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Mask advice divides new Parliament from its outset

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When not speaking, Labor MPs wore masks. But most Coalition MPs did not. Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was elected on a promise of bringing people together, but the 47th Parliament was divided from its first day.

In keeping with Australian governments’ current policy, Parliamentary officials had encouraged the wearing of face masks around Parliament House on Tuesday for a program full of events to mark the convening of the new Parliament.

“Use the masks and sanitiser that are available throughout the building,” the Parliament’s Serjeant-at-Arms, John Begley, and Peggy Danaee, Usher of the Black Rod, told MPs in advance of Tuesday’s events.

But there was a sharp divide in those who took up that advice.

In both the upper and lower houses, Labor and Greens MPs wore the masks.

But, for a handful of exceptions, Coalition MPs chose to exercise their free choice not to wear them – a decision that attracted plenty of pointed criticism on social media.

One pro-choice voice in the Parliament was that of Victorian Senator Ralph Babet, of the United Australia Party.

“Everyone should be able to make their own decisions as grown men or women,” he told The New Daily.

“I respect their decisions.”

Nationals MPs Darren Chester and Andrew Gee, the former Speaker, Andrew Wallace, and current shadow minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews accounted for the bulk of the compliant MPs on the right of politics.

Calls for the reintroduction of indoor mask mandates have grown in recent weeks as COVID hospital admissions rose to record highs.

Such public health measures are implemented by state governments, all of which still require masks to be worn in at least some settings, but which have faced criticism for not enforcing the rules.

Members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate were sworn in on Tuesday after the Parliament was opened by chief justice Susan Kiefel.

After an ecumenical church service, MPs gathered for a welcome to country and smoking ceremony at Parliament House.

The Senate then elected WA Labor senator Sue Lines as president, while the House of Representatives chose Queensland Labor MP Milton Dick as Speaker.

The Albanese government is set to introduce 18 pieces of legislation in the first sitting week, following nine years on the opposition benches.

Among other things, it plans to introduce legislation for a new carbon-emissions target, domestic violence leave, aged-care reform and the creation of Jobs and Skills Australia.

-with AAP