POLITICS

Taking Over The Agenda, Two Days Of Parliament House Refugee Protests

Backpacker Tax? What Backpacker Tax?

01/12/2016 12:17 PM AEDT | Updated 01/12/2016 1:10 PM AEDT
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Andrew Meares, Fairfax
Refugee activists hung a banner from the Great Veranda at Parliament House in Canberra

CANBERRA – Refugee activists have managed to hijack the political agenda in Canberra for a second day in a row, holding and safely ending a surprise protest outside parliament house, including abseiling to unfurl a "close the bloody camps" banner and pouring red dye in the forecourt fountain.

The second security breach of the week comes on the same day parliamentarians voted through security upgrades including new 2.6 metre high barriers will limit public access to most of the Parliament House lawns.

Andrew Meares, Fairfax
Refugee protesters stood in the fountain and spread red dye at Parliament House in Canberra

It has been quite a week for security and police, who appear to have been caught on the hop yet again after the same group -– the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance or WACA -- disrupted and suspended question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday for the first time in 20 years. Some by super gluing their hands to railings.

After several hours hanging from the front of the building, and with a large security and media presence, two protesters voluntarily packed up the banner and climbed to the roof to waiting police.

Soon after a group of fellow protesters standing on the forecourt fountain for hours with dye in the water symbolising the "blood of refugees" and holding signs saying "Liberals: World leaders in cruelty" and "Labor: No opposition to cruelty" also ended their action peacefully.

Video by Karen Barlow

"Today we have made sure that the conversation around refugees is still on the agenda," WACA spokesman Phil Evans told reporters.

"While there's backpacker taxes and things going on, we need be having this urgent conversation about the humanitarian crisis that is still going on in Australia.

LNP Senator James McGrath told Sky News the protesters are "absolute grubs" and "Kmart Castros," suggesting if they wanted to have their voices heard they should "run for parliament".

The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Wednesday they were "idiots" while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declared that shutting down Question Time was "the exact opposite of democracy."

But the protesters are undeterred.

"A few errant comments from parliamentarians is not going to err us," Evans declares. "They are responsible for the murder, the abuse of refugees."

Andrew Meares, Fairfax
Refugee activists end a protest after hanging a banner from the Great Veranda at Parliament House

Security at parliament house is under review and there are suggestions it may become harder to get into the parliament's public galleries, but the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he does not want that to happen.

The new $60 million security upgrades for the outside of the building - approved Thursday - will restrict access to the lawns and may have stopped the abseiling element of the morning's protest.

It'll also severely curtail tourist movements, exercising on the roof and other moments of exuberance.

The WACA protesters are not accepting responsibility for any security crackdown.

"We are about promoting democracy," Evans said. "We see there has been a failure of democracy when human rights are being abused in the name of democracy."

There have been no arrests over the past two days, although police officers were seen talking the details of protesters and heard telling them they had committed an offence.

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