Old Parliament House has suffered ‘incalculable damage’ after a fire ripped through the entrance to the historic landmark, with Scott Morrison branding the destruction ‘disgusting’ and ‘appalling’.
Within hours of the building going up in flames on Thursday, Greens senator Lidia Thorpe posted a tweet – which was hastily deleted – remarking ‘the colonial system is burning down’.
She was quickly slammed for the post, in which she appeared to celebrate the destruction and told followers ‘Happy New Year everyone’.
The entrance to the building was engulfed in flames after a smoking ceremony demanding Aboriginal Sovereignty in Canberra grew out of control – with some claiming it was spread intentionally.
Emergency crews arrived to douse the flames, but not before the fire had caused extensive damage to its heritage doors, the portico and the building’s exterior.
‘Seems like the colonial system is burning down. Happy New Year everyone,’ the tweet (pictured) read accompanied by hashtag #AlwayswasAlwayswillbeAboriginalLand’
Greens senator Lidia Thorpe (pictured) quickly deleted her tweet after it prompted outrage, having remarked that the ‘colonial system is burning down’
Demonstrators were heard shouting ‘let it burn’, amid a tense stand-off with police who used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
The smoking ceremony, which was approved by authorities as part of a protest, was to blame for the blaze while police begin to investigate how the chaos escalated.
The director of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Daryl Karp, said the total cost of the damage was unknown but ‘from a heritage perspective the damage is incalculable’.
The Museum’s deputy director Andrew Harper said he was ‘devastated’ by the incident and is unsure if the building’s original 1927 facade could be repaired.
‘We are devastated about the damage. We will be closed for some time,’ he said.
Staff were also unable to determine if there was any damage to the collection inside after the building’s sprinkler system was activated.
A federal police forensic team was later seen examining the scorched front entrance of the building and taking samples from the fire damage (pictured on Thursday)
The museum’s director Daryl Karp said the damage done to the building (pictured on Thursday) was ‘incalculable’
Three forensic team members are seen analysing the scorched front entrance doors (pictured on Thursday) with experts fearing the damage may be irreparable
Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed the behaviour as an insult to democracy on Thursday, saying: ‘This is not how Australia works’.
‘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,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘Their cause doesn’t justify that sort of violence. That’s not how Australia works. We have a rule of law in this country and people should obey it.’
Meanwhile, the tweet from Ms Thorpe, the granddaughter of respected Indigenous matriarch Alma Thorpe, came under fire soon after the saga unfolded – despite her efforts to hastily delete it.
‘Seems like the colonial system is burning down. Happy New Year everyone,’ the tweet read accompanied by hashtag #AlwayswasAlwayswillbeAboriginalLand’.
The senator and proud descendant of the Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung peoples deleted the tweet shortly after posting it.
‘I am disgusted and appalled by behaviour that would see Australians come and set fire to such a symbol of democracy in this country,’ PM Scott Morrison (pictured) said
Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe (pictured) related the blaze to the burning of the ‘colonial system’ in a quickly-deleted post to Twitter
When contacted by Daily Mail Australia, a Greens spokesperson refused to comment and pointed towards leader Adam Bandt’s tweet, which read: ‘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.’
The politician was the first Aboriginal woman in the Victorian parliament in 2017, and in 2020 the first Aboriginal Senator for Victoria in the Senate.
Ms Thorpe’s tweet appeared to allude to the 1788 British colonisation of Australia when settlers took the land of First Nations peoples as their own.
The colonisation of Australia has had devastating impacts on Indigenous people with the after-effects of massacre, disease and loss of culture still felt today.
Ms Thorpe is no stranger to controversy after last month being accused of making a ‘disgusting’ comment towards Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes.
Lidia Thorpe (pictured) was the first Aboriginal woman in the Victorian parliament in 2017, and in 2020 the first Aboriginal Senator for Victoria in the Senate
Protesters stand in front of the burned out doors to Old Parliament House on Thursday
Senator Hughes later claimed on Sky News Senator Thorpe’s comments were a reference to her giving birth to an autistic son.
Liberal Senator Ben Small interrupted proceedings to claim he clearly heard Ms Thorpe’s insult, with the Ms Thorpe then offering a retraction.
Senator Small alleged outside the chamber he distinctly heard Ms Thorpe say ‘at least I keep my legs shut’.
The greens senator later apologised to Ms Hughes.
‘I just want to unreservedly take back my comments that I made earlier and I apologise to that senator wholeheartedly, Senator Hughes,’ she said.
The fire comes just one week after a similar blaze was lit at the historic site which served as Australia’s federal parliament from 1927 until 1988.
After firefighters distinguish the blaze protesters continued to clash with media crews and police, some chanting ‘long live us’ and ‘stop telling lies’ (pictured, a protestor holds a flag)
Meanwhile an unruly crowd had to be held back from the building by a line of police before an all-out brawl began (pictured on Thursday)
Crowds of protesters began gathering almost a fortnight ago ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy which was established in 1972.
The tent embassy was and continues to be a site for occupation protests after initially prompting a national discussion on Indigenous land rights.
Australia’s current Parliament House was established in 1988 on Capitol Hill a short distance away, with the historic building now used as a museum and heritage site.
After firefighters extinguished the blaze protesters continued to clash with media crews and police, some chanting ‘long live us’ and ‘stop telling lies’.
While leaders used a megaphone to talk about Indigenous rights and colonisation, baffled onlookers recorded the plumes of smoke pouring out of the building.
Five fire engines and about 40 police officers attended the scene and the building was evacuated as a precaution while crews fervently extinguished the blaze.
Emergency services rushed to the scene to put out the flames but not before the fire had caused extensive damage, as protesters were heard yelling ‘let it burn’
The historic building now used as a museum and heritage site (pictured, a forensic team analyse the damage on the front entrance doors)
A federal police forensic team was later seen examining the scorched front entrance of the building and taking samples from the fire-damage.
Among the protesters at Old Parliament House are a ‘sovereign citizen’ group who posted a ‘trespass’ notice on the building doors yesterday.
Their notice says that ‘under rule of law and with absolute authority and autonomy, I, Chief Bumajin Gumbaynggirr, representative of the National Sovereign Government, hereby accepts (sic) your acquiescence by default, enforceable immediately.’
It goes on to say: All actions of genocide, complicity in genocide and terrorism are to cease and desist immediately as per today’s date, commencing 29-12-2021.’
The museum’s director Daryl Karp said of last week’s protest that 30 or 40 people approached the building advising they wanted to protest on the front steps.
‘On Tuesday the protesters lit a fire that got out of control and it scorched the front door. ‘I don’t believe it was their intention to do any damage; however, we had to ask them to move on,’ Mr Karp said.
Federal politicians have criticised the protesters with Labor leader Anthony Albanese condemning the attack on Twitter.
‘This historic house of our democracy should be respected by all Australians – it is beyond my comprehension that anyone or group could engage in such a destructive act,’ he wrote.
‘The fire at Old Parliament House is an absolute disgrace if deliberately lit,’ Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce wrote on his Facebook page.
‘This is the Parliament that for so long underpinned the freedoms we have as a democracy and made the decisions that formed us as a nation, fighting for the increase of rights and corrections to our colonial past.
‘If someone is trying to make a statement then it is a very bad one that will be received with overwhelming disgust.’
Former Nationals leader Michael McCormack said there should be ‘swift and severe’ repercussions for those responsible if the blaze was deliberately lit.
Ben Morton, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister and Cabinet, released a statement saying ‘Criminal damage has no place in our democracy’.
‘Today’s actions at Old Parliament House were not peaceful. The resulting damage undermines the message that peaceful protesters seek to deliver,’ he said.
Five fire engines and about 40 police officers attended the scene and the building was evacuated as a precaution while crews fervently extinguished the blaze
‘It is the Government’s expectation that all illegal activity should be dealt with by the police and the courts to the full extent possible.
‘I thank the first responders. They should not have to put themselves in harm’s way to deal with the fire. The damage to the building will be fully restored back to its original condition.’
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr also condemned the protestors who set fire to the building and said he was disappointed a heritage building had been damaged.
‘People have a right to protest but that protest must be peaceful, and the actions that we’ve seen in setting fire to a heritage listed building, really disappointing and should be condemned,’ he said.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr (pictured) also condemned the protestors who set fire to the building and said he was disappointed a heritage building had been damaged
The fire was eventually extinguished but the old Parliament House entrance was severely damaged with doors, front wall and portico all blackened by fire (pictured, fire damage)
The fire was eventually extinguished but the old Parliament House entrance was severely damaged with doors, front wall and portico all blackened by fire.
Commander Linda Champion from the Australian Federal Police said the fire most likely started when a smoking ceremony approved by police got out of control.
‘There was a small smoking ceremony and that is something that we had agreed with a lot of the members who were attending each day as part of a peaceful protest,’ Ms Champion said.
‘It then became a little bit out of hand and then when ACT police went to respond, that’s when it was greatly exacerbated.’
She said that while police had used pepper spray on protesters, it did not act as an accelerant to the fire because the spray was water-based.
ACT police said it would continue to monitor peaceful protests but ‘when criminal actions take place the people responsible will be dealt in accordance with the law’.