Federal parliament’s Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan have agreed to chair a proposed bipartisan working group on how parliament can meet safely during the pandemic.
Labor put forward the working group plan after Scott Morrison cancelled the two-week sitting that was due to start August 4.
The group would comprise the leader of the house and manager of opposition business and their Senate counterparts. The ALP suggested including the chief federal and ACT medical officers but Smith and Ryan said they should be called on as needed.
The group would not decide whether the next sitting, scheduled to begin August 24, goes ahead. The government determines the House sittings, and the Senate (where the government is in a minority) is in charge of its own meetings.
Smith and Ryan said in a letter to Labor: “At the outset, we believe the six parliamentarians should receive a joint briefing from the Commonwealth and ACT Chief Medical Officers regarding the discussions to date, and risks that need to be mitigated.
“Following this briefing, we will be in possession of all relevant facts, and in a position to discuss specific options.
“We will call upon the resources of the chamber departments and the Department of Parliamentary Services as necessary to address issues raised.”
The presiding officers pointed out they had previously engaged with the opposition about the operation of parliament during COVID.