Christian Kerr writes:

In many countries it would have “caused a major stir, but Government sources yesterday played down an incident in which a schoolboy with a screwdriver ran and bear-hugged Prime Minister John Howard”, Michelle Grattan writes in today’s Age.

A case of better to play down an incident than admit security is there more for show than substance?

Only last Tuesday Crikey reported on new security measures at Parliament House, including body searches of Members and Senators who set off the metal detectors.

Well, the metal detector I go through most of the time – the metal detector by the Senate entrance – gives varied results depending on the position of the elevator in the lift shaft that runs next to the machine. Then there’s this letter Crikey received yesterday:

I have had a total hip replacement, which is somewhat embarrassing from time to time at airports. I carry a card supplied by my surgeon, but that is not enough for some of the boofheads who man airport security. It is not enough to put their magic wands right next to my hip. One insisted that he see the scar. How does this relate to Parliament House security? I recently had cause to attend a meeting in Parliament House, and my instructions were to report to the Ministerial Entrance. Surprisingly the metal detection devices there failed to pick up this metal prosthesis and even the wands when waved up and down my sides failed to beep profusely.

Australians, thank God, are an easygoing people. We tend to laugh at security scares and spot beat-ups when we see them. But does that mean we fail to ask how many security measures are cosmetic – or psychological?

In my days as a staffer, my boss and I were told to shove out the palms of our hands in the direction of someone coming towards us. That might give a demonstrator second thoughts. Would it really deter someone determined to get through brandishing a knife – or a screwdriver?

Dominic Knight from the Chaser tells Crikey that the Federal Police visited the team before the making of The Chaser Decides at the last poll, warning them that security would be on high alert. “They know us now,” he says – but points out that he still managed to make it into the Liberal Party’s victory celebrations in the Wentworth Hotel.

I remember an AFP officer attached to then opposition leader Andrew Peacock in more peaceful times taking off his jacket on a hot day and hanging it from the butt of the gun attached to his hip. Things are obviously different now – but how does security distinguish between an enthusiastic young man with a screwdriver and someone who is seriously disturbed?

Philip Ruddock boasted in Parliament last month that the Government “has funded over 200 national security related measures at a total cost of more than $8 billion over 10 years”.

Who said talk is cheap?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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