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Australia’s Parliament House To Be Closed To Public Under “Strictest Possible” Restrictions

Federal parliament will return to restrictions from early in the pandemic, with public access shut down and staff numbers slashed.

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian Parliament House will again be closed to the public in a bid to protect Canberra residents from Covid-19 and conduct parliamentary sittings with minimum risk.

The number of politicians attending federal parliament in person throughout August and early September will also be “substantially reduced.” Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan announced the “strictest possible” Covid-19 restrictions on July 26 to minimize non-essential activity.

School tours and all event bookings will be canceled or postponed.

Physical distancing measures will return to both chambers and all meeting rooms, with many members and senators working from home. All food and beverage services will operate under the takeaway-only restriction. The use of QR code check-ins will be mandatory as per the Australian Capital Territory’s new precautionary measures to facilitate contract tracing in case of an outbreak.

Parliamentarians have been told to bring only essential staff and not sign in any guests. As for sponsors, their visitors would need to exit the building right after the conclusion of business. Staff numbers are expected to be limited to ministerial and shadow ministerial staff along with employees of party whips.

Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan announced the “strictest possible” coronavirus restrictions on July 26 to minimize non-essential activity. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image)

The number of departmental staff will be reduced by about 60 percent, requiring just as many regular staffers to work remotely where work can be supported by such arrangements.

Former parliamentarians, elected members of other legislatures, volunteers, and sponsored pass holders have been excluded from entering the building.

Two in every five staff at parliamentary departments will be required to work remotely, while all other public servants have been instructed to stay away.

Parliamentary committees have been advised to conduct hearings online.

Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery have been told to minimize staff numbers and not attend any events held beyond the forecourt.

Food and beverage outlets will be takeaway-only, and the fitness center and sports fields will close.

“Covid-safe marshals will encourage physical distancing, and the wearing of face masks in mixed areas of the building and gathering in high traffic areas will be discouraged,” the presiding officers said in a joint statement.

For leaders and representatives unable to attend parliament in person, virtual participation will be supported. It is understood that many lawmakers will opt to participate remotely, given the circumstances.

Committee hearings to be held in the Australian Parliament House during the next parliamentary sitting week will not be accessible by the public. However, committee proceedings can be viewed on the official website of the Parliament House.

The joint statement also recommended that the Senate, House, and joint committee hearings be taken online, noting that it was a matter for each committee to consider formally.

Edited by Saptak Datta and Krishna Kakani