There was a stern warning for our pols last
weekend. “Politicians will be forced to strip off accessories and items of
clothing if they set off metal detectors at Parliament House under new rules
being trialled from tomorrow,” Kerry-Anne Walsh reported in the Fairfax Sundays.

The story stemmed from a security memo that
warned: “Entry may be denied if you cannot clear yourself through the WTMD [Walk
Through Metal Detector, for people who don’t speak bureaucratese] and you do
not consent to a personal search.”

It’s all part of the wonderful world of
Hilary Penfold, the pen-pusher who runs the Department of Parliamentary
Services, the body that administers Parliament House.

Many of the inhabitants of the building fear
Penfold doesn’t really understand the nuances of her job – small matters like
the primacy of Parliament over the executive. Indeed, her memo from last week may well breach
parliamentary privilege by threatening to prevent parliamentarians from carrying out their duties.

It appears to have provoked a significant response
from pollies, with Penfold forced to issue a further note on the subject
yesterday:

To all Senators
and Members

I believe that
some misunderstanding may have been caused by recent media reports about new
security screening arrangements currently being trialled in Parliament House…

It also appears that not all the concerns
expressed were over privilege. They seem to have fallen more into the category
of “one law from us, one law for the rest of them”. It appears that many pols
are upset by the simple notion that they too should be required to undergo
security screening.

Penfold attempts to assuage their fears in
true plodding pencil pusher style:

[T]he reduction
in the sensitivity levels of the walk-through metal detectors at each building
entrance should substantially reduce the number of people who “set
off” the detectors (a trial last year, and our experiences so far today,
suggest that the proportion of people who “set off” the detectors is
likely to drop from over 30% to under 4%)…

Whether or not pollies are screened, of
course, does sod all for security. But our Parliamentarians can rest assured
that “one law for us” does apply to them. Senators and Members who fail to
comply with security measures will get a stern talking to from the presiding
officers – and we all know what authority Speaker David Hawker carries (ask
Tony Abbott or a few snivelling grubs if you’re unsure).

The contrast is extreme. Civilians who
don’t comply with Parliament House security measures can look forward to an
awkward time with security staff, Australian Protective Services officers and maybe
the Federal Police.

Peter Fray

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