camps be closed.

But it was Parliament they succeeded in closing down, albeit temporarily.

Speaker Tony Smith, calm under fire, suspended Question Time until the vocal offenders were removed.

Ejecting them proved longer than expected, however, because some of the protesters had superglued their hands to gallery’s railings.

Security guards and armed Federal Police forcibly removed the uncooperative protesters, who either dead-weighted their bodies so they had to be dragged out or they struggled with the guards all the way to the exit.

Outside Parliament, one of the protesters, Mary Bonatti, said they were trying to give a voice to asylum seekers locked up in detention camps.

But she denied any MPs helped get them into Parliament House to stage the protest.

“We just came in as regular citizens. We are regular citizens,” she said.

“None of them have done anything useful to help so far. That’s what we were in there asking them to do. 

“And interestingly (Immigration Minister) Peter Dutton didn’t look up – at all.”

An investigation launched

The Speaker has ordered an investigation into the incident, saying if the protesters were signed in or helped in any way by MPs or parliamentary staff, there would be a paper trail.

Members of the public can gain access to view proceedings – but not to roam the corridors – without being signed in.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale met with the protesters after they had been ejected and praised them for the protest. 

question time protest
Protesters are forcibly removed from the House of Representatives’ public gallery by security. Photo: AAP

But he insisted his party had nothing to do with the incident.

“If it takes a number of peaceful protesters to get the government, the opposition and members of the media to pay attention, then we’re for it,” he said.

“Sometimes you have to shout to be heard. We can’t continue to turn a blind eye. We need to close the camps. We need to bring them here.” 

Momentum lost

Once Question Time resumed, the government’s momentum was lost.

But so too was that of the opposition, which had tried to pursue the PM over a leaked document mooting a plan to introduce a provisional visa imposing a waiting period for social security benefits.

Immigration leak

The high-level document, for a meeting between Social Services Department boss Finn Pratt and Immigration Department chief Michael Pezzullo, referred to the plan that was about to go before cabinet.

It warned that such a change to Australia’s visa system could cause a two-tier society and give rise to violent extremism.

Malcolm Turnbull did not not speak about airports in his latest national security address. Photo: AAP
Malcolm Turnbull denied the cabinet paper was leaked. Photo: AAP

Although the document was marked “protected” and “sensitive”, Mr Turnbull denied it was a leaked cabinet paper.

“The document concerned is not a cabinet document,” the Prime Minister told Parliament. 

“My instruction from my officials is that it was an exchange between bureaucrats. It was not a cabinet document as such.

“It was marked protected because it was dealing with matters that were to be submitted to cabinet, but were not in fact submitted to cabinet.”

The matter of it being leaked, however, has been referred to Federal Police for investigation.

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