Politicians who voted for Parliament House fence alarmed now they’ve seen it

The giant steel fence slowly encircling Parliament House is a “monstrosity” and risks furtheralienating the public from their representatives, one of the few politicians to vote against the fortification says.
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Construction workers placed the first2.6-metre steel panels across the upper reaches of the building’s sloping roof this week, withwork to acceleratebefore MPs return to Canberra in mid-October.Large gum trees have also been chopped down, and manicuredlawnsripped up to dig trenches for the structure.

The fence – and a series of new guardhouses –will eventually seal off vast stretches of the Parliament’s exterior currently accessibleto the public. The security overhaulwill cost taxpayers$126 million.

The security fence is installed across the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

Workers install the first panels across the building’s sloping lawns. Photo: Andrew Meares

Fairfax Media has spoken with a number of MPs who voted for the fence but arealarmed by the scale of the structurenow they’ve seen it.None would criticise the project publicly because they still acceptsecuritytook priority overthe symbolism of broad public access to “the people’s house”.

But Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he was stunned by theimpact of the fence and questioned why it was being built.

“The fence is an absolute monstrosity,” Senator Di Natale said. “It goes against everything this building was designed to represent when it was built but it’s a perfect symbol of where politics is at these days.

“Most politicians want to wall themselves off from ordinary people as much as humanly possible, and this fence is just a physical representation of that trend. It’s everything that’s wrong with the political establishment.”

Of the 226 MPs, includingsenators, in Parliament, just nine voted against the fence: Senator DiNatale, his Greens colleagues, and independent senatorDerrynHinch.

The project has been shrouded in secrecy since it was announced in December last year, with the Senate president Stephen Parry, House of Representatives speaker Tony Smith and parliamentary officials refusing to release exact costings, designs or any security advice to justify the upgrade. These details were released for earlier security upgrades.

MPs were given secret briefings about the fence last year prior to the plan being rushed through both houses of Parliament in December. Fairfax Media understands MPs were not told nearly two dozen towering gum trees would be chopped down around the building, and there is a dispute about whether the final appearance of the fence reflects the briefings.

The upgrades were prompted by the 2014 terror attacks against the Canadian Parliament.