Parliament House tightens COVID-19 provisions for one month

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday July 26, 2021

Parliament House will be closed to the public.
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Parliament House will be closed to the public and the amount of parliamentary departmental staff will be reduced as part of a range of measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives Tony Smith and president of the Senate Scott Ryan on Monday said the precautionary changes would be in place from August 2 to September 3, to ensure Parliament can ‘continue its essential work while reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission’.

“The measures are as strict as possible and align with previous arrangements implemented in early 2020 to minimise non-essential activity at APH [Australian Parliament House] while still enabling sittings to proceed,” they said in a statement.

Smith and Ryan noted that the number of parliamentary departmental staff would be reduced by roughly 60%, with employees to work remotely where possible.

“Parliamentary departments will coordinate these arrangements directly with their employees,” they said.

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

Similarly, the amount of members and senators physically attending sittings will be ‘substantially’ reduced, with remote participation to be facilitated.

“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,” Smith and Ryan said.

“Arrangements will be made for witnesses to appear in person only if essential.”

Parliamentarians have been asked to only bring essential staff — ministerial, shadow ministerial, party spokesperson and whips’ staff — to Canberra and to Parliament House. Press Gallery members have also been asked to keep staff numbers low and to avoid non-essential attendance of escorted visitors.

Members, senators and their staff have been directed to only sign in people who need to conduct essential business. To minimise non-essential visits to the building, Ryan and Smith have announced that only members, senators, parliamentary service staff and media passholders will be able to access the building.

This means former parliamentarians, elected members of other legislatures, volunteers and sponsored pass holders will not be allowed to access Parliament House until the restrictions are lifted in September.

Meanwhile, physical distancing will return, the use of the Check-in CBR app will be extended to all food and drink venues that remain open for takeaway only, and the fitness centre, pool, and sports fields will close.

The wearing of face masks in mixed areas of the building will be encouraged, while gathering in ‘high traffic areas’ will be discouraged, Ryan and Smith noted.

In light of the restrictions, school group bookings and all event bookings will be cancelled or postponed. Smith and Ryan noted that the public can continue to follow parliamentary proceedings through the APH website.

The new measures have been announced amid the growing COVID-19 outbreak in New South Wales, with the state recording 145 local cases of COVID-19 on Monday, including 51 that were infectious in the community.

Read more: Coronavirus prompts changes to hearings, access at Parliament House


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