December 30 descended into a political farce for Australia, as Indigenous protestors set fire to the historic doors of Old Parliament House and found themselves cheered on via Tweet by Greens MP Lidia Thorpe.
The Tweet which read, “Seems like the colonial system is burning down. Happy New Year everyone. #AlwayswasAlwayswillBeAboriginalLand” was deleted by Lidia Thorpe shortly after.
Damage to the front of Old Parliament House in Canberra was severe, with the historic doors completely destroyed. The portico and facade all sustained extensive damage.
“We are devastated about the damage,” said Andrew Harper, deputy director of the Museum. “We will be closed for some time.”
There were no reported injuries and no one was arrested at the scene, despite police being present with the protesters.
It was the second fire lit by protesters, with the first smaller fire being started in front of the doors on December 21. The doors and surrounding building were also defaced with paint in the form of handprints.
Both fires are believed to have been started by approved traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremonies, although footage continues to circulate of combustible material being laid against the historic doors before being set alight.
Once the building began to burn, protesters cheered, clapped, and shouted, “Let it burn!”
Protesters had been present on the scene for several days, although it remains unknown exactly how events were allowed to escalate the point of twice setting fire to Old Parliament House.
Rumours circulating that police pepper spray caused the doors to ignite were countered by the CT Policing Commander, Linda Champion, who explained that while pepper spray had been used to disperse protestors, it was not responsible for the fire as the spray was water-based and did not contain accelerant.
“There was a small smoking ceremony and that is something we had agreed with. It then became a little bit out of hand and ACT police had to respond,” said Linda Champion.
Old Parliament House served as the home of Australian politics from 1927-1988 until Parliament House on Capital Hill took over. It was renamed, ‘Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House’ in 2009. The Duke of York unlocked the front doors – now ruined by the fire – with a golden key before opening the first parliamentary session.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called the act an ‘affront to democracy’.
“I’m disgusted and appalled by the behaviour that would see Australians come and set fire to such a symbol of democracy in this country. Their cause doesn’t justify that sort of violence. That’s not how Australia works,” said the Prime Minister. “We have a rule of law in this country and people should obey it.”
Littleproud told Today that this was a ‘sad day for democracy’. “No matter what your race, no matter what your religion, no matter your beliefs – no one has the right to vandalise a symbol of our democracy. I get people have to have a cause these days, they have to be angry, but vandalism is not the way to do it. I think we’re better than that as a nation.”
Leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, commented on Twitter:
“What a terrible sight. The Greens don’t want to see the planet burning or Old Parliament. Investigations are now underway into the cause of the fire, but if this was arson, it’s unacceptable.”
Bandt did not acknowledge, apologise for, or condemn Lidia Thorpe for her earlier comments.
There was considerably less outrage among the political class when Black Lives Matter activists damaged historical statues in Sydney and Melbourne during protests that lasted for weeks.