Senate debates

Monday, 23 March 2020

Statement by the President

Coronavirus

10:01 am

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | Hansard source

I will take this opportunity to make a statement. Thank you, and welcome back for maybe the last occasion for awhile and in quite extraordinary circumstances. I'd like to take this opportunity to inform senators of a number of matters relevant to this and coming weeks. At the outset I thank senators and particularly party leaders and whips, officials of the Senate led by the Clerk, and the staff of the Department of Parliamentary Services for their efforts in ensuring that this sitting can go ahead in a safe manner, consistent with the rules, guidelines and recommendations of health officials in what has been a rapidly evolving environment since we last met.

I will not restate the provisions of the statement of the Speaker and myself last Monday. But in terms of basic operations, senators will notice changes in the building to catering and other services, including some closures. These decisions have been taken by the Speaker and I to minimise the risk of transmission. With respect to the galleries, the public, press and President's galleries have been closed, apart from a limited number of photographers determined by the press gallery itself. Provision has been made for members of the parliamentary press gallery to use the glassed-in galleries on the second floor. The Speaker and I have jointly determined these arrangements to apply to both chambers for this sitting.

Regarding the operations of the Senate chamber itself, as senators will know, we are operating with a somewhat reduced Senate today, the product of extensive arrangements between the parties, because two of our colleagues, Senators McDonald and Bragg, have tested positive to coronavirus and several other senators are self-isolating after close contact with Senator Bragg at a committee hearing on 9 March. I also note that several committee staff from the Department of the Senate have been required to self-isolate and take other steps after managing hearings by affected senators. I know that all senators wish all affected senators and senators' staff the very best at this time.

Minor procedural adjustments will apply to sittings this week to enable observance of social distancing and other health advice. I seek the consent of the Senate to the following. It is intended that senators be able to speak from a seat other than their own. Where this occurs, I know there may be some delay before the relevant microphone is turned on by Broadcasting. If required, senators may be counted in a division if they are standing behind the bank of seats on the relevant side of the chamber, but they must remain still. If the Senate is required to resolve into a Committee of the Whole, that committee will be chaired from the President's chair rather than the chair at the Clerk's table. Finally, the doors to the chamber will remain open throughout proceedings. Divisions will be counted with the doors unlocked, with the usual rule that senators may not move from the seat or from where they are standing once the tellers have been appointed. With the concurrence of the Senate, it is so ordered.

Finally, the operations and procedures of the Senate and its committees will be radically different to usual practice over the coming months. I thank senators and the Department of the Senate for their understanding and cooperation. If any senator wishes to raise further related matters, they are of course very welcome to do so with the Clerk and myself. I thank senators.

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