Attendants wearing gloves and keeping their distance hand bottled water to MPs during Federal Parliament this week. Picture Gary Ramage
Attendants wearing gloves and keeping their distance hand bottled water to MPs during Federal Parliament this week. Picture Gary Ramage

Awkward but necessary: MP reflects on a surreal sitting

COWPER MP Pat Conaghan says social distancing is one of the most powerful tools available right now to slow the spread of coronavirus.

He put that tool into practice during a reduced sitting of federal parliament on Monday.

The parliamentary week was reduced to one sitting day to consider the legislation to enact the COVID-19 emergency stimulus package and any other immediate business.

Mr Conaghan is relatively new to politics, elected for The Nationals to the seat of Cowper (which takes in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour) following the retirement of long serving Nationals Member Luke Hartsuyker at the last Federal election.

Although new to politics little could have prepared him for the health crisis the electorate faces.

"Attending parliament did feel strange on Monday, but the changes were necessary and Federal Members were simply doing what all members of society are doing at the moment," Mr Conaghan said.

"We did not sit in our usual seats and the number of members in the House of Representatives was dramatically reduced so that we remained two to four metres apart at all times."

 

Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Coffs Harbour several weeks ago.
Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Coffs Harbour several weeks ago.

He admits that adhering to social distancing rules is not easy.

"Adhering to social distancing rules is a little awkward, however it is necessary and it is one of the most powerful tools we can use to slow the spread of coronavirus.

"Practising good hygiene - washing your hands regularly with soap and water - is the other and I can say I must have done this at least 30 times on Monday."

Last night Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a raft of further measures to fight Australia's coronavirus pandemic including a full community lockdown of non-essential services with school closures for all but the children of the most critical workers.

 

In response to the COVID19 virus a smaller group of Federal MP's were present in the chamber during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Gary Ramage
In response to the COVID19 virus a smaller group of Federal MP's were present in the chamber during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Gary Ramage

Other measures include the closure of businesses and community centres, libraries, swimming pools, tanning shops, food courts except for takeaway, spas, spin facilities, sex premises, and galleries among other measures.

People will have to avoid birthday parties, barbecues and house parties, with weddings limited to five people and funerals limited to 10, where strict social distancing must be observed.

Australians will also be banned from travelling overseas in the most drastic government intervention into citizens' private lives in recent history.

Mr Morrison said the new way of life will be with us for at least six months and would require a "significant sacrifice" with friends and families banned from seeing each other.

However restrictions could go further in the coming days if cases of COVID-19 do not begin to plateau. The total number of Australian cases is now more than 2000 with eight deaths.



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