‘It’s time for Saudi women to drive’
Session halted by protest of asylum seeker treatment
Rowdy protesters demonstrating against Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers disrupted Parliament yesterday, some gluing their hands to a railing before security officers finally wrested them out.
About 30 demonstrators shouting from a public gallery drowned out the House of Representatives, where lawmakers had gathered for a combative, daily 90minute session in which opposition legislators question government ministers about their portfolios.
Speaker Tony Smith adjourned the sitting after the first question for 40 minutes while security officers regained order.
Another 20 protesters linked arms in a public area at the centre of Parliament House, demanding that Australia resettle refugees who attempt to reach its shores by boat. Security officers forced them into a lift and sent them to the building's basement.
“We are here because your policies are breaking our hearts,” one protester said.
Australia has deterred refugees from coming by boat from Indonesian ports by refusing to ever resettle them. Australia sends boat arrivals to camps in the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, where they face uncertain futures.
The disruption came as Parliament considers reducing public access to the building because of the security threat posed by extremists.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other government lawmakers left the chamber during the suspension, while most of the opposition Labour Party remained throughout.
“The reason the Labour Party stayed in here today is because we will never give in to those who wish to shut this Parliament down,” opposition leader Bill Shorten said when Parliament resumed. “No matter what the protest, no matter who tries it or what the issue they think it is, this is the exact opposite of democracy.”
Government Minister Christopher Pyne described the disruption as “the most serious intrusion into the Parliament” in 20 years and asked the speaker to investigate. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has issued a public call for women to be allowed to drive in the conservative kingdom. Prince Alwaleed made the call on Twitter, tweeting in Arabic and English: “Stop the debate: Time for women to drive.” His tweet late on Tuesday included links to an opinion article arguing for the change that cited economic, social and religious considerations. Alwaleed does not hold a formal position in the Saudi government. The billionaire leads the Riyadhbased investment firm Kingdom Holding Company, which holds stakes in several Western companies, including Twitter. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive, and women’s rights activists have been detained for defying the ban.
PROTEST: Demonstrators linked arms in a public area of Parliament House in Canberra