Federal Parliament's next sitting fortnight has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreaks in Victoria and New South Wales.
In a statement on Saturday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly had advised him that allowing a "high-risk group of individuals" into Canberra for the next sitting fortnight "could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT and place residents at unnecessary risk of infection".
The risk to parliamentarians and staffers would also be significantly higher, according to professor Kelly's advice.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr welcomed the "sensible decision", which he said was in the best interests of Canberrans. While the federal opposition has accepted the government's decision, the move has attracted criticism from the Greens and some crossbenchers.
Federal Parliament was due to sit from August 4 to August 6, and then from August 10 to August 13.
"He [Professor Kelly] advises that, despite proposed mitigation measures, the risks posed by a parliamentary sitting are significantly higher and unlikely to be resolved in the next month," Mr Morrison said in the statement.
"The government cannot ignore the risk to parliamentarians, their staff, the staff within the parliament, and the broader community of the ACT that holding a parliamentary sitting would create."
Mr Morrison said it was not "not feasible or desirable" for parliament to sit if representatives from particular states couldn't be there.
At a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Professor Kelly said the logistics of a parliamentary sitting made it "high-risk".
"By the nature of their work, even with physical distancing, hygiene, and all the other measures we put in place ... here is a large number of people from all over Australia converging in one place for an intense period," he said.
Professor Kelly said he had been speaking with ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman about the issue in recent weeks. He said Mr Morrison had specifically sought advice on Friday.
Mr Morrison has asked the Speaker of the House of Representatives to cancel the next two weeks of sittings, meaning parliament would next meet on August 24.
Asked what would need to change for him to feel comfortable that politicians and staffers could safely enter Canberra, Professor Kelly said "substantially lower rates of community transmission and signs of control" of the Victorian wave and "no worsening" in the latest outbreak in south-west Sydney.
The two weeks that will be lost in August could be recovered with extra sitting weeks in September. The Govt has contentious legislation such as higher ed on the table, we must have as much time as possible to scrutinise and debate.#auspolhttps://t.co/0h9DJaNHu8— Rebekha Sharkie MP 💧 (@MakeMayoMatter) July 18, 2020
Mr Albanese accepted Mr Morrison's decision given the health advice, but said he should have been consulted earlier.
Mr Albanese described the cancellation of the sittings as "problematic".
The upcoming fortnight would have been Labor's first chance to question the government in parliament on its plans for the future of the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payment schemes, which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was due to outline in an economic statement in Canberra on Thursday.
Professor Murphy said Mr Frydenberg, who lives in Victoria, will be able to travel to Canberra for the speech. But the treasurer will be restricted in "what he can and can't do" while in the capital, Professor Kelly said.
Details of those exact restrictions were expected to be thrashed out on Saturday night.
Mr Albanese said the opposition would push for extra senate estimates hearings and convene additional COVID-19 committee meetings to ensure it could continue to hold the government to account.
Greens leader Adam Bandt criticised the move, saying in the statement that "democracy should not be a victim of the pandemic".
Mr Bandt said the parliament should be able to work out a way to meet remotely, as other organisations have been forced to do throughout the global crisis.
This is the second time the Morrison government has moved to cancel parliamentary sittings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Australia headed into lockdown in late March, the government suspended parliament until August, despite opposition from Labor and the Greens.
A one-off sitting was convened to pass the JobKeeper legislation in early April, before parliament was recalled in June on the back of Australia's success in suppressing the virus.
Ahead of the April sitting, Mr Barr asked the leaders of the three major parties to limit the number of staffers travelling to Canberra.
"I ask that non-essential travel into the ACT not occur," Mr Barr said in a letter on April 3.
"Please also ensure that all staff who are feeling unwell stay in their home state or territory and do not undertake any travel to the ACT."