Senate debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Business

Days and Hours of Meeting

3:35 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Thanks very much. We've just received a revised sitting calendar half an hour or so ago from the government, and, based on the sitting weeks that were in the original pre-COVID calendar, it looks like we'll still be short one estimates week, which is of great concern because we had moved amendments to the COVID Senate select committee to enable it to scrutinise the Prime Minister and other ministers from the other place, and those amendments were not successful. So we are not able to have that scrutiny ability—except through the forum of this chamber or through estimates. So our suggestion and our hope would be that one of those sitting weeks—in our suggestion, one of the June weeks—should in fact become an estimates week so that we can use those scrutiny powers and those accountability mechanisms to best effect, given the limitations of that committee, because sadly nobody backed our amendments to make it stronger.

I might also note that we've had a very good and positive tradition in this place of not scheduling sitting weeks in school holidays. I'm sure there are many folk in this place who have people who stay home and look after their kids for them, but some of us actually do that ourselves, and it's very difficult to manage parliamentary sittings when school holidays are on. So that would be my other note of caution. It's just one of the weeks that has been scheduled and it's only half the country that will be on school holiday, but it's that week of 6 to 8 October. I would seriously ask the government to reflect on rescheduling that sitting week to a different week this year so that people, and young parents in particular, are not discouraged from careers in politics going forward.

I might also add that we are assuming and hoping that the social-distancing requirements will continue to apply. As democracy continues to work, we think it's important that we continue to be guided by the health advice, so we need to have the same rules as the rest of the nation. I think we've been doing well in that regard, and I give credit to the chamber attendants and to the folks in this building who have been assisting us to do that, but it's important that those protocols remain, given that we will now have a sitting calendar that is effectively the same as the sitting load before the pandemic, which we support. We are concerned, though, at the government's rhetoric that the economy needs to get back on track, in a way that may fly in the face of the health evidence. The pressure that's been coming from this government to the states to hurry up and open everything so that people can go out, spend their money again and get this unsustainable economy going needs to be tempered by the health advice. There's been undue pressure, in our view, placed by the Prime Minister just in order to do favours for his big-business mates. Of course we want to see the economy get back on track in a sustainable and equitable way, but this undue pressure is inconsistent with the health advice, and we ask the Prime Minister and folks in this place to take that on board.

Overall, we're pleased to see a lot more sitting weeks scheduled. Democracy has never been more important than at times such as this, when we are facing unprecedented challenges on so many fronts: an inequality crisis, a climate crisis, a jobs crisis, and now a health crisis on top of that. It's appropriate that we get back to work, as long as those social-distancing protocols are observed. I might add that we hope that arrangements for travel are factored in, considering that many states have had flights severely restricted, in no small part due to the government's failure to provide any assistance to a large airline company, and, of course, the Queensland government is now attempting to step in to do that. But that will be another consideration, particularly for those who are coming from over west. Thanks very much.

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