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COVID-19 Related Standing and Sessional Order Adjustments

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 30 April 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Standing Orders, Dorothy Dixer

COVID-19 Related Standing and Sessional Order Adjustments: Cassy O'Connor MP, 30 April, 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, we recognise that we are in extraordinary times as a parliament and we very much appreciate the decision to return parliament, albeit in a very restricted manner. We maintain the view that there should be more than one sitting day in any given week, given that we are able to have in place appropriate physical distancing and hygiene regimes in order to minimise if not eliminate risk.

We are moving an amendment to this motion without notice which is consistent with a position we have had forever, and that is that question time is a time for scrutiny. It is not a time for self-congratulation. I understand that in other ordinary circumstances there is an argument that the government of the day should allow its backbenchers to ask scrutiny questions but we did not hear a single scrutiny question this morning from the Dorothy Dixers. What we heard was backbenchers getting up and giving ministers an opportunity to congratulate themselves. In an emergency that is impossible to justify.

There are plenty of opportunities for the Premier and Government ministers to get key messages out to engage with the Tasmanian people. I am sure all of us here watching the morning briefing. They are extensive, they are information-rich, and they are an opportunity for the Government to set the agenda for the day, engage with Tasmanians on the issues that they want them to be mindful of, tell Tasmanians what the rules are, and to keep Tasmanians up to date on the situation for example in the north-west. This morning's briefing provided detail on the report into the north-west outbreak. Every morning there is an opportunity for the Government to engage through those briefings.

Today in parliament we will have a ministerial statement again. That is the Government setting the agenda. There has been a lot of take in this past six weeks. We have accepted that parliament needs to change some of its practices in order for us to be able to minimise if not eliminate risk of COVID-19 transition to anyone in this building or anyone we come into contact with.

That take from government has meant we have fewer sittings, we have no matter of public important debate that is brought on by other members on any other issue, and we can accept that to an extent, but we also have no private members' time, so there has been lots of take and not much give. From the Greens' point of view we are absolutely determined to be constructive and cooperative but we will not be a rubber stamp for legislative overreach and we will always advocate for strong scrutiny, accountability and transparency mechanisms. They are not something governments should ever fear and not a government that is clearly doing its best to manage an emergency situation, and I believe this Government and this Premier are doing their best.

No good government should be afraid of scrutiny and accountability. In fact, it improves government decision making. We should have a question time during an emergency that is dedicated only to scrutiny, not to self-congratulations. From the Greens' point of view, what these new arrangements mean is that over this period when parliament will sit a little bit we will have a total of 10 questions. We have asked to be on the Subordinate Legislation Committee and that has been not accepted. We should be on the Subordinate Legislation Committee given that it is the primary mechanism for scrutinising decisions that are made by government, but what we know about that committee is that they are not able to do their job properly because they have been told that they cannot examine notices that are issued under the COVID-19 emergency response. The Subordinate Legislation Committee is not able to scrutinise properly decisions, determinations and notices that have been made by government. Their scope has been unreasonably confined. We should be on that committee. There are three parties in this House -

Ms Ogilvie - And an Independent.

Ms O'CONNOR - And an Independent. You were on that committee before.

Ms Ogilvie - I know quite a lot about the committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - Good on you. We should be on it because we have been cooperative and constructive; we have backed the Government when it has been necessary. I personally appreciate the conversations that the Premier has initiated between himself, the Leader of the Opposition and me. It has been very valuable. It has also been very valuable to the people of Tasmania to see parliamentarians working together at this extraordinarily awful time in our history.

It is one thing to say we appreciate the Greens, we appreciate being able to engage with the Leader of the Greens, but then to exclude us from scrutiny mechanisms. We will be making an amendment to the legislation this afternoon in an effort to make sure that we are on the Subordinate Legislation Committee. The Subordinate Legislation Committee needs to be able to examine notices and directions in real time. What is happening, of course, is they are getting things after the fact, after it has been gazetted and a decision has been made. It is too late. It is valuable to have the conversations with the Premier and it is one part of a broad scrutiny framework. We have open conversations but it is not enough so I move that -

Time expired.

Dr WOODRUFF - Madam Speaker, I move that the member be heard for another 30 seconds.

Madam SPEAKER - The Clerk's advice is that you do not get any extra time when it is a procedural matter.

Ms O'CONNOR - Dr Woodruff will move the amendment for us.

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Greens, I move a motion without notice concerning Standing Orders and Sessional Orders. I move that the motion be amended by inserting the following paragraph after paragraph (b) -

(c) Sessional Order 48A be suspended and the following Sessional Order be inserted instead

48. A minimum number of questions notwithstanding the previsions of Standing Order 47,

The Speaker shall ensure that a minimum of questions without notice to be asked shall be nine by the Opposition, three by members of the Greens and two by the Independent Member for Clark if such member seeks the call.