Anthony Albanese’s chronic inertia on Palestine fans the flames of violence

With its light-handed approach to pro-Palestinian protests since October 7, the Albanese government is tolerating the growing radicalisation of a movement that is becoming more violent.

Written by

Peter Jennings

Australia’s “new” Parliament House was designed to be an open building where citizens could literally walk over the heads of their elected representatives along two sweeping plains of grass that define the Senate and House of Representatives’ offices.

Completed in 1988, the building is impossibly difficult to secure. I was an opposition staffer on August 12, 1992, when a retired schoolteacher crashed through parliament’s front doors and parked his four-wheel drive in the middle of the great hall. What a different age. People stood gawping at the sight.

It took quite a few minutes for security to evacuate the area. A boot full of plastic explosives would have changed Australian political history. Instead, a sawn-off rifle was left on the back seat and the disgruntled driver arrested.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have since been spent trying to make the building more secure. This has included fencing, concrete barriers, traffic bollards, more security screening and pass-activated doors, even ballistic glass roofing after people started thinking about what drones armed with grenades could do.

On Thursday these investments were shown to be useless when four reasonably fit protesters scaled a steel fence and a glass barrier to display their protest banners under the national coat of arms. From that vantage point protesters with a different objective could have entered the building via the Queens’ Terrace. Down one flight of steps they could have found hundreds of schoolchildren, staffers and politicians in the same area the four-wheel drive breached 32 years ago.

Done 12 hours earlier, the protesters would have been in the heart of the Mid-Winter Ball with much of the cabinet in attendance.

The consequences are not unthinkable so much as what happens when people with no imagination come up against radicals with no restraints.

Absent a more proactive approach to guarding, the parliament cannot be made more secure with fences and screens. On all four sides of the building there are entrances to carparks which lead deep under the complex’s offices and meeting rooms. Three entrances are controlled by swipe access cards that open a boom gate, more there for the “look” than to provide a real barrier.

It’s true security around the ministerial wing of parliament is more substantial, but there is absolutely nothing about the place a determined adversary couldn’t counter. Drive around the building and you will see a large number of ministers’ offices looking directly on to roads that anyone can access.

The parliament was designed for a more peaceful time, not one where performative protest is increasingly being used to advance hardline ideological and political agendas.

With its light-handed approach to pro-Palestinian protests since October 7, the Albanese government is tolerating the growing radicalisation of a movement that is becoming more violent. This pattern is evident for all to see. Initial protests in Sydney and Melbourne started with angry chanting, Jew baiting, flag burning and disruptions to city traffic and pedestrians.

The police did nothing other than to tell Jews and their supporters to stay away, detaining some folk with Israeli flags and trying to contain protests to specific areas and protest routes.

We were told that this was just a case of people letting off steam. Better to let it go. What happened? The protests have become louder and more threatening.

Prominent Australian Jews had their private information circulated including residential addresses. Jewish businesses and property have been vandalised, Jewish students and others have been bullied and threatened.

What happened? The police did nothing. Government leaders equivocated, refused to condemn open anti-Jewish racism and pretended against all evidence that there was a similar problem of Islamophobia.

The Albanese government went out of its way to attack Israel for its conduct of a war against Hamas, calling for a ceasefire that would have produced a victory for the Iranian-backed terrorist group. If Albanese’s faint-hearted attempts to support Israel’s right of self-defence did not appeal to pro-Palestinian progressives, they could listen instead to more overtly Palestinian leaning Ed Husic or Anne Aly, or a slew of ministers and backbenchers who could never quite find words to part company with hotheads calling for them to become more extremist themselves.

What happened? The radicals have become even more violent. Campuses were occupied, classes trashed, Jewish students publicly intimidated. Serious hardline ­jihadists found their way into student protest movements.

And the police did nothing. We have a taste now of what it must have been like to live through the Weimar Republic. MPs’ offices have been vandalised and blockaded. Decades of Labor discipline maintaining policy lines were overlooked in the interests of positioning the party not to lose its progressive base to the Greens or even more radicalised groups.

And what has happened? The protests have become even more ­violent. War memorials with no connection to Gaza have been vandalised and a so-called Muslim Votes organisation has been established specifically to strip votes off Labor at the next election.

Anthony Albanese and Labor have created this momentum to radicalisation by being willing to tolerate unacceptable anti-Jewish behaviour. Appeasement is pushing the protesters to ever louder, more overt and offensive action. Moreover, one set of angry protesters begats others. Looking at the protest banners unfurled over parliament, pro-Palestinian language benefiting only Hamas mingles with claims about frontier wars, genocide and stolen land in Australia.

This is nutty stuff enabled by decades of neo-Marxist teaching at Australian universities. But it doesn’t need to make sense; what matters is that the progressive fringe of Australian politics thinks it’s time to bring a new umbrella protest movement into the open.

If Labor thought its softly-softly approach was helping its cause with progressives, it has produced the opposite result. Senator Fatima Payman, who clearly feels entitled to her 15 minutes of fame, has resigned to sit on the crossbench.

Albanese should now call a meeting of the national cabinet with his state and territory counterparts to agree a tougher approach to policing protest actions. Enough is enough. Freedom of speech can only sustain so much radicalised ­effort to undermine our society.

Our police and ASIO will have a good idea of the movement’s organisational core. The hardliners should face significant penalties for the vandalism and public harassment they cause.

Will Albanese take a harder line? I doubt it. More likely, we will see further acts of performative radicalism which, like an artillery barrage in World War I, is creeping closer and closer to the front line of our once harmonious country.

This article originally appeared in the Weekend Australian of 6-7 July 2024.