Federal ministers have returned to Canberra after the winter break to sit in Parliament for four of the next five weeks, and the Senate leader is assuring Australians of the strict COVID-19 safety measures in place.
Simon Birmingham said “very extensive” safeguards proportionate to the risk of the Delta variant have been implemented for parliament.
The public have been banned from entering Parliament House, and many ministers have not flown in as they remain isolated in their home states.
“It will be a slimmed down parliament in terms of the number of parliamentarians attending, dramatically slimmed down in terms of the number of staff working in parliament house,” Birmingham told ABC radio.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton will remain in home isolation in Queensland because his sons attend a school linked to the growing outbreak in the state.
In addition, around 60 percent of staff are also working remotely, with only essential staff allowed on site.
Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke praised the House Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan for implementing much tougher restrictions in the Parliament House than the rest of the Territory.
“So they’re doing everything possible to guard against [a super spreader event],” Burke told ABC radio.
He added that it was essential for parliament to sit in person to pass legislation and be able to scrutinise Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“When parliament’s on, he has to front up every single day at question time,” Burke said. “There’s plenty to be asking about.”
The Speaker and Senate President have said that those from the Greater Sydney lockdown area pose “virtually no risk” as they had already completed quarantine and produced negative COVID-19 tests.
In addition, ministers from affected areas in Queensland have also been tested prior to entry.
“Parliament meeting as safely as possible has always been our priority—both for the ACT and for those returning to other parts of Australia,” they told The Canberra Times. “This is the first time we have gone substantially above the local ACT Health requirements and returned the building to an effective minimum staffing level as was the case last year.”