The letter, signed by Greens leader Adam Bandt, Victorian independent MP Helen Haines, Queensland MP Bob Katter, South Australian Rebekha Sharkie, Tasmanian Andrew Wilkie, NSW MP Zali Steggal and Centre Alliance senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, says the crossbench has been deprived of “an important part of our role as parliamentarians”.
Federal Parliament will resume for just one day on Wednesday and might not return before August as the government looks to pass its $130 billion JobKeeper package.
The group wants the two committees to comprise of 11 MPs and senators, including four from the government, three from Labor, one Greens and three independents with a non-government chair.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed last week a group of former judges was urging Parliament to set up a bipartisan committee to scrutinise the government’s epidemic responses as it faces one of the longest shutdowns on record.
The Senate standing committee for the scrutiny of delegated legislation on Wednesday agreed to meet and report regularly in the coming months to scrutinise all new laws made by the executive while federal Parliament is not sitting.
But Greens leader Adam Bandt said the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was “quickly becoming an unaccountable juggernaut”. He said the two major parties should not be “cutting deals” to fast-track legislation without accompanying oversight or scrutiny.
Mr Bandt said: “The government and opposition must accept our proposal for ongoing independent oversight and make it a condition of fast-tracking legislation next week.
“We should be able to pass important legislation quickly to deal with a crisis but then also have some ongoing oversight as the laws are implemented.”
He said the two main parties were determining federal and state responses to the crisis and then deciding when and how those responses could be scrutinised.
“It disenfranchises the millions of Australians who voted for an independent or minor party to help hold the others to account,” he said.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus has called for Parliament to continue to sit and scrutinise government emergency powers to deal with coronavirus.
“Parliament has given the government emergency powers to respond to this crisis,” he said.
“Every member of the Parliament has a role in ensuring that those powers will be exercised in the best interests of their constituents and of our nation.”
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