WHAT WAS CARL BETHEL THINKING? | 3rd July 2020

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AG withdraws emergency proclamation in Senate following concerns raised by the opposition

As a result of the objection of the PLP’s Senator Fred Mitchell in the following communication, the Government has withdrawn the laying of the proclamation of a state of public emergency in the Senate so that the Governor General can formally convene the Senate.

The Senate suspended its business so that the law can be properly followed and the Senate is to reconvene at 3 p.m. today, 3rd July 2020:

Communication By The Leader Of Opposition Business In The Senate.

When the Senate last met on 29th June 2020, it adjourned sine die.

You will recall that I objected to that adjournment without a date. This was particularly important at that time because the Government’s leader and I had an exchange and it was agreed that the Senate had to be convened within five days of the date of any proclamation of emergency.

That became important because the Government indicated that on the 29th June 2020, they would be seeking the signature of the Governor General to issue a fresh proclamation of a state of public emergency.

In those circumstances the Senate should have been adjourned to a fixed date within five days of the adjournment on 29th June 2020.

I also asked how would we know that the Proclamation had been gazetted and the terms of what was gazetted so that we could properly as Senators know the time lines and whether or not the law had been followed. I argue now that time lines are so important in the issue of Article 29, that if there is one slip the action by the Government must fall away.

This is similar to the strict time lines and procedures in Election Petitions before the courts.

The Government simply responded to my inquiries by saying the proclamation and the orders issued thereunder came into effect at the moment the orders were gazetted, even though the public might not have access to their terms.

We adjourned sine die over my objections.

That means that the House – to use the language of article 29 of the Constitution – was not due to meet.

I now read Article 29 of the Constitution, clause 3 as is material:

(3) Where any proclamation of emergency has been made, copies thereof shall as soon as practicable be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and if for any cause those Houses are not due to meet within five days the Governor-General shall, by proclamation published in the Gazette, summon them to meet within five days and they shall accordingly meet and sit upon the day appointed by the proclamation and shall continue to sit and act as if they had stood adjourned or prorogued to that day: Provided that if the proclamation of emergency is made

On 1 July 2020, I received a note in the following terms for the Leader of the Government: “Senate to meet Friday morning to table the Proclamation and Regulations at 10 a.m. A summons is being emailed.”

At 2:17 p.m. 1 July I received an email giving notice of the said meeting with the draft minutes attached.

I have questioned in the past whether this is the way the Senate is to be summoned, but I pass that general issue to this special one.

I argue that there is a condition precedent for the laying of the proclamation when the Senate is not “due to meet within five days”.

That condition precedent is that “the Governor General shall, by proclamation published in the Gazette, summon them to meet within five days”.

I am asking Madam President whether you or the Leader of Government business is aware that the Governor General has by proclamation in the Gazette summoned the Senators here for this purpose.

If he has not, I then ask: are we properly constituted this morning?

It follows that if we are not properly summoned and constituted then what we do here at least as regards the proclamation would then be a nullity and if not cured within the five days, then the whole thing should fall away.

Thank you, Madam President.

End