Coronavirus and our Federal Parliament

Sitting calendar for the first half of 2020

Our federal parliament is scheduled to sit next week but, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s going to look a bit different. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister released a media release explaining the type of changes we should expect. In a nut shell, our parliament is battening down the hatches and reducing its business to the bare minimum required to keep the country going.

What does this mean for representation?

For those of us with representatives who belong to the two major parties – the Coalition and the Australian Labor Party – there won’t be any significant changes in terms of how you are being represented in parliament. This is because your representatives are already voting according to how their party whip tells them to, except on those rare occasions when they cross the floor. So whether they are in parliament next week, or simply paired with an opposition member, the result will most likely remain the same.

For those of us with representatives who are independent or belong to a minor party, the question is a little trickier. The main reference to these representatives in the Prime Minister’s media release was that “All crossbench and independent Members and Senators will be able to attend [parliament], should they want to.” In other words, they will not be prevented from attending parliament, but the voting arrangements being made are mostly between the two major parties, leaving the independent and minor parties to their own devices. We will have to wait and see how many of these representatives are able to attend parliament next week.

What does this mean for bills that have not yet been passed?

The media release makes clear that parliament is only meeting to consider the bills relevant to their planned stimulus package and “any other immediate business”. Once that business is dealt with, the parliament will adjourn and our representatives will return home. This means that all bills that are not immediately relevant to the current crisis or required for the continued running of the country will be put off until a later date.

How can I keep up to date with our parliament?

The most up to date information is generally available via the House of Representative and Senate twitter accounts. Follow them for the latest news.

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