Dramatic scenes as fire breaks out at Old Parliament House

·News Editor
·4-min read

A fire has broken out at Old Parliament House in Canberra with social media video showing flames and smoke billowing into the sky.

The incident happened at 11.36am on Thursday at the building on King George Terrace in Parkes, according to the ACT Emergency Services Agency.

Footage filmed from outside the building shows police officers lined up with a small group of protesters in front of them as a fire alarm sounds.

Smoke billows out of Old Parliament House as protesters and police face off.
A fire has broken out at Old Parliament House in Canberra. Source: Shane McInnes/Twitter

A spokesperson for the ACT Emergency Services Agency said upon arrival crews found the front doors of Old Parliament House alight.

"Crews quickly extinguished the fire and parts of the building were evacuated as a precaution," the spokesperson said.

Firefighters would inspect the building, which had been smoke-logged, before handing the scene over to ACT police shortly, they added.

An ACT Policing spokesperson said an investigation into the fire had begun and Old Parliament House would remain closed until further notice.

"There has been ongoing protest activity at the front of Old Parliament House throughout the past fortnight," the spokesperson said in a statement to Yahoo News Australia.

"Old Parliament House was evacuated earlier today (Thursday) after protesters started a fire at the front doors of the building – this was quickly extinguished by ACT Fire & Rescue."

Firefighters are seen entering the fire damaged entrance to Old Parliament House in Canberra on December 30, 2021.
Firefighters enter the damaged entrance to Old Parliament House. Source: AAP
Old Parliament House was evacuated as a precaution after caught alight. Source: Facebook/Twitter
Old Parliament House was evacuated as a precaution after caught alight. Source: Facebook/Twitter

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, crowds have flocked to the area in the past week, according to the ABC.

But the protesters are reportedly not affiliated with the embassy.

The Age reporter Rachael Dexter tweeted these protesters were "a 'sovereign citizen' group with overlapping members in the 'freedom' movement".

"They've been turning up for the past few weeks," Dexter wrote.

Author Paula Matthewson says she has watched the situation "escalate slowly over several days".

"Sovcit (sovereign citizen) anti-vaxxers convinced some Indigenous activists that if they took over Old [Parliament] House they [could] re-establish the sovereignty that was never ceded," she said.

"They've been trying for days to get people to storm the building."

Barnaby Joyce speaks out about Old Parliament House fire

Another video from 9News reporter Rachel Baxter shows protesters clashing with media.

Albert Hartnett, who is an Aboriginal Tent Embassy activist, alleges in a Facebook live video the fire was caused when police pepper-sprayed flames during a smoking ceremony.

But Yahoo News Australia understands the pepper sprayed used by ACT Police is water-based.

Mr Hartnett went on in the video to emphasis the fire was "not the fault of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy".

Police officers stand guard outside the fire damaged entrance to Old Parliament House in Canberra on December 30, 2021.
Police officers outside the burned out entrance of Old Parliament House. Source: AAP

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said it was "an absolute disgrace" if the fire was deliberately lit.

"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," he said.

"If someone is trying to make a statement then it is a very bad one that will be received with overwhelming disgust."

The building is now home to the Museum of Australian Democracy.

with AAP

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