By Matt Siegel
SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian lawmaker smuggled a replica explosive device into parliament on Monday to highlight security shortfalls created by budget cuts, in perhaps the oddest protest yet against the conservative government's controversial cost-cutting measures.
Senator Bill Heffernan, a member of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's ruling Liberal Party, unveiled the long metal tube designed to look like a homemade "pipe bomb" during hearings attended by the head of the Australian Federal Police.
He said that new cost-saving security protocols being trialed, which exempt politicians and their staff members from searches upon entering Parliament House, had allowed him to smuggle the device into the building in a plastic bag.
Members of the public, diplomats and journalists and are still subject to traditional searches under the new measures.
"Up until this point, most people working in this building know that it's safe. I don't think it any longer is and to demonstrate that this morning I brought in what could be ... a pipe bomb," Heffernan said.
Support for Abbott's conservative government has taken a plunge following the release of an austerity budget earlier this month that sent thousands to the streets in protest and sparked calls for early elections.
The contentious budget was packed with deregulation moves, new levies and spending cuts aimed at overcoming what the government calls unsustainable deficits totaling A$60 billion ($55.45 billion)over the next four years.
The one-year trial of the new security measures in Parliament, which only began last week, is part of a separate drive by the government to wring A$400,000 in savings from the building's operational budget.
Heffernan, who had previously said the changes would have to be introduced "over my dead body", has a history of trying to highlight perceived security flaws in government buildings.
In 2009 security officers in the New South Wales state parliament confiscated a knife from the senator, who similarly claimed to have been testing out the building's security, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. ($1 = 1.0821 Australian Dollars)
(Editing by Eric Meijer)