Refugee protests disrupt Australian parliament

Protesters demanding closure of offshore prison camps abseil down parliament, stopping its proceedings for a second day.

Protest against the Australian government''s handling of asylum seekers outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Members of the Whistleblowers Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA) protested outside Parliament House in Canberra [Mike Tsikas/EPA]

Protesters, angered by Australia’s refugee policy, have disrupted parliament for a second day by abseiling down the building and erecting a banner that read “close the bloody camps now”.

In the early hours of Thursday the group also poured red dye – representing blood – into a fountain in front of the building, the national broadcaster ABC reported.

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The incident came after a protest on Wednesday during which the group stopped parliamentary proceedings for half an hour, shouting slogans and gluing their hands to railings in the public gallery.

The group was protesting specifically against Australia’s offshore prisons which hold 1,300 asylum seekers who were picked up trying to reach Australia by boat.

Canberra sends asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia by sea to isolated outposts on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, with the prison conditions widely criticised by refugee advocates and medical professionals. 

Speaker Tony Smith suspended question time in what cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said was the most serious intrusion into parliament in 20 years. 

The group of around 30 protestors began chanting loudly soon after the session began, shouting “close the camps” and “where is your moral compass?”.

Security tried to remove them as they glued their hands to the railings, with guards using hand sanitiser to help peel them free, television footage showed.

They were eventually removed from the chamber, some forcibly. 

The protesters, from the Whistleblowers Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA) group, said on Wednesday that the country’s policy of offshore detention represented a “state of emergency”.

“Parliament shutdown by @akaWACA #closethecamps #bringthemhere,” the grassroots alliance said on Twitter.

The group continued their protests on Thursday, inviting everyone in the capital Canberra to join them in front of the parliament.


While the Greens party congratulated the protesters, government Senator James McGrath said on his Facebook page that they were a “bunch of bong-sniffing, dole-bludging, moss-munching, glue guzzling K-Mart Castros.”

The group was protesting specifically against Australia’s offshore detention centres which hold 1,300 asylum seekers who were picked up trying to reach Australia by boat.

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UN special rapporteur Francois Crepeau this month said Australia’s “punitive approach” to boatpeople had tarnished its human rights record after an 18-day mission that took him across the country and to Nauru.

The government has defended its position as necessary to stem waves of migration by people from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Middle East, with many dying at sea during the treacherous journey.

“I wondered whether we could press on … we could not,” said Smith in explaining why he took the rare step of suspending parliament, which resumed some 40 minutes later when the protestors were taken away.

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies