No time for questions in ‘special session’ of Parliament to pass COVID-19 legislation: Fyles

by | Apr 23, 2020 | News, NT Politics | 1 comment

The Territory’s Legislative Assembly will sit for a “special session” tomorrow to pass the Gunner Government’s emergency COVID-19 legislation, but important fixtures such as Question Time will be cancelled.

Leader of Government Business Natasha Fyles said the introduction of the legislation meant Question Time wasn’t possible. 

“Legislation on the table tomorrow is purely Coronavirus related, strengthening our response to COVID-19,” she said.

“We will sit under extraordinary circumstances with the sole focus of passing emergency legislation only.”

That legislation includes the Tenancies Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, Public and Environmental Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 and the Utilities Legislation Amendment Bill 2020.

Independent Member for Nelson Gerry Wood said he was currently going through the legislation with an eye to the costs.

“I’m interested in what it’s costing them and how long before we pay the bill?” he said.

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the decision to cancel Question Time meant the government’s actions couldn’t be properly put under the microscope.  

“The fact that the Gunner Government thinks that question time should be on the scrapheap is disgraceful. It is a deliberate decision to avoid answering tough questions,” she said.

“The Gunner Government is happy to try and slam through legislation with minimal scrutiny, but when it comes to openness, accountability and transparency, it will do everything in its power to cover-up and squash debate. It’s just not on.”

The Tenancies Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 contains a controversial clause that presumes tenants have a right to keep a pet by providing written notice to a landlord.

It is expected to be fiercely debated by the Opposition, who fears it will turn away property buyers from investing in the Territory.

Yesterday the Opposition were presented with a petition signed by more than 8000 landlords and investors opposing the legislation.

Territory Alliance leader Terry Mills agreed that the Gunner Government should have permitted Question Time to ask questions on behalf of Territorians.

“No question time means avoidance of scrutiny,” he said. “The Chief Minister spoke much of his commitment to restoring trust in government upon coming to office, this does not help him achieve that objective.” 

The Environmental Health Legislation Amendment Bill is designed to implement fines on those who spit and cough on workers, while the Utilities Legislation Amendment Bill will assist with the cost of power, water and sewerage for businesses.

A motion is expected to be moved to convene a special Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing for one day a month, commencing from next Thursday.

The monthly PAC meetings will allow for questions from the opposition and independent members about COVID-19 emergency measures.

The first order of business will be the introduction of a motion on the use of teleconferencing, which will allow remote Members to participate and vote.

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