Pro-asylum protest halts Australia's parliament

A pro-refugee protester is handled by security outside Australia's parliament in Canberra Image copyright ABC
Image caption One of the protesters is handled by security guards in Canberra

About 30 people demonstrating against the Australian government's treatment of asylum seekers have disrupted parliament in Canberra.

The activists forced the suspension of proceedings for 40 minutes on Wednesday.

Security guards used hand sanitiser to remove six protesters who glued their hands to railing in the public gallery.

The government believes its tough policy of offshore detention for asylum seekers prevents deaths at sea.

The policy is also supported by the opposition Labor Party.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull observes the protest

A group called the Whistleblowers Activists and Citizens Alliance claimed responsibility for the protest.

In heated scenes, demonstrators shouted the detention policy was "separating families" and "killing innocent people".

"We are here today because you have become world leaders in cruelty," the protesters said.

Both major parties condemned the interruption.

"On behalf of the government, I would like to apologise to the rest of the members of the public who came to Canberra today to watch the parliament," said Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption The protest spilled into the halls of parliament

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten thanked security staff for their handling of the demonstration.

"The reason why the Labor Party stayed in here today is because we will never give in to those who wish to shut down this parliament," he said.

"This is the exact opposite of democracy."

However, Greens MP Adam Bandt praised the protesters for their actions.

"Question Time brought to a halt as peaceful protesters hold MPs to account demanding gov #CloseTheCamps. Brave. Powerful. Proud," he wrote on Twitter.

Last month, the Australian government rejected a human rights report comparing its asylum seeker camp on the Pacific island of Nauru to an open-air prison.

The protest on Wednesday comes two weeks after Australia and the US reached a resettlement deal for asylum seekers held in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Australia and asylum

  • The number of asylum seekers travelling to Australia by boat rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey.
  • To stop the influx, the government adopted tough measures intended as a deterrent.
  • Everyone who arrives is detained. Under the policy, asylum seekers are processed offshore at centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
  • The government has also adopted a policy of tow-backs, or turning boats around.

Read more: Australia asylum: Why is it controversial?

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