The Prime Minister’s decision to suspend Parliament over concerns members would transmit coronavirus to each other and their respective states has been met with fury online.
The term ‘JobShirker’ was trending on Twitter on Saturday after Scott Morrison confirmed Parliament would not sit for the fortnight commencing 4 August, instead pushing it back to 24 August.
Morrison said the decision was based on medical advice from the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.
“The entry of a high-risk group of individuals could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT and place residents at unnecessary risk of infection. In addition, the health risk to Members and Senators and their staff from other jurisdictions is a material concern,” Kelly said.
“It is my medical advice that, despite proposed mitigation measures, these risks would be significantly higher in the context of a parliamentary sitting period due to the number of persons travelling from Victoria and the inevitable mixing with ACT residents, Members, Senators, staff and visitors within Parliament House.”
However Australians questioned why Parliament couldn’t meet from home.
“Parliament wasn’t “forced” to shirk its responsibilities. The rest of us are working from home, so can our elected officials. #JobShirker,” one user wrote.
“Shocking double standards,” added another.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he acce[ted the request to postpone the sitting but was disappointed that the government would dodge scrutiny.
He said the government needs to be held to account on the uncertainty remaining around the JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs. The government is due to announce further measures this coming Thursday 23 July.
"Had the government made its decision [on JobSeeker and JobKeeper] clear to the public before this announcement, then people would have been able to have a view as to whether the changes that will be made and announced this Thursday are up to scratch or not," he said.
Greens leader Adam Bandt also criticised the postponement, saying democracy should “not be a victim of the pandemic”.
“Every other organisation has been asked to work out how to function with health-based restrictions and Parliament should be able to as well,” Bandt said.
“It seems 2020 is the year of online meetings and working remotely for everyone except Parliamentarians. It is not beyond our wit to work out how to meet in a manner that complies with health requirements.”
It comes days after former prime minister Tony Abbott called for politicians to take a pay cut.
He said public servants and MPs earning more than $150,000 should take a temporary pay cut of 20 per cent.
“One of the most grating phrases of this whole pandemic has been we’re all in this together because frankly, we haven’t been in it together,” he told The Australian.
“We have a private sector calamity happening. And again, as much as I respect the professionalism of the public service, no public servant has lost his or her job, no public servant has had his or her pay cut.”
Abbott noted that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and members of her parliament have taken a six month pay cut and called for Australia to take similar steps.
Morrison has frozen MP pay for 12 months but refused to back pay cuts.
Speaking in May, Morrison said he has “no plans” to deliver pay cuts.
“I’ll just keep doing a good job, that’s my plan, and I will be accountable to Australians for that job,” Morrison said.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann agreed, telling Sky News in April that MPs are “working very hard”.
“I’m not sure how this sort of suggestion would help – in the context of the budget challenge, it’s essentially at the margin,” Cormann said.