The construction of a 2.6-metre high steel security fence atop Canberra’s Parliament House now seems a step too far.
It confronts us with the historic symbolism of our paranoia.
With each terrorist-related event, our nation’s leaders exhort us to continue to go about our daily lives on the streets and in the great venues of Australia. To do otherwise would be to let the terrorists win.
But as we do go about as normal, the gutless wonders in Canberra have decided to build a great big fence to protect themselves inside their privileged cocoon. Correspondent emeritus Michelle Grattan has described it as “appalling”.
First it was security guards with loaded automatic weapons clearly visible at the public entrance. That is confronting enough in quiet little Canberra.
Now trained snipers are reportedly ready to be deployed on a red alert from Parliament House security controllers with threat level protocols at hand to help them make instantaneous risk assessments. They have the benefit of closed circuit monitoring from cameras at every access point inside and outside the vast building.
Wise security precautions, you might think, in this the age of terror particularly after attacks on other parliaments. But neither the Speaker Tony Smith, nor the president of the Senate Stephen Parry, will tell inquiring journalists the basis for Parliament’s decision to spend $126 million on upgraded security, including that steel fence.
It obviously follows a physical risk assessment to the building beyond the previous placement of retractable bollards protecting doors and entry points and the deployment of those armed guards.
The upgrade was said to be approved last December around the time two protesters walked up the lawns to the roof to roll out a banner, attempting to shame the occupants of the building about the psychologically traumatised asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
How poignant is that protest now?
We are told the public will still have access to much of the rolling lawns of architect Romaldo Giurgola’s wonderful landscape conception of the heart of Australian democracy built into Capital Hill with gum trees and grass.
The winning architect’s firm, Mitchell, Giurgola and Thorp, has signed off on the fence which we are also told will be visually unobtrusive. Creative architects are usually immovable when it comes to changing their masterpieces. Why has this firm now sold out the Australian people and their democracy for a big fence?
Mr Speaker and Mr President: Please explain why armed guards, bollards and multiple cameras are not sufficient safeguards to stop protest banner unfurlers at Parliament House, Canberra.
Clearly, determined terrorists are your real concerns. Surely there’s another way to stop easy access to the roof?
This fence says to terrorists that Australia is afraid.
It should be pulled down immediately.
It is sending the wrong signal. Its symbolism of paranoia does not represent who we really are.
Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster with decades of experience. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism.