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Let parliament sit, SA Opposition urges

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The SA Labor Opposition is calling for state parliament to continue according to its published schedule, with the Government expected to unveil plans to slash the number of sitting days for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

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The Federal Parliament has been suspended until August, with other jurisdictions across the country implementing similar moves.

SA’s parliament is due to sit on Tuesday, with pressing legislation to be debated and Liberal nominee Nicola Centofanti installed as a Legislative Councillor, filling the casual vacancy left by now-Senator Andrew McLachlan.

That will involve a heavily-downsized joint sitting of 20 MPs.

The Marshall Government is yet to announce its plans for parliament thereafter, but InDaily understands the number of sitting days is set to be dramatically scaled back, with parliament likely to sit only intermittently – perhaps once a month – until the COVID-19 crisis has abated and community restrictions are lifted.

But Labor leader Peter Malinauskas says parliament should lead by example, telling InDaily: “Our view is that the parliament should continue to honour the existing sitting schedule.”

He said it “goes without saying” that this should involve “an alternative format that’s compliant with the strictures of social distancing… perhaps with as few as three or four people in the chamber at any one time”.

“But as a principle I think the parliament should continue to operate,” he said.

“This would send a message to society that our state and the state’s leaders are performing the critical function of operating government, and the scrutiny and democracy associated with it, during this time.”

He said the coronavirus pandemic necessitated important pieces of legislation “that will need to be dealt with” – including those introduced by the Opposition.

“Parliament has shown the capacity to deal with that appropriately,” he said, pointing to the swift passage of recent health and budget measures to deal with the crisis.

“But parliament needs to sit to do this work.

“If we expect nurses to be working, bus drivers to be working, I think it’s appropriate that the parliament continues to work too… the work of democracy should go on – but it’s critical it’s done in a way that’s as safe as possible.”

He said if Labor MPs used the opportunity to play politics and “we turn it into a farce… any Opposition in the country would be marked down accordingly”.

“It’s really important our political leaders are seen to be working together at the moment [and] I’ve been at pains to only offer constructive ideas,” he said.

While other jurisdictions have cited the decisions of the national cabinet when curtailing their parliamentary sitting schedules, Malinauskas said: “Of course… every government would like the idea of suspending democratic accountability.”

“If it’s not safe for members of parliament to roll up to the chamber, how is it safe for a checkout operator to go to work?” he added.

A spokesman for Leader of Government Business Stephan Knoll said the Government was still working through its plans for parliament after next week’s sitting.

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