Those of us who were failing to panic about swine flu will doubtless be reassured in our response by the World Health Organisation’s statement that the swine flu pandemic (sounds so much better than a mere epidemic) is “no reason to panic”.
I can’t wait for the global crisis where an international organisation declares that there is a need for panic.
Clearly the state of Victoria is ground zero for this mild and unthreatening disease that isn’t a patch on regular, seasonal influenza which even as we speak is carrying off Australians, as it does every year with tragic regularity.
If we really want to be serious about halting the spread of swine flu, we might note that next week a couple of thousand people will be converging on an enclosed environment for a fortnight where they will work in close proximity for 18 hours a day, and then return to all parts of the country, providing potentially perfect vectors for the distribution of the virus. I refer of course to Parliament House.
Crikey is aware of at least two Victorian-based advisers who have been diagnosed with swine flu, but fortunately after Parliament rose last week.
While there’s no precedent, both Houses of Parliament could conceivably operate without Victorian MPs and Senators. The quorum for the House of Reps since 1989 has been one fifth of members, or 30. In the Senate, since 1991, it’s been a quarter, or 19. The States’ House has no requirement for each state to be represented, and nor does the House of Representatives. Pairing arrangements, enabling the parties to ensure they were not disadvantaged by the legitimate absence of members and senators, would keep the normal party balance.
House Clerk Ian Harris and Serjeant-at-Arms David Elder told Crikey that they were taking advice from health authorities like everyone else, and, while they were monitoring the situation with the Parliamentary Departments, for the moment they would sticking with the existing protocol of encouraging members and staff to seek medical advice if they were feeling ill, to self-quarantine if appropriate, and to observe basic hygiene.
The other alternative would be, if things got particularly bad over the next few days, to postpone the forthcoming sitting. The only problem with that is that it is supposed to be the last sitting before the winter recess, and Parliament doesn’t return until 11 August, meaning a rescheduled sitting would be moved into the much-loved (by politicians) winter break when overseas travel and study tours are the order of the day. Moreover, it’s unlikely the rate of swine flu infection would drop in the next few months. And the Government has some high-profile bills up for consideration, for that matter.
It’s probably inevitable someone will spread swine flu through Parliament House. Politicians, advisers, journalists and support staff might just have to tolerate feeling mildly crook for a few days. It’s a pandemic, after all.