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Crisis averted? Back to normal for State Parliament

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While South Australian health authorities warn against lifting COVID-19 restrictions too early, State Parliament is set to return to its normal sitting pattern with the Government citing the state’s success in reducing the number of infections as the key reason.

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On the last day of sitting, April 8, the Government successfully moved to adjourn Parliament until May 12, thanks to a casting vote from Speaker Vincent Tarzia, despite Labor’s protests that the Parliament should continue despite the pandemic crisis.

However, Tarzia has now written to members saying that the house will sit on April 28 – the original scheduled date for Parliament’s resumption.

Leader of Government Business Stephan Knoll told InDaily the state’s performance in reducing new coronavirus infections meant Parliament could return to its normal schedule.

“In light of our success in reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases, the South Australian Parliament will continue sitting as per the original schedule for the foreseeable future, while maintaining the appropriate restrictions and social distancing safeguards,” he said.

“Previously the Parliament was sitting to fast-track emergency legislation to address issues presented by COVID-19 and now we have seen a decrease in the number of reported cases, we are looking to return to a normal legislative schedule.”

During debate on April 8, Labor strongly opposed any amendment to the schedule, with frontbencher Stephen Mullighan arguing the crisis made it more important that Parliament sits.

However, Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman used historical precedent to argue for the temporary shutdown.

“There are three reasons why it is important that we adjourn the parliament: firstly, we are in the middle of a global pandemic in relation to the coronavirus known as COVID-19; secondly, it has happened before; and, thirdly, we are probably the highest performing state in relation to the commitment we have made to the people of South Australia that, as long as possible, we will continue to have our parliament meet on a regular basis,” she told parliament.

“On the first matter, it is obvious and I need to say no more. On the second matter, I remind members that during the 1919 Spanish flu the parliament prorogued on four occasions: on 23 January, on 20 March, on 8 March and on 12 June.”

Premier Steven Marshall and SA chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier have both cautioned against lifting restrictions too early, despite South Australia’s encouraging results.

Spurrier said yesterday that while the recent figures are pleasing, “quite clearly we’re still seeing cases [and] we need to be very, very certain when we look at adjusting restrictions”.

Mullighan said today the Government’s change of heart over Parliamentary sitting didn’t make any sense.

“The Government’s handling of this (Parliament) has been a shambles,” he said.

“It doesn’t make any sense. The Parliament should always have been sitting and should definitely be sitting during this crisis.”

He said the Parliament’s oversight role was particularly important now, when hundreds of millions of dollars were being used for stimulus and the state coordinator, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, had been handed extraordinary powers under emergency legislation.

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