Is a Virtual Parliament Desirable and Workable?

Electoral Regulation Research Network recorded seminar

Wednesday 30 September 2020


  • Senator the Hon. Scott Ryan, President of the Senate
  • Professor Anne Twomey, The University of Sydney


  • Joo-Cheong Tham, Electoral Regulation Research Network

About the Talk:

Parliaments are central to Australia’s democracy – they are key to democratic representation, law-making and accountability. But how are they to properly function in the COVID-19 pandemic where there are severe public health restrictions and substantial increases in executive power?

Is a virtual Parliament the answer to this difficulty? What are its strengths and limitations? Is a virtual Parliament workable?

Senate President Scott Ryan will take up these questions drawing upon his experience organising a virtual sitting of the Senate whilst Professor Anne Twomey will provide commentary.

This webinar is a joint initiative of the Electoral Regulation Research Network (ERRN), Melbourne School of Government and the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at the University of New South Wales.

About the Speakers:

Scott Ryan was first elected as a Senator for Victoria at the 2007 federal election, then re-elected in 2013 and 2016.

In November 2017 Senator Ryan was elected by the Senate to serve as its 25th President. Immediately prior to this, from August 2016, he was Special Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet. He previously served as Minister for Vocational Education and Skills and Deputy Manager of Government Business in the Senate between February and August 2016, as Assistant Cabinet Secretary from September 2015 to February 2016, and as Parliamentary Secretary for Education from 2013.

As President of the Senate, Senator Ryan is the presiding officer who chairs meetings of the Senate. The President is also the spokesperson for the Senate, represents the Senate in dealings with the Governor-General, the executive government, the House of Representatives and persons outside the Parliament, including internationally. The President also has responsibilities relating to the administration of the Senate and the management of Parliament House.

Scott graduated from St Kevin’s College and went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours at the University of Melbourne. Before being elected to the Senate in 2007, he worked for international pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline and as a consultant in the health and insurance industries.

He has also served as a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs and held numerous offices within the Liberal Party. He is married to Helen and they live in Melbourne with their two sons.

Anne Twomey is a Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney. She has previously worked for the High Court of Australia, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Research Service, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee and The Cabinet Office of New South Wales.