Parliament House Security Say CCTV Footage Of White Powder Tasting Incident Have Not Been Deleted.
The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) says a report by the ABC, which claimed that footage of a controversial security incident at Parliament House was deleted, is incorrect.
The incident involved a senior security official licking his finger to taste unknown white powder after it was found on the first floor balustrade at the rear of the Great Hall in the public area of Parliament House on November 22 last year.
The incident made headlines after The Guardian revealed that rather than call the AFP, the assistant secretary of the security branch, Graeme Anderson, tasted the white powder and declared it to be sugar.
On Monday morning the ABC reported that CCTV footage of the incident was deleted before it should have been, a claim denied by the department.
"Many Parliament House guards remain bewildered by their boss's actions, and it is now claimed crucial security camera vision of the incident which occurred near the public cafe has disappeared," the story said.
But the department denies this.
"The footage hasn't been deleted," first assistant secretary of the department Paul Cooper told Senate Estimates on Monday afternoon.
DPS said that security footage from Parliament House is retained for eight weeks, and there are "no known incidents" in the last 18 months of footage being deleted before the end of the retention period.
Senate President Scott Ryan said he had not seen the footage, but it has been described to him. He said he would consider whether or not to release it to Labor senators.
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Department officials were grilled by Labor senator Kimberley Kitching over the location of the November incident, which they had previously described as "near" the public cafe.
An incident report states the powder was found on the "1st floor hand rail western side of The Great Hall Front doors" (sic). Kitching said the location was around 40 metres away from the public cafe, but Ryan said he considered the distance fell within the definition of "near".
Anderson told Senate Estimates in February he tasted the powder as there was no evidence it was suspicious because of the proximity to the cafe.
Kitching questioned whether Anderson had followed parliamentary procedure when tasting the powder, as anthrax has no smell or taste.
Kitching asked: "You made an assessment by tasting it?"
To which Anderson responded, "correct".
"I handled this incident in exactly the same way it would have been handled in the Australian Federal Police," he added. "My assessment is based on the evidence available to me."
Anderson later clarified that he only tasted the substance after he had already determined that it was non-suspicious.
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The finger-licking incident is one of four “powder out of place” incidents in parliament since November. The most recent was on Friday, May 11, when white powder was delivered to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's Parliament House office.
DPS refused to answer questions from senators about this incident - in which the powder turned out to be non-hazardous - as it is being investigated by the Australian Federal Police.
Sources say the department is now intimidating whistleblower staff for speaking to BuzzFeed News, following our story last week that revealed officers were not properly trained and not equipped to do their jobs.
The secretary of the department Rob Stefanic confirmed he is consulting with the federal police about the leaking of "security classified information". He said he is in the process of identifying the officers who have spoken out.
Neither Stefanic, Cooper nor Anderson could say whether staff were forced to wear $6.94 disposable painting overalls from Bunnings when testing potentially dangerous white powder, as BuzzFeed News revealed last week.
Anderson was also asked whether he threatened “to burn the security division to the ground and start again” in front of staff. Anderson said he couldn't recall saying it but it “sounds like something I might have said”.