Parliament sitting not feasible: Cormann

PM Scott Morrison says he's received medical advice against allowing parliament to sit in August.
PM Scott Morrison says he's received medical advice against allowing parliament to sit in August.

Senior federal cabinet minister Mathias Cormann has defended the decision to cancel the parliamentary sitting planned for early August after medical advice warned against it for fear of spreading COVID-19.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been advised by acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly there is a "significant risk" associated with a meeting of parliament in the context of the increased community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria and the trends in NSW.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has accepted the prime minister's decision to cancel the sitting, although he was unhappy the government will be avoiding scrutiny.

But Senator Cormann, who is leader of the government in the Senate and finance minister, insists it wasn't feasible to put sufficient measures in place to ensure that parliament was able to meet safely in the circumstances.

"It wasn't, of course, appropriate to exclude entire states from representation in the national parliament," he told reporters in Perth on Saturday.

Professor Kelly told the prime minister the entry of a high-risk group of individuals could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT and place residents at unnecessary risk of infection.

"In addition, the health risk to Members and Senators and their staff from other jurisdictions is a material concern," he said.

Prof Kelly said despite proposed mitigation measures, these risks would be significantly higher in the context of a parliamentary sitting period because of the number of people travelling from Victoria.

"The government cannot ignore the risk to parliamentarians, their staff, the staff within the parliament, and the broader community of the ACT that holding a parliamentary sitting would create," Mr Morrison said in a statement.

"I have written to the Speaker to request that the sitting fortnight commencing August 4th, 2020 not be held."

He also consulted with Mr Albanese and the president of the Senate and provided them with a copy of the advice.

Parliament was due to sit from August 4 to 13 and will now not meet again until the next planned sitting fortnight starting on August 24.

Mr Albanese said he accepted the request as it was based on medical advice.

"When it comes to this sitting though, it is problematic," he said in Sydney.

"Labor has also always argued that the government needs to be held to account, particularly because of the uncertainty that remains with JobKeeper and JobSeeker."

It would have been the first opportunity for parliament to debate Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's economic statement due on Thursday, which will include the government's response to a Treasury review of the JobKeeper wage subsidy and the enhanced JobSeeker dole payment.

The Labor leader also said the prime minister was contradicting himself by calling on states and businesses to open up while wanting to shut down federal parliament.

The Senate president Scott Ryan tweeted he had received the request to defer the scheduled sitting and said Labor's leader in the Senate Penny Wong had "concurred with this request".

Australian Associated Press