COVID-19 continues to disrupt everyday life, including the functioning of the heartbeat of Australia democracy - the Federal Parliament.
Following the spike in infections that has occurred in Victoria in recent weeks, coupled with minor outbreaks across New South Wales, the decision was made to cancel two upcoming sitting weeks scheduled for early August.
Although most states maintain low case numbers, it would have been far too risky to allow Victorian MPs and Senators to travel to Canberra. It does raise the question as to whether Parliament can or should explore the possibility of conducting digital sittings. Key considerations would need to include the practicalities and the impact on quality of the legislative process, as well as whether a digital parliament would comply with standing orders (i.e. the process is legal). Until the entire country has firmly got on top of this virus, the parliamentary process will continue to be impacted and calls for alternative arrangements will grow louder.
Meanwhile, the political fortunes of both major parties are also unclear at the Federal level. While the most recent Newspoll had the Coalition with a comfortable 53-47 lead over Labor, the Prime Minister should know better than anyone that polls can turn around very quickly. COVID-19 will certainly continue to dominate the agenda for the foreseeable future, not only from a health perspective but on the need for continued economic assistance.
Finally, with the Budget due to be delivered on October 6, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has flagged the deficit blowing out to $184 billion in 2020-21. The final quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 are being flagged as the periods where the economic pain will really start to pinch. As long as restrictions remain in place, it is simply impossible for the economy to fully heal. This means that, in the absence of a vaccine, governments at all levels will need to consider further stimulus programs or other temporary measures that assist in keeping jobs and businesses afloat.