Only 25 members of the parliamentary press gallery will be able to view the Governor-General’s address to open the new Parliament on August 30, as the 50 best seats in the Senate gallery (where the address occurs) have been offered to what press gallery president Andrew Meares describes as “guests”.

The address is one of the few times a seat in the Senate gallery is highly sought after — the seats are usually empty.

In an email to members this afternoon, Meares wrote that the Usher of the Black Rod had told him of the restricted attendance requirements today. The press gallery committee, he wrote in an email to the body’s members, believed the restrictions “unprecedented, unacceptable and unworkable”.

Meares said that he’d written to Senate President Stephen Parry to ask who decided this would happen and who would be occupying the 50 seats. He asked whether the seats had been “sold or offered to party donors or supporters”, and whether the opposition or minor parties have been consulted.

The gallery is not co-operating with the request to supply the names of the 25 journalists who will be attending. “The assigning of journalists to cover proceedings is determined by media organisations not the Press Gallery committee.”

While the restriction on attendance may be “unprecedented”, tussles between the press gallery and the Parliament are not. Heightened security measures in the last Parliament brought new restrictions for journalists, especially visiting ones from outside the gallery, who were not allowed to wonder the gallery unescorted. The increased use of bollards to separate journalists from politicians was another gripe.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey