Wednesday, 26 August 2020
Statement by the Speaker
COVID-19: Parliament House
While members are still here, I have a brief statement I'd like to make for members to hear, and it's with respect to the medical advice that I and the President of the Senate received about the wearing of masks. In doing so, I wish to correct the record with respect to a claim in The Australian today.
As honourable members would be aware, the President of the Senate and I have advised you that all of our decisions regarding restrictions and actions since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have been based on advice received from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer. Last Friday, the advice we received regarding the wearing of masks was communicated to all building occupants, all members and the media. We said in that statement, amongst other things:
While recognising that the wearing of masks is not mandatory in the ACT, at the specific request of the Acting Chief Medical Officer and out of an abundance of caution, in the public common areas of Australian Parliament House everyone is recommended to wear a mask at all times.
As an additional precaution the wearing of masks is encouraged in the presence of others, especially where physical distancing is not possible, and by those at increased risk of COVID-19.
The article in The Australian today claims that according to a source:
… the CMO wanted a mandatory memorandum for the sitting fortnight, but was overruled by the presiding officers.
This statement is incorrect. To allow this to go uncorrected would be to suggest that the President of the Senate and I had not followed the medical advice. Further, it would suggest our statement to all of you, that we have always acted on medical advice, was not accurate.
To make it clear, we have followed the advice of the Chief Medical Officer at all times when it comes to measures being adopted in Parliament House. Finally, if medical advice was obtained that recommended mandating the wearing of masks here in Australian Parliament House, without that requirement being present in the rest of the ACT, the President and I would, of course, present that advice to both Houses.
I rise to support the statement made by the Speaker, and I'm sure the opposition would join me. Having been involved through my office in facilitating the requested advice being made available to you and the President of the Senate, I can confirm absolutely—not that it requires, I suppose, anything from me to confirm the statements of the Speaker—on behalf of the government that the advice you have received and that you've referred is entirely as you stated it.
Just to ensure an element of bipartisanship today, Mr Speaker, can I congratulate you and the President of the Senate not only on the work that you've done in attaining and sticking to the medical advice to the letter but also on the work that you and other staff of the parliament have done to make sure that the democratic process can take place this week and, indeed, in the budget session going forward. It is important for our nation that we are here and that we're able to undertake in our democratic deliberations, and that wouldn't have been possible without your leadership and the leadership of the President of the Senate.