Parliament House in Canberra set to go into public lockdown next Monday

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and (inset) Parliament House. Pictures: Elesa Kurtz, Dion Georgopoulos
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and (inset) Parliament House. Pictures: Elesa Kurtz, Dion Georgopoulos

The people's house, federal parliament, will go into public lockdown from Monday due to the escalating COVID-19 situation around the nation, particularly in NSW.

A joint statement by the Parliament's Presiding Officers has advised that the building will be closed to the general public, including the galleries in each chamber. School group bookings and all event bookings will be cancelled or postponed.

Parliamentarians have also been requested to only bring essential staff to Canberra and Parliament House.

The numbers of members and senators attending sittings in person is expected to be substantially reduced with many attending Parliament remotely.

"Remote participation for those unable to attend will be facilitated and supported," Senate President Scott Ryan and Speaker Tony Smith said in the statement.

"We expect that many will participate remotely during this period."

We expect that many will participate remotely during this period

Tony Smith, Scott Ryan

The measures were intended to "temporary and precautionary", the pair said, based on discussions with Commonwealth health officials including Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly to ensure the Parliament can continue its essential work while reducing the risk of transmission.

All external departments and agencies have been asked to minimise attendance of public servants unless on essential business

Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery have also been asked to minimise presence of staff.

While the building is closed, parliamentary proceedings may still be followed through the Live Minutes and Dynamic Red, and through the APH website.

Lobbyists, volunteers, former parliamentarians, and members of other parliaments who are usually granted full access have been told to stay away.

The restrictions are similar to those that were implemented by the Parliament early in the pandemic in 2020.

Parliament is set to resume on Tuesday, August 3, but the arrangements will come into effect on Monday 2 August and will remain in place until Friday, September 3.

There are fears the sitting week period could become a super-spreader event, particularly if there is a possible outbreak in the ACT.

The Department of Parliamentary Services is exploring how it can reduce the need for the building's population to interact with the wider Canberra community, such as offering take-home meals from Parliament's kitchens.

Many of the familiar scenes during the Parliament's busiest time, such as MPs congregating in the high traffic areas of the building to discuss bills of legislation or whisper to journalists about what their colleagues are doing, will no longer take place.

Any large gatherings will be discouraged with COVID-safe marshals stationed around the building to encourage physical distancing and wearing of face masks.

Several MPs have been disparaging of mandatory face masks, including LNP MP George Christensen who described them as "insanity" earlier this year. Former Liberal MP Craig Kelly and One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts have also been critical of mask-wearing in the pandemic.

Canberra currently has no cases of the virus.

The situation in others states is mixed. Across Australia 165 new cases had been identified in the latest 24-hour snapshot, of which eight were acquired overseas and 157 local.

Lockdowns are schedule to end in Victoria and South Australia on Wednesday, and in New South Wales on Friday.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government was hopeful about the progress in Victoria and South Australia.

"I would say we are on track to see a significant movement to give people greater freedom over the course of this week - but that's been the hard work of Australians."

This story Parliament locks out the public to prevent outbreak first appeared on The Canberra Times.