The current coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every aspect of life in Australia, in a way not seen for generations.
Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, the House of Representatives has found ways to adapt so that its Members can continue to play their part in legislating, scrutinising government and representing the people of Australia.
Restrictions imposed by the pandemic have affected Members’ ability to meet all together in one place and have continued to evolve. The House’s response has had to be developed quickly and in the context of uncertainty about the pandemic’s possible trajectory.
The Committee wished to capture and reflect on the changes to practice and procedure put in place while detailed information was still available and impressions of the changes were still fresh. The Committee hopes this record proves useful to future decision makers, in the event that they face circumstances of similar gravity, and to researchers.
The Committee does not make any recommendations but does identify the following principles as key to a successful response to a critical situation:
maintaining the ability to meet quorum requirements so the House can play its part in the making and changing of laws
enabling Members to represent their electorates and participate in debate and voting
providing opportunities for scrutiny of government
providing for the formation of a new government if required
recognising that some opportunities are provided only when the House sits
maintaining flexibility to change as the critical situation unfolds
limiting the duration of extraordinary changes to procedure to the period of the situation
maintaining public access to proceedings.
The pandemic is not yet over, and we will continue to watch with interest as the House continues to adapt to its changing circumstances.
Ross Vasta MP