UNDER THE FLAG

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Senator's pipe bomb stunt

A dummy pipe bomb and fake dynamite are produced in a Senate inquiry by Liberal Bill Heffernan to highlight changes in Parliamentary security.

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Two weeks later and it's safe to say the budget has not been what pundits might call ''well received''. A better descriptor might be ''shunned by polite society'', or perhaps: ''Put it this way, if it was a person walking past you on the street, you would totally cross the road to avoid looking into its deathly pale eyes.''

Gen-Y university students ... have taken to the streets. 

Pensioners are shaking their fists in outrage and Gen-Y university students, a notoriously self-interested bunch, have taken to the streets to complain about the effect it has on them. The protests have, incidentally, given Education Minister Christopher Pyne more joy than anything else that has happened since last year's John Howard Debating Cup final.

But not until Monday did we see just how truly pernicious the effects of budget cuts can be. Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, a man whose tendency towards erratic behaviour places him low on the list of people to whom you would give free access to explosives, smuggled a pipe bomb into Parliament.

To explain: the Department of Parliamentary Services, which looks after the big house on Capital Hill and all its security arrangements, has long been the subject of an efficiency dividend which forces it to cut costs year on year. Under the most recent cost-cutting, MPs, senators and staff are no longer scanned by metal detectors and are not subject to bag checks.

And so it came to pass that Heffernan, during a Senate estimates committee hearing on Monday, reached into a plastic Coles bag he had with him - the type favoured by homeless people of fragile mental health to transport their belongings - and pulled out a home-made pipe bomb.

''Up until this point, most people working in this building know that it's safe. I don't think it any longer is,'' he told Australian Federal Police chief Tony Negus, and unveiled with a flourish his handiwork, which appeared to be a mock version of two sticks of dynamite taped together in a MacGyver-meets-Unabomber style.

In case anyone was left in doubt of the serious damage such explosives could cause to democracy's great house, the Heff went on to explain.

''When I was a kid we used to blow stumps out on the farm, 50 years ago. We'd get some Nitropril, a quart of distillate, a plug of jelly and a detonator, light the bloody thing and [it would] go to buggery!'' he told the committee hearing. ''It could blow a tree the size of this building out of the ground.''

It is worth noting the security cost-cutting pre-dates the current government and its unloved budget, which, in any case, looks increasingly like it might get blown to buggery in the Senate.

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