Where ministers usually squeeze onto the treasury benches, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had room to spare. If there weren’t strict demands for social isolating, one might assume he’d forgotten his deodorant.
This was not Parliament nor politics as usual. They are, as many are at pains to point out, extraordinary times.
So much so that Labor senator Penny Wong issued a press release after waking feeling “unwell”.
“Consistent with advice to all Australians and recognising that my parliamentary colleagues will return to their home states and communities, as a responsible precaution I will self-isolate, pending medical advice,” she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the skeleton sitting of Federal Parliament to pass his economic response to the coronavirus.
He warned 2020 would be the toughest year in the lives of many Australians.
“Meeting this challenge is bigger than any Australian,” Morrison told the chamber. “It’s obviously bigger than politics, it is bigger than any of us who are in this chamber – Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, minister, shadow minister, members of parliament – bigger than all of us.”
Morrison evoked the spirit of survival that aided the nation through the Great Depression and the Second World War.
“I know, we all know, that Australians are very concerned at this difficult time. It is the understandable fear of the unknown, and there is much that is not known about the coronavirus, but we must not let that fear overtake us,” he said.
He offered thanks to Labor leader Anthony Albanese, in a nod that only a united Parliament can ensure the nation’s best efforts.
Albanese responded that it was time to “spread kindness and humanity” and not the coronavirus.
“Our country, our world has changed but this will not last forever,” he said. “Things will be different after this. I am an optimist. I have faith in the people of Australia.”
Sign up to our Coronavirus Update newsletter
Get our Coronavirus Update newsletter for the day’s crucial developments at a glance, the numbers you need to know and what our readers are saying. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here and The Age’s here.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra