Thursday, 8 October 2020
Senate Procedure Committee; Report
I present the Procedure Committee's second report of 2020, entitled COVID-19 and the Senate, and I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
On 3 September 2020 the Senate agreed to a resolution moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate affirming the right of the Senate to determine its meetings and meetings of its committees. The resolution reminded state and Commonwealth executive officers to have regard to the powers, privileges and immunities of the Senate and senators in devising and implementing public health measures. Wherever possible, where such measures affect the capacity of senators to undertake their parliamentary duties they should be developed in consultation with representatives of the Senate. The resolution referred consequential matters to the Procedure Committee.
The report I have tabled today records the committee's oversight of arrangements to ensure that the sittings and estimates hearings scheduled for the remainder of the year can proceed in a COVID-safe manner. As part of those arrangements the committee endorsed the continued application of the rules for remote participation during the budget week sitting, and noted that estimates hearings were also expected to make extensive use of video participation by both senators and witnesses. Final arrangements would be a matter for committees themselves.
The report also identified several operational matters as critical to ensuring that the scheduled estimates hearings proceed in a safe manner, and the committee is overseeing the development of appropriate protocols for senators, staff and witnesses, implementing current health advice. The committee will continue to have a watching brief over these matters as long as it's necessary.
The other issue that arises in this place from time to time is when we have ballots, which are necessary. We believe—and certainly I, as the Chair of the Procedure Committee, believe—that it is time that we referred to the Procedure Committee the issue of pairs when the Senate has to hold a ballot.
I commend the report to the Senate.