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Vic govt sat on parliament advice for year

The Victorian Labor government received legal advice a year ago that gave state parliament the all-clear to sit online, but hasn’t acted on it.

Two sitting weeks were suspended in August due to the state’s latest COVID-19 outbreak, though parliament has since returned with decreased hours and fewer MPs present because only one house can sit at a time.

Greens Leader Samantha Ratnam last week put forward a motion calling on the president of the upper house to develop a hybrid sitting model, which would allow for MPs to participate from home.

Victorian Legislative Council president Nazih Elasmar’s report, seen by AAP, reveals the parliament’s clerks received legal advice in September 2020 on the issue.

The advice, from Chris Horan QC, states both houses of parliament may “adopt orders or rules that permit members to participate in proceedings remotely by means of audio-visual communication technology”.

“In my view, such orders or rules may permit such members to vote and to be counted in a quorum,” Mr Horan said.

His advice is based on a modern interpretation of the word ‘present’, meaning there would be no need to amend the Victorian Constitution.

The upper house will debate trialling the hybrid model on Tuesday.

In Canberra, federal politicians are unable to vote remotely but can participate in question time, speak to bills and provide members statements. Both houses can sit at the same time.

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