Labor opposed the Government’s decision to close Parliament for five months.

The opposition will be opposing the changes
to the sitting calendar, while we acknowledge that there are some changes that do need to
be made. Clearly, when the government announces that the budget will be held at a different
time then that needs to be reflected in a revised calendar, and the government has done
that here. What the government has also done, though, is eliminate any sittings during May
and June. It may well be that by the time we get to May and June we find that we can’t
sit. If that’s the case then it is entirely the prerogative of the government to give
advice to the Speaker that they believe the sitting needs to be cancelled. We have, previously,
cancelled a week of sittings based on the fact that the member for New England at the
time was before the High Court. There were two byelections on, it was going to change
the numbers on the floor, and a week of sittings was suddenly cancelled. If we can do it in
those circumstances when it needs to happen then we can do it with respect to a pandemic,
if we get there, and it needs to happen. The reason
the opposition believes that we shouldn’t make that decision today is that, as everyone
is acknowledging, we don’t know where we will be in May or June, and the presumption should
be that the parliament will sit. The presumption should be that we will meet if it is possible
for us to sit, because, during this period, during a time of crisis, is when the Australian
public needs us to sit. I will be more than surprised if we can go from now until August
and find that the legislation we put through the parliament today is all the nation needs
for Australia to handle this pandemic, all the nation needs to deal with the crisis of
unemployment and recession that we’ll be facing. That means we will need to sit, so we shouldn’t
pretend that we won’t. It also means during this period the government will be compelled
in the interests of the nation to make some decisions of great magnitude. That will happen.
We know that will happen; that’s part of the story behind the supply bills that have
just passed. To have decisions of that magnitude being made without the parliament convening
and without there being a question time and an opportunity for
people representing the different corners of Australia to hold the
government to account is an unwise course for us to take.
I won’t detain the House longer than that, but I will simply remind us: if we find that
in some way, for health reasons, there is a difficulty in the parliament
meeting, there are resolutions that we will deal with later today to
make sure that we are still able to meet as a parliament. And that’s all being done with
a full level of cooperation and good common sense between me and the Leader
of the House. Of all the decisions that have been made
procedurally, this is the only one where we have disagreement. Let’s not forget, in terms
of legislation, some of what we dealt with in legislation today was
only announced and determined by the Australian government
yesterday. It is unthinkable that we will make it through to 11 August without the nation
needing us to convene. It may well be that in addition to May and June
we find we’re back here in July. It may be that before we even get to
when we are meant to sit in May, in April or even later this month we may find there
is an emergency reason that we need to sit. I have to say I have no confidence
that the plans that have been made in the government’s narrative
of keeping people in work are going to keep people in work. The apprentices one, for those
numbers, as a direct wage subsidy, may well be able to do it, but,
for the others—and I said in an earlier speech—I’m just not confident
that that’s how it’s going to unfold. I’m simply not confident.
I hope, we all hope, that what’s been announced today and what’s gone through the parliament
today is enough, but I would be deeply surprised if it is.
Therefore, in us opposing the sitting calendar, we’re simply saying to the
government: keep the presumptions of the dates that we are here in May and June. If we need
to meet earlier than that, we will cooperate with that. If the
sittings, when we get to those dates, mean that we find the parliament can’t
sit, then the usual communication between the government and the Speaker will cause
those sittings to be cancelled at the time. But to presume that we don’t need to be back
here until 11 August defies logic, defies common sense and is something that the Labor
Party, the opposition, cannot support.

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