Scott Morrison Coalition parliament
(Image: AAP/LUKAS COCH)

Well, if you’re a doctor or a nurse, you’re expected to keep rolling up to the coronavirus front line, with inadequate equipment, exhaustion lowering your immune system and the infection roulette of multiple exposures.

Shelf stackers, warehouse order fulfillers, agricultural workers are expected to carry on as if nothing is happening so professionals and the knowledge class can do their mostly bullshit work from home. Whole groups of people are suddenly essential workers, it seems.

Except federal MPs.

The display of collective gutlessness and betrayal of democracy in suspending parliament for five months is both a wonder to behold and the culmination of our process of creating a political caste from which to choose our representatives.

The burnt-out student politicians, PR hacks, shoppies, drones, shonky real estate agents and machine apparatchiks who constitute the leadership of the major parties and who put their hand up to be our legislative body — reviewing, challenging and scrutinising the executive — have decided to minimise what is for most is a very low risk of infection by abandoning the Westminster system and full separation of powers altogether.

So, at a time when unprecedented curtailment of civil liberties and new police powers are being introduced, we are to be ruled by an appointed executive — drawn from the legislature, but separate from it — for five months, without scrutiny, questions, committees, review?

And this is to be accepted by the opposition in concert with the government?

Screw that. Screw that.

What an absolute betrayal of your duties to the people who elected you. Year after year, you submit us to what is the worst, most head-banging question time in any Westminster system in the world, and at the very point where there are going to be life-and-death questions to answer — like how about 2700 high-risk people were allowed to get off a cruise ship and scatter (when we spend tens of billions on “border protection”) — we have an appointed soft junta in place.

Would assembling parliament heighten risk? Yes. But that’s what you were elected for. That’s what you’re paid for.

There are obvious ways in which risk can be minimised: sit with minimum quorum and pair absent members. Choose the youngest and healthiest MPs to sit. Greens and crossbenchers commit to no no-confidence votes with the opposition, or high jinks arising from skewed numbers. In the Senate, 11 from each major party, three Greens, one One Nation, one of the Centre Alliance-Lambie bloc, gives quorum and preserves proportion

If you need to be tested before and after a sitting bloc and self-isolate repeatedly, fine. Prioritise such testing. That’s the goddamn job.

I say run parliament with a skeleton staff of volunteers. Given the staff’s commitment to democracy — far above the parties’ it seems — you’ll get enough. 

Labor or the Greens should petition the governor-general to reconvene parliament.

A three-day bloc in April, a three-day bloc at start of May, and possibly at the end. We have no idea how this virus will go, the twists and turns and surprises.

Do you seriously propose to run Anzac Day and prate speeches about eighteen year old boys killed at Kokoda to defend our freedoms, and you won’t even turn up to risk a disease whose non-multiple comorbidity death rate is exceptionally low?

You wanted the job. Now do it. 

People will object that this is similar to the fires’ “get the Queen to sack Scomo and appoint Tim Costello/Jimmy Barnes/the Get Krack!n girls as PM” movement. It’s not.

The governor-general’s constitutional role to convene parliament is a democratic function; the convention of acting on prime ministerial advice puts an anti-democratic twist in there, turning an unscrutinised executive into an appointed junta drawn from elected members.

Seriously, don’t the MPs quietly trotting off have any shame at all? Young medical workers are going to die from this disease, on pretty average pay and conditions.

Isn’t anyone from the major parties willing to stand up and say “we should be sitting”. Get your arses onto those benches and do your job.

We need more democracy, not less. And if you won’t do your essential work, why should anyone else risk their health for you?

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW