27 March 2020

Assembly to cut sitting program, is the election next?

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Legislative Assembly

The ACT Legislative Assembly building: urgent legislation will still be passed. Photo: File.

The Legislative Assembly will only sit for five days ahead of the October election after all parties agreed to a truncated sitting schedule so the Assembly can focus on critical business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Assembly will now sit only on the Thursday of a sitting week until the ACT goes into caretaker mode during the campaign period for the 17 October election.

It is hoped that by then the pandemic will have passed and restrictions lifted so the election can still be held.

A statement from the Speaker’s office says the government, opposition and crossbench have worked together and agreed on how the Assembly will operate during the public health emergency.

The Assembly will next sit on Thursday, 2 April to consider urgent business and changes that will enable its continued function. This change has been formally gazetted.

The Assembly will also move to change the current sitting pattern so that it can sit on each Thursday of a sitting week for the remainder of the year: Thursday, 7 May 2020; Thursday, 18 June 2020; Thursday, 13 August 2020; and Thursday, 27 August 2020.

“Each sitting day will be discussed and considered in line with the latest health advice and any required legislative changes following decisions from the National Cabinet,” the statement says.

“Keeping one day on the schedule per sitting week will help ensure urgent legislation can still be passed, including economic stimulus measures.

“The Legislative Assembly and ACT Government are committed to ensuring our democratic process continues during this crisis in way that’s safe for Members and adheres to physical distancing requirements.”

Most other Parliaments across the country have implemented similar arrangements.

The arrangements reflect the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting the operation of parliaments across Australia and the world, the Speaker’s office says.

Last week the Assembly’s public galleries in the chamber and committee rooms were closed until further notice.

You can still watch proceedings either live or on-demand on the Assembly website.

Comment has been sought from Elections ACT.

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Why have ACT elections anyway? There is no viable opposition and the result is a foregone conclusion. Just appoint AB as permanent Chair of a Supreme People’s Congress with full control over everything. Who would notice the difference?

HiddenDragon6:22 pm 29 Mar 20

Australia managed to conduct federal elections in 1917, 1940 and 1943.

If World War, and all the danger and disruption of that, wasn’t sufficient to stop elections (including, so far as I am aware, State elections), this health crisis should not be an excuse to start fiddling with the ACT electoral system.

There may be practical issues, but the experience of this weekend’s local government elections in Queensland may offer some useful insights on those aspects.

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