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7 February 2022

Independent South Australian Senator Rex Patrick today expressed concern that some Senators will shirk their duties in the Senate and abuse arrangements for remote video participation for political convenience.

“With only a few parliamentary sitting weeks left before the Federal election, Senators need to participate fully in legislative debates,” Senator Patrick said. 

“Senators should not abuse rules that were put in place in the circumstances of border closures and lockdowns because they consider it politically inconvenient to travel to Canberra, especially with a view to pursuing other activities in anticipation of the coming election campaign.”  

“Unless there are compelling medical or family reasons, Senators should turn up for work. They should not shirk their primary legislative and scrutiny responsibilities.” 

“Notwithstanding the Omicron COVID-19 outbreak, millions of Australians have returned to their normal patterns of movement and employment and the Government has urged us all to get on with our lives in the context of ‘Covid normal’.”

“In these circumstances the Senate must consider how requirements for remote video participation in Senate proceedings should be interpreted given that a majority of States and Territories have lifted cross-border travel and quarantine restrictions.” 

“The arrangements for remote participation were always envisaged as a temporary measure in response to COVID-19 border closures, quarantine requirements and lockdowns. They should not become a standing feature of parliamentary practice.”

“Parliament House in Canberra is the physical heart of our democracy. Senators should be obliged to participate directly in debates and votes. Remote participation should not be a routine option. There definitely needs to be a tightening up of the rules.”

“Accordingly I have written to the President of the Senate, Senator Slade Brockman, and the Deputy President, Senator Sue Lines, to seek a review of remote participation arrangements.”

“At a minimum, remote participation in Senate proceedings should be strictly confined to Senators who present the Senate President with a written statement setting out how travel restrictions, quarantine requirements and/or personal health advice “prevent” a Senator from physically attending the Senate. In the case of the last measure, it would be appropriate for a Senator to present a certificate from a qualified medical practitioner. The Senate President should publish a list of Senators who have presented valid reasons for remote participation.” 

“Millions of Australians have made great sacrifices and continue to endure hardship and inconvenience through the COVID-19 pandemic”, Senator Patrick said.

“There should be no toleration of political shirkers who won’t turn up for work in the Senate without a valid justification.”