On Tuesday the Legislative Council met for the first time since June, albeit looking a little different than usual! Screens were installed at the rear of the Chamber to allow members to appear remotely, while only a ‘quorum’ of members were physically present. The sitting lasted for just under an hour, before the President left the Chair until the ringing of a long bell. Why, you ask? Read on to find out.
As foreshadowed in a message from the President on 3 September, the Legislative Council met on 14 September for the first time since June. Upon taking the Chair, the President gave a statement outlining the COVID-safe practices for the day’s sitting. A key element of the plan was that only a quorum of members (that is, the minimum required number under the NSW Constitution) would attend in person.
In practice, this saw one Government member, three opposition and five crossbench members within the Chamber itself – all of whom were required to wear masks and socially distance. Other members were able to view proceedings via two large screens set up at the back of the Chamber, however as the President noted, they would not be able to participate in the sitting unless a temporary order approving their remote participation was agreed to by the House.
At the end of the President’s statement, the Deputy President, Mr Khan (Nationals) drew the President’s attention to the absence of a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary. Under Standing Order 34 (which you can read about in detail here) “the House will not meet unless a Minister is present in the House”.
Mr Khan said that Standing Order 34 – which was adopted in 2004 – represented the formalisation of a longstanding convention of the House and should continue to be respected in this instance, requiring the President to leave the Chair until ‘the ringing of a long bell’.
Other members present in the House, including Ms Sharpe (Labor), Mr Latham (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation), Mr Shoebridge (The Greens), Ms Hurst (Animal Justice), Reverend Nile (Christian Democrats) and Mr Borsak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) contributed to the debate, arguing the need for the Council to sit in order to fulfil its role as a House of Review.
Following debate on the point of order, the President advised that he would leave the chair until the ringing of a long bell, effectively suspending the sitting day. You can watch the President’s statement in full below.