The Australian Federal Police will lead a task force with ACT Policing to identify the protesters responsible for the fire that damaged the front facade of the National Heritage-listed Old Parliament House on Thursday (30 December).
Taskforce Pike will include members from the AFP’s Special Investigations Command and detectives from ACT Policing. It will use the AFP’s world-leading forensics and technological capability to identify those responsible for damaging Commonwealth property, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Police said protesters had been at the building for more than a week and the morning began with a traditional smoking ceremony.
The fire caused extensive damage to the front doors of the building, which houses the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD), and there was also extensive water damage inside. The site was evacuated and no injuries were reported.
Director of MOAD Daryl Karp described the situation as “tragic”.
She said the doors, which date from 1927, were severely damaged, and the portico, which was specifically built for the Queen’s visit in 1954, was burnt out.
“It is unclear whether we can restore the doors or not,” she said. “Obviously they are pretty significant collection items and that’s a big one for us.”
She said further examination of the building was needed to see what else was damaged and what repairs could be undertaken.
Footage from ACT Policing body cameras and CCTV from Old Parliament House has identified several suspects who will be interviewed by police.
On Thursday, members of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy condemned the fire, saying it did not condone the actions of protesters who occupied the steps of Old Parliament House that day.
“Although we support the concept of non-violent direct action, we do not condone the destruction of private or public property,” embassy representatives said in a statement.
“The actions of such protesters conducting a ‘smoking ceremony’ was done so without the knowledge, consent or mandate of the Embassy Council and Traditional Owners responsible for the regulation of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.”
Several witnesses have already been interviewed by ACT Policing and the task force is expected to speak to more in the coming days.
The AFP said the establishment of the task force, which will build on the investigations started on Friday, underscored the zero-tolerance authorities had for violence, destruction of property and assaulting police.
A police presence at Old Parliament House will be increased over the next few weeks.
People with footage of the incident are urged to contact Crime Stoppers ACT on 1800 333 000.