Tuesday, 1 September 2020
COVID-19: Parliamentary Procedure
We are certainly living in challenging times. The COVID virus is not only challenging Australia economically and in a health sense but also challenging this parliament. I say to the government and to the opposition, 'Well done,' for making the necessary adjustments to the parliamentary program that enable us at this stage to sit and get on with our jobs. While government ministers and the cabinet actually make the day-to-day decisions about running Australia, parliament does need to convene to ratify and to finance those decisions. It needs to meet for members of parliament, particularly the opposition, to test and examine those decisions. It is an important role we play. We are here, as we should be.
These agreed arrangements over the past few months have led to parliamentary committees, both Senate and House of Representatives, meeting electronically. In these sitting weeks for the first time ever we've seen members contribute online to the parliamentary debate. We are wearing masks, observing hygiene and practising social distancing. It is social distancing that I want to come to. To facilitate social distancing, the government and the opposition have agreed to 35 pairs at the moment. That's almost unprecedented. Earlier on we did 40 pairs. The government has 23 members not here this week. They're back in their electorates. There all kinds of reasons why they could not come. The opposition is the same. Some have family reasons and some just need to be in their electorates, particularly in Victoria, and serving their members.
It was pretty disappointing yesterday to see the opposition revert to quorum tactics. They knew full well that the government had fewer members here to make a quorum. In fact, they called for a quorum while this chamber was sitting. At the time we were in 90-second statements and there were quite a number of members here. That was a cheap shot. We're here to do our job for the good of the nation. While I understand the frustrations of the opposition—I sat in opposition for six years and I know the kinds of things oppositions do to express those frustrations—I for one think that when there is an agreement between the opposition and the government on the number of the people who should be in this place for the safety of the staff and the safety of our electorates when we return—so we don't spread the virus around Australia—the constant calling of a quorum is a cheap shot. They should reconsider before they attempt to play that game again.