Senate debates

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Statement by the President

COVID-19: Australian Capital Territory

1:59 pm

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

Senators will be aware of the announcement by the ACT government of a COVID-19 case being detected in the ACT overnight and the consequent announcement of restrictions applying to the ACT. Before I deal with the arrangements flowing from today's developments, I again strongly urge all to continue to abide by COVID-safe practices: distancing, wearing masks, checking for symptoms, and isolating and testing if symptoms appear at all.

Regarding developments today, first, I urge all senators and all staff to urgently check and constantly recheck the exposure sites listed on the ACT Health website and to follow all ACT public health directives, both with respect to the local restrictions generally and any that may specifically apply to individuals impacted and required to test, isolate or quarantine. Second, under the ACT public health directives, parliament is an essential workplace. Senators, members and staff will continue to be allowed to work from Parliament House to serve their constituents and fulfil parliamentary duties. Media and journalists are also essential workers and are entitled to continue their essential work out of this building. We will expand the measures that were already put in place for this fortnight regarding staff working from home, especially as parliament is not sitting next week for the period of this lockdown.

Third, with respect to returning home and then to the ACT for the resumption of parliament, further details will be circulated as they are determined by state and territory officials following consultation with the Commonwealth. However, as well as the existing requirements in place for Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, I understand that announcements have already been made by Tasmania and the Northern Territory. I also understand that an announcement is likely to come regarding Queensland, but I do not have information about that yet. Importantly, it is likely that some of these additional state requirements will be made retrospective in nature, so senators intending to return to their home base should be aware of that possibility.

I remind all that this building has been operating under extremely strict conditions since these sittings commenced—as strict as at any time during the pandemic—with many members and senators participating remotely; around two-thirds or more of regular building staff working remotely; catering being restricted to takeaway only; use of the check-in app; social distancing and masks inside the building with marshals; and extensive pairing arrangements and spacing in the chambers. These have been substantially above the local requirements of the ACT prior to this incident, specifically to reduce the risk of any transmission in this unique workplace.

Again, I would like to thank both Commonwealth and ACT health officials for their assistance and cooperation in these matters, and I would particularly like to thank senators and all staff in this building for their cooperation with the evolving requirement and rules. It has been critical to maintaining the operation of the national parliament. I thank senators.