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Federal Parliament to be cancelled amid growing interstate COVID-19 outbreaks

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“Our Commonwealth Parliament should have representatives from all members of our federation and it is the duty of parliamentarians to attend Parliament, if it is scheduled,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

Mr Morrison has written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives to ask for the cancellation while Senator Mathias Cormann will write to the Senate President. Both chambers set sitting weeks on the government’s advice.

The government cancelled all sittings from March until August at the height of the coronavirus crisis but later scheduled skeleton sittings to pass its coronavirus stimulus packages, including JobKeeper. As the virus abated, more sittings were scheduled and restrictions on outside visitors coming into Parliament House were relaxed.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said his party accepted the government’s decision to request the cancellation of the next sitting of Parliament on medical advice but argued there should be more opportunities for Labor to ask questions.

“Labor has … always argued that the government needs to be held to account — particularly because of the uncertainty that remains with JobKeeper and JobSeeker,” Mr Albanese said.

There will be more meetings of the coronavirus committee to examine the government’s response to COVID-19 while Parliament does not sit, Mr Albanese said, and he urged the government to schedule additional days of Senate estimates committees too.

MPs stand for prayers in Parliament at a social distance from one another during an April sitting to pass economic stimulus legislation.

MPs stand for prayers in Parliament at a social distance from one another during an April sitting to pass economic stimulus legislation.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The government is expected to announce the future of JobKeeper and JobSeeker on Thursday. Labor does not want JobSeeker, which has been temporarily doubled, to revert to its old rate and for JobKeeper to remain beyond its scheduled September expiry. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has signalled an extension of JobKeeper is likely in light of the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases in Victoria.

Evan Mulholland, communications director of Liberal-linked libertarian think tank the Institute for Public Affairs, called the sitting cancellation a “joke”.

“There has never been a more important time for Parliament to scrutinise policy decisions,” Mr Mulholland said on social media, pointing to schools and businesses still operating but at a reduced capacity.

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Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the government had made the best decision in the circumstances because key parliamentary officials, including the speaker of the House of Representatives and president of the Senate, who run debate in those chambers, are Victorian.

While Parliament has been holding committee meetings online via videoconferencing, Senator Cormann that was “not practical” for the whole Parliament.

Senator Cormann also denied there was a contradiction between the government’s calls for states outside Victoria to open their borders while parliamentary sittings were being cancelled.

“There is essentially no community transmission at all” in states outside Victoria and NSW, Senator Cormann told reporters in Perth, which meant residents should be able to travel between those areas.

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