The next sitting fortnight of federal Parliament has been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.
Acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly issued advice saying there is a significant risk allowing politicians to come to Canberra, due to increased community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria and the trends in New South Wales.
Senior federal cabinet minister Mathias Cormann defended the decision, insisting it wasn’t feasible to put sufficient measures in place to ensure that Parliament was able to meet safely in the circumstances.
“It wasn’t, of course, appropriate to exclude entire states from representation in the national Parliament,” he told reporters in Perth on Saturday.
MPs and senators were to return to Parliament House for the first two weeks of August.
“The entry of a high-risk group of individuals could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT and place residents at unnecessary risk of infection,” Professor Kelly told the Prime Minister.
“In addition, the health risk to Members and Senators and their staff from other jurisdictions is a material concern.”
Professor Kelly said despite proposed mitigation measures, these risks would be significantly higher in the context of a Parliamentary sitting period because of the number of persons travelling from Victoria.
“The government cannot ignore the risk to Parliamentarians, their staff, the staff within the Parliament, and the broader community of the ACT that holding a Parliamentary sitting would create,” Mr Morrison said.
“I have written to the Speaker to request that the sitting fortnight commencing August 4th, 2020 not be held.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has accepted the Prime Minister’s request, but is disappointed the government will be avoiding scrutiny.
“When it comes to this sitting though, it is problematic,” he said in Sydney.
“Labor has also always argued that the government needs to be held to account, particularly because of the uncertainty that remains with JobKeeper and JobSeeker.”
It would have been the first opportunity for parliament to debate Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s economic statement due on Thursday, which will include the government’s response to a Treasury review of the JobKeeper wage subsidy and the enhanced JobSeeker dole payment.
The Labor leader also said the Prime Minister was contradicting himself by calling on states and businesses to open up while wanting to shut down federal Parliament.
The Senate president Scott Ryan tweeted he had received the request to defer the scheduled sitting and said Labor’s leader in the Senate Penny Wong had agreed with the request.