Govt sinks NSW upper house bid to sit
The NSW opposition and crossbench have failed in an attempt to force the NSW parliament’s upper house to resume sitting amid the state’s COVID-19 crisis, with the government branding the move a “political and selfish stunt”.
The MPs say the session is necessary to hold the government accountable as much of the state remains subject to strict stay-at-home orders.
Members of the NSW Legislative Council convened at parliament on Tuesday with the minimum number of representatives required in the chamber, and the rest tuning in online.
It was to be the chamber’s first sitting week since the lockdown was imposed in June.
But the government stuck with an earlier pledge not to send a minister along – which meant the proceedings could not continue, according to parliamentary rules.
The government says the health risk of a parliamentary session is too high. But Labor members and the crossbench say parliament is essential work.
They’ve put forward a COVID-safety plan developed over the past ten weeks, described by Labor as the most stringent of any workplace in the state.
Within minutes of the session beginning on Tuesday afternoon, Nationals MP Trevor Khan rose to point out the absence of any minister in the house.
“Democracy is an essential service,” leader of the opposition in the Legislative Council Penny Sharpe told the chamber, as it debated the rule preventing it from resuming official business.
Nearly 4000 people were tuned in to the livestream of the proceedings.
Legislative Council President Matthew Mason-Cox said he had no option but to cancel the session.
“I have no choice but to leave the chair, and I ask honourable members to reflect on their personal responsibility to this house and the people of NSW,” he said.
The coalition’s leader in the upper house Damien Tudehope blasted the MPs, saying the government had been clear parliament would resume on October 12.
“This is a political and selfish stunt, a move which only satisfies their own agenda and as a result puts parliamentary staff, their families and our communities at risk of transmitting COVID-19,” he said in a statement.
He noted a cross-party committee from the lower house “agreed to follow the health advice” and postpone the scheduled sitting period in September.
“Labor cannot have one policy for the Legislative Assembly and a different policy for the Legislative Council,” Mr Tudehope said.
Outside parliament, Ms Sharpe said democracy and scrutiny were not optional.
The government was asking its citizens to live under “incredibly extreme restrictions” and it is the parliament’s job to ask them to justify those decisions, she said.
“It’s not a stunt, it’s an abrogation of their duty,” she said.
She was joined by MPs from the Greens, the Animal Justice Party, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and One Nation.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said essential workers were going to work at supermarkets and factories, so MPs should return to work too.
“This is an abuse of a public health crisis by a government that is afraid of accountability,” he said.
One Nation MP Mark Latham described the situation as “a government on strike”.
The failed sitting comes on the same day the NSW government held its first COVID-19 press conference without the premier or a minister present.
Instead, reporters’ questions were taken by health official Jeremy McAnulty.