Parliament stormed in Australian riots

Robert Milliken Sydney
Monday 19 August 1996 23:02

Amid scenes unprecedented in Australia, dozens of chanting rioters yesterday stormed Parliament House in Canberra, smashing its front doors and leaving its public entrance hall spattered with blood. They threw acid and urine at more than 300 riot police who were called in to control the violence. It erupted when about 25,000 trade union members and Aborigines marched on Parliament House to protest against the federal government's plans to cut public spending and reduce union power.

More than 60 police were injured, 50 people were arrested and Parliament House's entrance, marble hall and souvenir shop were turned into a battle- zone. A hard-core of leaders had pushed against the front doors, smashed windows and ripped iron rods from walls to use as battering rams. John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, whose conservative Liberal-National coalition government is due to deliver its first budget today, toured the site and called the episode "a very sad and unhappy day in the life of the Australian parliament".

"What occurred was un- Australian. It was ugly. It en- dangered the physical well- being of men and women in the Australian Federal Police and Parliament House staff," he said. "I want to make it perfectly clear that never, under any circumstances, will my government buckle to threats of physical violence or behaviour of this kind."

Mr Howard cancelled talks on the budget he had been due to hold with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. He said although he did not blame the council directly for the riot, the council had sponsored the rally that sparked the violence.

Thousands of union members and other community groups from all over Australia had arrived in Canberra yesterday for what was billed as one of the biggest union protests the capital has seen. It turned into a violent and bloody end to 13 years of industrial peace that had accompanied the former Labor government's "accords" with the union movement.

Since its election last March, Mr Howard's coalition has announced plans to reform industrial relations by replacing collective wage bargaining with individual contracts. There have been violent demonstrations at industrial sites over the past few days, especially in Melbourne.

The government plans to use today's budget as the first shot in a strategy to cut up to A$8bn (pounds 4bn) from public spending. Already, it has announced big cuts in funding for tertiary edu-cation, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Up to 30,000 civil service jobs are expected to go. Some of those caught up in the riot were Aborigines protesting at an 11 per cent cut in spending on indigenous Australians.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments