The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced this week that the Parliament would return on the week of 11 May 2020, for a ‘trial’ sitting period. Parliament was adjourned for a lengthy period in mid-March following the spread of COVID-19 throughout Australia, only meeting twice since to pass essential legislation related to the COVID-19 response.
Since then, Australia has had better than expected results in flattening the COVID-19 infection curve, and in the Morrison Government’s pursuit of normality, the reconvening of Parliament is high on the agenda.
However, the Government remains intent on continuing social distancing measures, which will mean any return to Parliament will be different from normal.
Here at Nexus, we have been discussing the Parliament’s trial week and what political spectators can expect throughout to see from our returning politicians.
With this in mind, here are our thoughts on what to expect during Parliament’s trial week:
EMPHASIS ON SOCIAL DISTANCING IN THE CHAMBERS
While the Government is keen for some level of normality to resume across Australia as well as in the Parliament, there will still be an emphasis on social distancing measures during the ‘trial’ sitting week.
As has been the case during the two special sitting days that have occurred during the COVID-19 emergency, there will likely be an effort to ensure that there is distance between MPs and Senators when they are in their respective chamber.
In addition, there will also be measures in place to ensure that members that feel unwell or have autoimmune conditions will receive a ‘pair’ from the other party. Therefore, even a full ‘trial’ sitting week is unlikely to have every member of Parliament in attendance.
For business and industry, this emphasis on social distancing will likely mean that the restrictions on public access to Parliament House will continue for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the new engagement paradigm of video conferences, phone calls and written correspondence, which has been made necessary due to COVID-19, will continue despite the reconvening of Parliament in May.
TREASURER TO PROVIDE BUDGET UPDATE ON 12 MAY 2020
On what would have been the original date for the Federal Budget, the Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, will hand down a ‘Budget update statement’ similar to MYEFO.
Reports ahead of the statement predict that the Treasurer will be handing down a $100 billion Budget deficit due to all of the stimulus measures associated with COVID-19 and the bushfire recovery efforts.
In addition, lower tax revenue due to mass unemployment as well as weak international markets have contributed to Australia’s budget deficit.
Despite the large deficit, there is likely to be further spending measures necessary throughout the coming months, with many parts of the economy still unable to resume due to restrictions associated with supressing COVID-19.
FOCUS LIKELY TO BE ON NON-COVID LEGISLATION
With the Morrison Government so heavily focussed on COVID-19 over the past few months, the Parliament trial week will serve as an excellent opportunity for the Prime Minister to get some easy runs on the board.
Therefore, the team at Nexus is expecting that legislation that will receive bipartisan support will be prioritised by the Government in both chambers along with any additional legislation required in the response to COVID-19.
Despite this, there will still be some focus on COVID-19, with the Opposition looking to pass legislation preventing the use of data obtained through the COVIDSafe app being used for other purposes such as in legal proceedings.
In addition, the Senate Select Committee into COVID-19 will likely be continuing its hearings, with the potential for some ministers to be called to appear in front of the Committee during the trial sitting fortnight.