Politicians and thousands of angry NSW residents have signed a petition urging the Berejiklian Government to reopen Parliament immediately.
Parliament was suspended for the third month in a row on Monday, meaning New South Wales will remain a one-party state until October at the earliest, the Government having eluded parliamentary transparency since June 24, when the current COVID crisis began.
The situation has so enraged Roy Butler, MP for Barwon, that he has been moved to present a petition to the Legislative Assembly demanding the Government return from its undemocratic smoko.
“For democracy to work, Parliament needs to sit,” Mr Butler fumed.
“Parliament is how Government is properly held to account, how policies and decisions are challenged and improved to better suit regional communities.”
The petition has already gathered more than 22,000 signatures after just a few days on the Parliament of New South Wales website.
One who was delighted to sign was Broken Hill Mayor, Darriea Turley.
“I think it’s outrageous,” she said. “We’re in a pandemic.
“The Government should be at work, allowing the people of NSW to, as the old saying goes, ‘keep the bastards honest’, through the democratic process of Parliament.”
The Government excuse – that Parliament can’t sit because it would be breaking its own Health Orders about gatherings – doesn’t wash with Kiama MP, Gareth Ward.
“We send nurses, doctors, ambos, police, teachers, transport workers, retail workers back to work — but politicians are too precious?”, he said.
“I find this totally unacceptable when online options exist.”
Shadow Minister for Regional and Western NSW, Mick Veitch, is convinced the State Government is up to no good.
“The NSW Health Orders list parliamentarians as essential workers,” he told the Barrier Truth.
“There has been a COVID-safe work plan developed for the NSW Parliament. Other workplaces also have COVID-safe plans and are continuing to operate, including supermarkets, pharmacies and bottle shops.
“The Federal Parliament has been able to sit, the Victorian Parliament is proposing to sit, so why is the Government in NSW resisting the Parliament sitting?
“Why would the Government want to oppose parliamentary scrutiny?”
For some, the answer is obvious.
“There is really little doubt what is motivating the Government’s position here,” wrote The Australian’s NSW political correspondent, Yoni Bashan. “It is on the nose electorally and vaccination rates remain its only lifeline out of this mess.
“It wants to avoid scrutiny for as long as conceivably possible.”
For Roy Butler, that’s tantamount to betrayal.
“When this all started, there was an agreement struck to grant Government significant powers to be able to move quickly in response to a virus we didn’t know much about,” he said.
“We now know more, especially that Government has failed to balance these significant powers with transparency.
“The NSW Parliament, when operating, can force that transparency.”
For his part, Deputy Premier John Barilaro reckons there’s no point in democracy until more people are vaccinated.
“There is no rush to bring people back or to reconvene Parliament in September,” he said, “when I know that on the road map we will be at double vaccination at 70 per cent in October, which will give us the opportunity to return on a scheduled date possibly in October.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has called vaccinations “our best weapon” against the Delta variant.
We have another weapon, too: Parliament.
Unfortunately, the chamber is empty.
The e-petition is available to sign on the NSW Parliament Website at: www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/la/pages/epetitions-list.aspx
This article was first published on 11 September 2021.