Chief Minister Andrew Barr has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, warning him that Victorian parliamentarians who are planning to return to Canberra “present a significant risk” in relation to COVID-19 transmission.
It’s understood that a number of Victorian MPs and their essential staff are planning to travel to Canberra for the forthcoming parliamentary sitting. Both Houses of Parliament are next scheduled to sit from 24 August to 3 September.
Parliament had been due to sit at the beginning of August, but the sitting was cancelled after acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly issued advice saying there was a significant risk allowing politicians to come to Canberra due to increased community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria and the trends in New South Wales.
“A transmission event could potentially impact the entire workforce of Australian Parliament House and potentially impact the function of Government,” the letter from Mr Barr to the Prime Minister says.
“An outbreak could also adversely affect the broader Canberra community and incur considerable health expense, increases in morbidity and mortality and potential economic cost requiring business shutdowns.
“There would be significant negative public perception and reputational impacts.”
The letter came as dozens of ACT residents were stuck at the Victorian border on Friday despite having valid travel permits to return to the ACT. It’s been revealed that enabling legislation requiring all travellers to return by air to Sydney was enacted at 11:00 pm on Thursday night, just one hour before the closure came into effect.
The ACT has strongly advised Canberrans not to travel to the Greater Sydney region unless for urgent reasons.
Emails were not sent until the following morning and many local authorities, including the mayor of surrounding Indigo Shire, were not officially briefed about the changes until midway through Friday afternoon, well after travellers had arrived at Wodonga.
In addition to the ACT residents who were affected, hundreds of interstate workers with valid permits were also stranded in Victoria. But it appears Victorian MPs still plan to travel to Canberra.
“While the ACT Chief Health Officer recognises that the safest way to travel from Victoria to the ACT is by private vehicle, we recognise that recent NSW Government decisions regarding the closure of the NSW/Victoria border may make this impractical,” the letter to Mr Morrison says.
Mr Barr has suggested to the Prime Minister that instead of commercial flights, parliamentarians should choose so-called Special Purpose flights, and strongly supports parliamentarians undertaking their full 14-day quarantine in the ACT. This would require them to be in Canberra by Tuesday (11 August).
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman has advised MPs that some proposed alternative arrangements – including quarantining for 14 days in Victoria, or for seven days in Victoria and seven days in the ACT – would pose an increased risk that cannot be fully mitigated.
Full quarantine measures will apply to MPs including random inspections by ACT Police and SES volunteers.