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Parliament is sitting this week. Remind me what that means?

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Noticed our page is full of politicians this week? That’s because Parliament is back at work for the first time this year. Parliament ‘sits’ to debate bills and pass laws. Both houses of Parliament – the House of Representatives and the Senate – must vote before a bill becomes a law, so sitting weeks allow the Government to make progress on its agenda.

This week is especially important because it could be the second last time both houses sit before the election, which is expected in May.

Sorry, what? I’ve been back at work for weeks

It might surprise you to hear Parliament is only getting back to work for the first time in February, and that it’ll only meet as a whole once again before May. But it’s not much less than usual – joint sitting weeks have happened on average once a month for the last decade.

One reason is that not all parts of the Government’s job require Parliament. When Parliament is not sitting, the Government spends time drafting legislation and carrying out its existing powers, and Members of Parliament spend time in the communities they represent. But if the Government doesn’t schedule enough sitting weeks, it can end up squeezed for time and unable to get through all the items on its agenda.

What’s on the agenda this week?

The Government’s main priorities this week are the Religious Discrimination Bill and new laws to hold social media platforms responsible for defamatory comments made by anonymous users on their platforms.

Attorney General Michaelia Cash told the Australian Financial Review the Government’s focus on these two bills would mean there was no time to debate a bill to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (a Federal anti-corruption body).

Cash told the AFR “the reality is, we are headed to an election and there is limited parliamentary time.” Prime Minister Scott Morrison hasn’t ruled out pursuing the bill before May.

Independent Helen Haines, who has proposed her own bill for an integrity commission, says the delay “confirms what we have known for a long time – integrity is not a priority. A federal integrity commission is a broken promise to Australians. My bill is ready, and the majority of MPs who do value integrity are ready to vote on it.”

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