Dozens of Victorian state politicians will defy Melbourne’s strict stage four COVID-19 lockdown and the advice of health authorities on Tuesday to gather at Parliament House for several hours of debate and questions.
More than 30 upper house MPs, including several country members who have travelled from regional Victoria, are expected to be at the scheduled session of the Parliament's upper house beginning at 12pm on Tuesday, despite advice from the Chief Health Officer to consider postponing.
The MPs will sit together in the chamber for a one-day session as thousands of businesses across Victoria prepare to close their doors from midnight on Wednesday under the tough new restrictions.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told parliamentary authorities on Monday that it would be ‘prudent’ to consider delaying the return of Parliament until a new set of safety protocols could be put in place.
Professor Sutton also advised the presiding officers of the Parliament's two chambers that MPs and their staff from outside metropolitan Melbourne should stay away from the city.
"The prevalence of community transmission [of COVID-19] across metropolitan Melbourne poses an unacceptable risk of spread to other areas of Victoria via people travelling into the metropolitan area and then back into regional communities," Professor Sutton wrote.
The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Labor’s Colin Brooks, acted on the Chief Health Officer’s advice and postponed the lower house’s sittings scheduled for this week until early September.
But in the upper house, where Labor does not have a majority, the Liberal-National Coalition and cross bench MPs combined to overcome government objections and force a short sitting on Tuesday, when Health Minister Jenny Mikakos will face a likely hostile question time.
The Liberals’ upper house leader, David Davis, said on Monday night that there had never been a more important time for parliamentary scrutiny.
"There is a time for MPs to stand up for their communities and ensure that governments are accountable for their decisions," Mr Davis said.
"This is the most secretive and viciously powerful government in many years and there needs to be proper scrutiny, proper accountability."
Mr Davis said the Chief Health Officer’s advice on whether Parliament should sit was inconclusive and that safety procedures would be in place to allow country and regional MPs to participate.
But the government’s upper house leader Jaclyn Symes said the Opposition and the crossbenchers who supported the sitting were ‘ignoring’ the clear advice of the Chief Health Officer.
"The CHO’s advice was to take some time to consider the safety of MPs and staff," Ms Symes said.
"The fact that the Opposition has chosen to ignore the CHO’s advice at a time when we’re asking the community to head the CHO’s advice is disappointing."
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