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

16 March 2020

Following implementation of pandemic planning measures, ongoing consultations between the Presiding Officers, Parliamentary Departments and relevant Commonwealth officers and agencies including the Chief Medical Officer, the following temporary and precautionary changes have been made regarding the operations of Parliament House.

These measures are directed at reducing the risk of transmission while enabling the essential work of Parliament to proceed.

Parliament House will remain open to the general public to access the public areas and Marble Foyer.

However, the galleries in each chamber for the next parliamentary sitting week commencing Monday 23 March will be closed to the public. Parliamentary proceedings may still be viewed on the Parliament House website.

All school group bookings and tours during the next parliamentary sitting week will be postponed or cancelled.

A number of large events being held in the functions spaces of the building are being postponed or cancelled.

From Monday 23 March, access restrictions will be applied to some pass-holder categories to minimise non-essential visits to the building.

The following categories of passholder will lose automatic access to the private areas of the building.

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

Changes will be also made to the process for pass holders to sign-in visitors to Parliament House. Building occupants must ensure that only those people needing to conduct essential business in Parliament House next week are signed in.

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

From today, all external departments and agencies will be asked to reduce use of Commonwealth departmental passes to a minimum, and public servants encouraged to avoid non-essential attendance.

Ahead of the next parliamentary sitting week, there will also be changes to the management of staff and operations of the chambers and the wider building, including catering facilities, to reduce the risk of transmission, consistent with advice regarding social distancing.

While it is formally a matter for each committee to consider, we recommend that scheduled Senate, House and Joint committee hearings transition to using video or teleconference facilities as soon as possible.

Committees should give serious consideration as to whether their business is essential.

If any committee hearings proceed in Parliament House during the next parliamentary sitting week, they will not be open to the public. Arrangements will be made for witnesses to appear in person only if necessary. Committee proceedings may still be viewed on the Parliament House website.

While the most recent advice is that there is no need to restrict domestic travel, Members and Senators are requested to only bring essential staff to Canberra and Parliament House for the next sitting week commencing Monday 23 March.

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 is available at ACT Health.

DPS will continue to provide regular updates to building occupants regarding appropriate health measures via Information Circulars.

These decisions have not been taking lightly and are being taken following detailed discussion and advice from the relevant authorities.

Further details will be provided over the course of the week as the advice to Presiding Officers evolves, and to all parties via the Whips as necessary.

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