'Disrespectful' detail in first parliament sitting sparks uproar

The opening of the 47th parliament has set tongues wagging over a stark contrast spotted between the two sides of the chamber.

On one side of the house of representatives, Labor were all masked up — but only about a dozen members on the opposite side of parliament were wearing a mask.

Viewers noticed all Labor and Greens MPs were wearing a mask.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and member of his government take the affirmation of allegiance in the House of Representatives during the opening of the 47th Federal Parliament at Parliament House in Canberra.
Eagle-eyed viewers spotted the 'glaring' contrast in the chamber as Parliament began. Source: AAP

While there are no mask mandates currently in place, parliamentarians were “strongly encouraged” to wear one when social distancing wasn’t possible during the event.

Just last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he expected his colleagues to be wearing masks in parliament.

"I'm expecting colleagues to follow the advice which is out there, which is, if you can't socially distance, if you're around the corridors of Parliament House, then you should follow the advice, which is to wear a mask," he said.

Albanese’s subtle dig to opposition

During the Welcome to Country ceremony, Mr Albanese made an address where he took a veiled jab at the opposition.

“Now, I know that Australians, in the way that they deal with their lives, are generous – towards their neighbours, towards their community and towards the whole country,” he said.

“We've seen that and we see it replicated by the fact that people are wearing masks here today – people making decisions to look after each other, to look after the community.”

Australians watching from home weren't impressed, taking to Twitter to vent their frustrations at the Coalition.

"Remember that when blaming Albo for another covid wave," one wrote.

"Respect and disrespect for science on display," said another.

"Leopards don't change their spots. Not surprised at all," a Twitter user added.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Albanese said he wanted to see more unity in the parliament.

"I want to see a parliament that functions much better than the last one. One where there's genuine debate and dialogue and discussion," he said.

"I want more unity, less division. I want to bring the country together with a sense of our common purpose, which is there."

Mr Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton were both pictured wearing a mask into the official opening of parliament.

Australia breaks new Covid record

The controversial scenes come as Australia records its highest Covid hospitalisation rate since the start of the pandemic.

On Monday, 5,439 people were in hospital with the disease – more than the previous peak of 5,391 recorded in January.

Despite the rise in hospitalisations, the number of Covid patients in ICU has dropped significantly with 161 patients currently being treated versus 420 in January.

As the hospitalisation rate spikes, so does the death rate with an average of 70 people dying with Covid across the country every day.

Push for mask mandates to return

Health experts are pushing for mask rules to be reinstated in indoor settings as cases and hospitalisations continue to rise.

ABC medical commentator Dr Norman Swan said it’s a small action that can have a big impact on safety.

“Having a rule about masks indoors allows people to lose the doubt about whether or not they should be wearing a mask or not, it’s that they know that they should be wearing a mask in an indoor setting,” he told the ABC on Tuesday morning.

“And you know, it's a small price to pay, and we can get together. We can go to the movies. We can do stuff. But if you've got mask wearing, it just makes things safer.”

Last week, Mr Albanese revealed not a single state leader backed the call for the return of mask mandates and said there were “mental health concerns” surrounding the reintroduction of rules.

“And it’s no good having a mandate unless it’s enforced,’’ he added.

“And are there people jumping on trams here in Victoria and enforcing the rules and fining people?

“I don’t know that is happening. It’s not happening in New South Wales. So it is difficult for public officers to advocate for a mandate. It isn’t really a mandate unless it’s enforced.

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