The Victorian Parliament’s Upper House has passed a motion that will allow MPs to sit online during the pandemic for the first time, and ensure Parliament isn’t cancelled during current and future outbreaks.
The reform, which was developed in response to a successful Greens motion last week, will enable MPs to do things like participate in Question Time and deliver speeches from home if for instance they are unwell, or contract COVID.
They won’t be able to vote remotely, however a Greens amendment that was passed will allow an MP’s position to be recorded in Hansard.
Leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam, said today’s motion was a huge step in the right direction, and would bring the Upper House closer to the 21st century.
She added that over the past 18 months almost every other workplace had found a way to function in a COVID-safe way online, and that it shouldn’t have taken Parliament this long to catch up.
While today’s reform will help ensure Parliament continues to function as a check and balance on power and an opportunity to legislate support and protection for Victorians hit hard by the pandemic, the Greens believe there are still gaps left to fill.
They say that for this new hybrid sitting model to be as effective as possible, the Upper House must also introduce a pairing system for the entire chamber, so that crossbench MPs in particular can still have their votes recorded on important bills if they’re working remotely.
Last year when Ms Ratnam went on maternity leave, she was not able to have her vote count on a number of important bills, and in one instance was forced to come into Parliament with her then-eight-week-old baby to be able to vote on an important bill.
The Greens are disappointed that both the government and the opposition weren’t prepared to support a pairing system that included the crossbench yet, but say they’ll continue to discuss this with them in the hope that it can be revisited as soon as possible.
Quotes attributable to Leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam MLC:
“The Upper House has finally moved one step closer to the 21st century after most other workplaces have found a way to work online over the past 18 months.
“This reform will help prevent Parliament being cancelled again, and ensure MPs can participate online if they’re unwell, or contract COVID. It will also help make Parliament more family friendly by allowing new parents to participate remotely.
“It’s disappointing that both the government and the opposition aren’t yet on board with a pairing system, as that’s still the missing piece of the puzzle. Both Labor and the Libs essentially do this now, yet the crossbench are denied the same opportunity.
“But today was an important step in the right direction. In the middle of a pandemic we need Parliament to hold the government to account and legislate support for those doing it tough as a result of COVID.”