'Thermal fence' among security upgrade changes at Canberra's Parliament House
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'Thermal fence' among security upgrade changes at Canberra's Parliament House

A leading security expert has welcomed the addition of thermal perimeter monitoring technology at federal Parliament, boosting upgrades including steel fencing around the building and at least 40 new CCTV cameras.

New detail has emerged on the more than $60 million in security upgrades under way since a 2014 review, prompted in part by terror attacks against the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.

A temporary fence was installed at Parliament House in June.

A temporary fence was installed at Parliament House in June.Credit:Andrew Meares

Officials in charge of the upgrade plans, parliament's presiding officers and the government are all reluctant to discuss security upgrades taking place, but a Senate estimates committee has been told a "thermal fence" design has been added to contract requirements as part of the works.

Thermal fencing can include everything from virtual perimeter alert systems, thermal security cameras, threat detection and assessment technology and motion sensors. Thermal and infrared systems can be used for continuous surveillance, including in darkness and during fire and fog.

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Security outside Parliament House in March.

Security outside Parliament House in March. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

An audit of all closed circuit television coaxial cabling has also been added to the contracts, along with upgrades to protected IT networks, more cameras and security alarm networks. Better use of licence plate recognition technology will begin in the building's car parks, with an integrated ticketing design and electronic car park management system also planned.

The committee has been told a 25-year master plan and accommodation review is being completed to guide increases to the building's capacity, coming at the same time as a functional review of security, due to be completed by the end of the month.

Defence technology and security multinational BAE Systems won the initial contract, negotiated between November 2015 and March 2016.

Electronic access controls are being boosted for secondary entries for MPs offices, as well as across the building's ministerial wing.

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

The detail comes as construction of the 2.6 metre steel across the building's sloping lawns continues. Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Stephen Parry have held confidential briefings for MPs but refuse to release the final designs, citing concern about aiding potential attackers.

International security consultant Roger Henning said the external physical fence was long overdue, but he welcomed upgraded electronic systems.

"If they're adding to that with thermal and electronics or anything else, even better," he said.

"This has been in the waiting and in recommendations for at least 20 years if not longer.

"You can drive your car under Parliament House without anyone taking notice of you. Number plate recognition technology is excellent because it means if there are cars on watch lists, which there are, any of those entering the precinct or the car park can be picked up and dealt with."

Mr Henning said he remained concerned about some internal security barriers, including between the House of Representatives and Senate chambers and the public viewing galleries.

As part of planning for the upgrades, a staff member of the Department of Parliamentary Services travelled to the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada for discussions about benchmark security systems at Westminster, Washington and Ottawa.

Advice was received from the US Capitol Police as well as security and police service heads.

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Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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