Scott Morrison said on Monday that cancelling the fortnight parliamentary session that had been due to start August 4 was a “no brainer”, which is defined as something that “requires a minimum of thought”.
Surely the wisdom isn’t so obvious.
Morrison leaned heavily on the advice of Paul Kelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer in making what is a controversial call, quoting Kelly’s words.
Kelly argued that bringing “a high-risk group of individuals” to Canberra could place ACT residents “at unnecessary risk of infection”. Also, they could potentially infect other politicians and their staff.
Within days of the advice, ACT residents were already at risk - with about 80 in self-isolation after a breakout in the south coast town of Batemans Bay.
No doubt there would have been a degree of health danger in parliament meeting.
In terms of those posing risk, we are talking about Victorians and to a lesser extent those from NSW. Other states are safe.
Morrison said it would be neither feasible nor desirable to exclude parliamentarians “from a single state”.
But it would have been possible to limit numbers from Victoria (the situation in NSW is not as serious). In the earlier sittings during the pandemic, overall numbers were much reduced, and numbers in the chanber at any one time strictly controlled.
And couldn’t incoming MPs have been tested? That would not be an absolute guarantee they did not have COVID-19, but a substantial protection.
Morrison made the point, which is sound, that a face-to-face sitting is much better than trying to do things remotely. Labor agrees.
But many parents in Victoria are again struggling with the remote education of their children, when they wish they could send them off for face-to-face learning. They might think the parliament should also have a go at operating at a distance, even if it is very much a second best option.
It is not as impractical as it may sound, although it is unclear precisely how advanced the technology is, or could be made.
During the crisis Morrison has operated some Coalition party room meetings remotely, with audio rather than visual contact and people pressing a button if they wanted to ask a question.
Parliamentary committees are running effective “virtual” meetings.
Morrison has emphasised the need for things to get back to normal as soon as feasible. We heard this endlessly in relation to schools, to say nothing of the issue of state borders (less about that at the moment).
Parliament surely should be setting an example. Or politicians may prefer to be cast in a more heroic mode, as “frontline” workers.
Morrison says the next sitting will now be August 24. But there is no guarantee because he also said Kelly had advised the risks posed by a sitting are unlikely to be resolved in the next month.
Hopefully the second COVID wave will be contained. But if it is not, and increases, will parliament be put on hold for even longer?
This would make a mockery of the system.
Labor has written to Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan (both Victorians), proposing a working group be set up to develop “protocols that would enable parliament to sit in a safe manner, as scheduled”.
The opposition suggests the group should include Smith, Ryan, the chief medical officers of the Commonwealth and ACT, the leader of the House, the manager of opposition business, and their upper house counterparts.
The presiding officers have yet to respond. It’s a sensible suggestion.
Meanwhile Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, from the heart of Melbourne, will be in Canberra on Tuesday standing, properly distanced, with the Prime Minister to announce the detail of the new JobKeeper arrangements.