Federal parliament will be open for business for the first time in 10 weeks from Monday, although how the two-week sitting will operate will be far from normal.
Members of parliament will for the first time be able to take part in debates and question time via video link under a plan agreed between the major parties.
The House of Representatives and Senate will sit under strict rules covering hygiene and distancing, Parliament House won’t be open to the public and there will be a limit on staffers and others entering the building.
Behind the scenes of Parliament House and in the public areas of the vast building, politicians and their staffers, journalists and parliamentary workers are recommended to wear masks.
That is despite the wearing of masks not being mandatory in the ACT but comes at the request of Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who is showing an “abundance of caution”.
The two-week sitting that was due to start from August 4 was cancelled because of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria.
For this sitting, Leader of the House Christian Porter has agreed a video option would be available to MPs who can satisfy Speaker Tony Smith they are unable to attend in person.
They must be able to show the coronavirus pandemic had made it “essentially impossible, unreasonably impracticable, or would give rise to an unreasonable risk for the member to physically attend”.
They will have to dial in on a secure line from a parliamentary or an electorate office and will be able to contribute to debates and ask questions during question time, with 15 minutes notice given to the chair.
But all voting will be done in person by those who travel to Canberra and the remote members won’t be able to second motions or move amendments to a motion or bill.
On the agenda
The Senate’s rules for video calls, based on a procedures committee report tabled in parliament on Friday, won’t be approved until senators sit on Monday morning.
The committee recommended senators be able to remotely take part in proceedings if they can’t get to Canberra due to travel restrictions, quarantine requirements or personal health advice.
Senators will be able to speak on bills and move amendments in the “committee stage”.
On the agenda is expected to be a bill to extend the time frame for, but cut the level of, the multibillion-dollar JobKeeper wage subsidy and JobSeeker welfare benefits.
The Senate is scheduled to debate bills dealing with paid pandemic leave, native title, the research and development tax incentive, payment times for businesses, ASIO powers, superannuation and training.
Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale will deliver his valedictory speech via video link on Tuesday.
The House of Representatives will debate laws dealing with family assistance, dairy cattle export charge, superannuation, land rights, veterans’ wellbeing and the ABC.