COVID-19: Statement by the Presiding Officers regarding sittings of Parliament – for the period 24 August 2020 to 3 September 2020

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

17 August 2020

Following consultations between the Presiding Officers, Parliamentary Departments and relevant Commonwealth officers and agencies including the Acting Chief Medical Officer and ACT Health the following arrangements have been made regarding operations and activities at Parliament House for the upcoming sittings, along with specific requests to persons travelling to the ACT.

The measures are directed at reducing the risk of transmission within the parliamentary precincts and the ACT while enabling the essential work of Parliament to proceed.

They reflect advice regarding the risk of travellers from areas with community transmission who have not undertaken quarantine arrangements (as those travelling from Victoria will have done). The measures will apply for the fortnight commencing Monday, 24 August and then be reviewed in line with health advice.

Access to Parliament House

Parliament House will again close to the general public, this includes the galleries in each chamber.

Parliamentary proceedings may still be followed through the Live Minutes and Dynamic Red, and through the APH website.

Arrangements previously in place regarding the operation of the chambers in a COVID-safe manner will continue.

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.

Only persons needing to conduct essential business should be signed in and sponsors should ensure their visitors leave the building immediately following the conclusion of their business.

Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery will also be asked to avoid sponsoring non-essential attendance of escorted media visitors.

Government departments and agencies will be asked to minimise the use of Commonwealth departmental passes, and public servants are encouraged to avoid non-essential attendance.

Building Operations

Committee proceedings held in Parliament House during this period will not be open to the public. Arrangements will be made for witnesses to appear in person if essential. Committee hearings may be viewed through the APH website

All school group bookings will be cancelled or postponed. 

No events will be held in the function spaces of the building.

The operation of common building facilities will also return to stricter arrangements similar to those in place earlier this year, including:

  • Catering facilities being limited to take-away service only, with options for in-suite delivery;
  • Closure of all dine-in facilities; and
  • Closure of the Health and Recreation Centre.

All meetings, whether parliamentary committee or party, will be required to strictly adhere to physical distancing guidelines if they cannot be conducted by video or teleconference.

The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) will continue to apply the measures adopted earlier this year including:

  • Physical distancing markers on floors at security screening points and food outlets;
  • Hand sanitiser stations;
  • Hygiene reminder signs;
  • Additional cleaning of high traffic touch points such as door handles and lift buttons;
  • Maximum occupancy signs in lifts and committee rooms; and
  • All DPS food outlets will be cashless.

Marshals will also be present in areas of high volume at certain times of the day.

Masks

While the wearing of masks is not mandatory in the ACT, the wearing of masks is encouraged where physical distancing is not possible, and by those at increased risk of COVID-19.

Conduct of parliamentarians and essential staff travelling from interstate

The staff of Members and Senators should not travel to Canberra unless it is considered absolutely essential.

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.

Please do not travel to Canberra if you are unwell.

When attending Parliament House, parliamentarians and staff should avoid congregating in groups, and avoid face-to-face meetings with external visitors. Social gatherings are strongly discouraged.

Specifically, those travelling from Greater Sydney and Newcastle to the ACT are requested to:

  • Avoid visiting retail or hospitality venues while in the ACT;
  • Not visit high-risk settings including aged care facilities, hospitals and correctional facilities;
  • Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; and
  • When outside their residence or Parliament House for other reasons (eg exercise), to strictly abide by physical distancing requirements, as is the requirement for everyone in the ACT.

Additional ACT travel advice can be found at www.covid19.act.gov.au/community/travel

Furthermore, as travel and movement through areas with community transmission poses a strong risk of further transmission, ALL parliamentarians and travelling essential staff are strongly advised to remain in the ACT for the weekend of August 29-30 rather than travel away and return.

For those parliamentarians from areas free of community transmission or who have undertaken quarantine arrangements, strict compliance with ACT orders and physical distancing should be followed. All persons visiting the ACT should make themselves familiar with the latest health advice applying in the ACT jurisdiction at ACT Health FAQs restrictions. 

The Department of Parliamentary Services will continue to provide regular updates regarding the operations of Parliament House to building occupants over the sitting weeks following ongoing consultation with health authorities.

Occupants of the building are recommended to download and activate the COVIDSafe App. The App can be downloaded from App Stores.

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