Parliament House security official admits to tasting unknown powder

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Under questioning from senators in Parliament House, officials reveal there have been a series of suspicious powder incidents in the months since November.

There have been five ‘out of place’ powder incidents at Parliament House since November, parliamentary officials revealed at an estimates hearing on Monday in Canberra.

During one of them, a parliamentary official told senators that he tasted the unknown substance because he believed it was not suspicious.

“[There] was sugar on the balustrade near the proximity of the Queens Terrace café,” the Assistant Secretary at Parliament’s Security Branch Graeme Anderson told the hearing.

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“There was nothing brave about it. If it was anthrax, we were already exposed to anthrax and tasting it was immaterial to whether we would’ve been exposed or not.”

Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching was incredulous a security official would taste a substance without being certain of what it was, telling the committee it could’ve been anthrax.

“My assessment was based on the evidence that was available to me. There was no evidence this was either a biological or a chemical threat,” Mr Anderson said.

Mr Anderson told Senators his experience in the Australian Federal Police allowed him to judge the substance was not suspicious.

“How can you know that, given anthrax has no smell or taste?” Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching asked.

“I made the assessment on logical probabilities, not irrational possibilities,” Mr Anderson replied.

Senate President Scott Ryan said Mr Anderson was being unfairly questioned about his response.

“He is both more highly trained and more knowledgeable about these matters than anyone else in this room” Mr Ryan said.

The incident occurred in Parliament on November 22 last year.

Since then, DPS officials told Senators there have been five ‘out of place’ powder incidents at Parliament.

Officials did not say whether any of the substances found were actually harmful. Two of those incidents resulted in an AFP mobile testing device being used.

It was also revealed a parliamentary security manual which was lost last year has still not been found.

Over the last few months, more security measures have been added to Parliament, including a fence on the iconic sloping lawns and new entrances to the building.

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