‘Clamping down on democracy’: Upper house votes to suspend ParliamentAugust 17, 2021
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State Parliament’s upper house has been suspended after three crossbench MPs voted with the government during a heated debate in which the opposition repeatedly accused Labor of avoiding public scrutiny and accountability.
The 40-member upper house met in defiance of the Chief Health Officer’s advice on Tuesday to debate and vote on whether it should continue to sit during the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions.
The opposition’s David Davis blasted the government on Tuesday for avoiding the public scrutiny of Parliament. Credit:Justin McManus
The opposition’s attempts to compel the Legislative Council to meet in a COVID-safe manner failed 20 votes to 14 when the Greens’ Samantha Ratnam, Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick and the Reason Party’s Fiona Patten sided with the government.
“The opposition believes there should be scrutiny, there should be a question time, there should be an opportunity for us as MPs to stand up for our electorates and the people who are being hurt, the children [whose playgrounds] are being closed down, the businesses that are dying and being closed down week by week,” said David Davis, the opposition’s leader in the upper house.
“This is a very significant moment for democracy in this state. Clamping down on democracy like this. This is a very powerful government using every armoured force that they can to actually control the message, control the state, control the community.”
Under tightened restrictions, Melburnians working away from home must apply for a permit as the government cracks down on the movement of people in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In a letter seen by The Age, a senior director in the COVID-19 Strategy and Policy team wrote to Parliament’s presiding officers, Labor MPs Nazih Elasmar and Colin Brooks, advising that Parliament should not sit.
“Given the current community transmission of COVID-19 in Melbourne, attending workplaces in person poses ongoing and unacceptable risk. In light of these changes, effective immediately, all parliamentary business, including sitting of both houses, should not be conducted in person.”
Tuesday’s heated one-hour parliamentary debate began at 11.30am with the government’s leader in the upper house, Jaclyn Symes, moving a motion to suspend Parliament for at least two weeks. She promised MPs Parliament would make up for the lost sitting days.
Ms Symes, who represents Northern Victoria, blasted the opposition for a “political stunt” and said it forced almost 40 MPs and 30 staff from across the state to convene in Parliament against health advice.
Minister Jaclyn Symes described the opposition’s attempts to compel Parliament to sit as a “political stunt”.Credit:Justin McManus
“I’m disappointed to be here today when we didn’t have to be, I’m disappointed that a political stunt is being put ahead of the health and safety of Victorians, a political stunt that will fall flat,” Ms Symes said.
“I have given my absolute commitment to this chamber. It is always my intention to sit in person … I will make up every hour we are losing this week, in consultation with parties in this room.”
The opposition repeatedly called for the government to release the health advice behind the need to suspend Parliament, with the Liberals’ Georgie Crozier rallying against the letter provided to the presiding officers that did not in detail outline the health advice.
Victoria’s upper house MPs sitting in Parliament on Tuesday. Credit:Justin McManus
The Greens’ Samantha Ratnam, who during debate said she would only support Parliament being adjourned for one week, called out the government for not finding a way to hold sittings online, as is the case in the Federal Parliament.
“The Parliament cannot be viewed as just an inconvenience for the government, it is an essential part of our democratic system,” Ms Ratnam said.
Opposition MPs yelled “shame” several times while government MPs spoke in support of postponing Parliament.
“We want to be here,” said Shaun Leane, the Local Government Minister.
“To think we don’t want to be here because there’s some scary opposition that asks hard questions – that’s just rubbish. This is the worst opposition Victoria has ever had, the absolute worst. They have rallied and spoken against health advice constantly and they’re doing it again today.”
Ms Crozier said the government must urgently release the health advice on the decision to impose a curfew, close down playgrounds and suspend Parliament.
“There are millions of Victorians who want to understand what is going on,” Ms Crozier said. “They are losing their businesses and [there are] mental health impacts on our children. You laugh at that? You scoff at that? That just demonstrates the arrogance and ignorance you all have.”
Parliament formally adjourned just after 1pm following the adjournment debate in which non-government MPs asked questions on notice.
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