COVID-19: Statement by the Presiding Officers regarding temporary and precautionary changes to Parliament House operations

Joint statement from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Tony Smith MP and the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Scott Ryan

11 May 2020

On 16 March 2020 we advised of temporary and precautionary changes implemented as part of pandemic planning measures regarding the operations of Australian Parliament House (APH).

These measures continue to be directed at reducing the risk of transmission while enabling the essential work of Parliament to continue. These measures will continue to apply for the foreseeable future, consistent with current National COVID-19 restrictions.

Visitors to APH

APH remains closed to the general public; this includes the galleries in each chamber. Parliamentary proceedings may still be viewed through the APH website.

All school group bookings have been cancelled or postponed until 30 June; bookings from 1 July will be re-evaluated in June.

The Event spaces in APH remain closed to any bookings. Whilst In-Room dining will be available, building occupants must abide by the restrictions governing the maximum occupancy of each room - 1 person for every 4 square metres (for example, only up to 5 people can gather in a 20 square metre room).

Access restrictions that took effect on 23 March continue to apply. These restrictions were applied to some pass-holder categories to minimise non-essential visits to the building.

The following categories of pass holders have temporarily lost automatic access to the private areas of the building:

  • Former parliamentarians;
  • Elected members of other legislatures;
  • Volunteers; and
  • Sponsored pass holders.

Building occupants must ensure only those people needing to conduct essential business in Parliament House this week are signed in.

Members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery are also asked to avoid non-essential attendance of escorted visitors.

All external departments and agencies should minimise attendance of public servants unless on essential business.

Measures implemented across APH

The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) has implemented measures across APH as part of their ongoing pandemic response including:

  • physical distancing markers on floors at security screening points and food outlets
  • hand sanitiser stations positioned in circulation spaces
  • hygiene reminder signs in bathrooms
  • additional cleaning of touch points such as door handles and lift buttons
  • removal of access to tables in dining spaces
  • signs in lifts and committee rooms specifying the maximum number of occupants; and
  • all DPS food and retail outlets are cashless.

These measures will reduce the risk of transmission and are consistent with advice from the Australian Public Service Commission, Commonwealth Department of Health or Safe Work Australia.

Parliamentary committees should give serious consideration as to whether their business is essential. While it is formally a matter for each parliamentary committee to consider, we recommend that Senate, House and joint committee hearings should continue to use video or teleconference facilities.

Committee hearings held in APH during the next parliamentary sitting week will not be open to the public. Arrangements will be made for witnesses to appear in person only if essential. Committee proceedings may be viewed through the APH website.

Australian states and territories have applied their own travel restrictions, including in some cases closing state borders. Parliamentarians have been requested to only bring essential staff to Canberra and Parliament House.

At all times Senators, Members and staff should follow the advice of health authorities regarding the need to seek medical advice and treatment. Up-to-date official information and advice is available from ACT Health and the Commonwealth Department of Health.

As there are jurisdictional differences in the response to COVID-19, it is important to familiarise yourself with the current ACT Government advice.

To reduce the risk of transmission, all building occupants must continue to follow the strict hygiene and social distancing requirements with which we have all become familiar.

As the situation continues to evolve, building occupants will be kept informed of any change regarding the operations of Parliament House. DPS will continue to provide regular updates regarding appropriate health measures via Information Circulars.

All of the measures outlined above will remain in place until further notice.