No interjections: Question Time needs reforming
I noticed on Facebook recently that there was a group called ‘I confess: I watch Question Time and I LIKE it’.
The group has surprising large membership of over three thousand highlighting the joy of Facebook; you can always find a niche!
Some of the most famous and well known Parliamentary incidents have occurred in Question time.
Remember the Paul Keating ‘I will do you slowly’ taunt to John Hewson and Peter Costello’s demolition of Labor’s Scoresby ‘free’ way broken promise or better still his dancing interpretation of Peter Garrett.
Question time is ‘show time’ in Parliament and it has produced some of the very best and the very worst of our democratic institution.
But Question time is more than just a clever one liner and jibes between the senior players; it plays a vital role in ensuring the government of the day is answerable to the Parliament and therefore the people.
However I worry that the very strength of the institution is being tested by the treatment of Question time by the current and to a degree the former government.
Most people would be unaware that the Question time is governed by ‘standing orders’ that are set by the Parliament. The Speaker of the House is the umpire of these rules.
The ‘standing orders’ state that Question time will be conducted every sitting day at 2pm and that answers from Ministers to the questions asked ‘must be relevant’.
Generally each day there are ten questions from the Opposition and ten questions from the Government, the most famous woman in Parliament - Dorothy Dixer.
The practice has developed that the Dorothy questions are used to batter the opposition over their alleged failings or to make a statement about an issue the government considers important.
Unfortunately in recent times, Dorothy has been used and abused much to the detriment of the Parliament.
For instance during the last sitting fortnight the Prime Minister slogged his way through fifteen long minutes in answering a Dorothy. It is little wonder the crowds are down this season!
But by far the biggest problem that has developed with Question time is the interpretation of the ‘must be relevant’ standing order. By using the broadest definition of this rule, government ministers simply ignore the question asked and rant on about the political point they wish to make.
Senator Alan Ferguson from my home state of South Australia has conducted an enormous amount of research on how Question time works and more importantly how it can be improved.
Senator Ferguson for some time held the lofty position of Senate President, meaning he had responsibility for the conduct of the Question time in the Senate.
He has considered how Question time is run in other western democracies and concluded that we trail badly. Following this research he moved to improve the situation in the Senate.
This lead to the Senate changing how Question time is conducted, mainly in an attempt to shame the House of Representatives into following suit.
I agree with Senator Ferguson, we need to change the way we conducted Question time.
The man in charge of Question time strategy for the Government, Anthony Albanese will say ‘welcome to opposition, enjoy your stay’ but this sort of school yard revenge politics is hardly good for our democracy.
Senator Ferguson from his study has concluded that the best system in comparable democracies is that which operates in New Zealand.
Question time in the New Zealand Parliament permits questions to be placed on notice several hours prior to question time.
The lead question is known allowing the government to prepare for the answer, but this is then followed by a several ‘supplementary questions’ that are relevant to the first question and are spontaneous.
In addition the NZ Parliament has a Speaker who has the power (and the will) to sit ministers down if they are not being relevant or they have gone on for too long.
Senator Ferguson should be commended for his work but more still he should be listened to.
Malcolm Turnbull has made the first step in engaging in a process to fix the broken practices of Question time by promising to limit answers to four minutes when we are elected to government.
But for it to continue to work, this generation of leaders must take responsibility to make changes in good faith, even if that means it will remove an advantage the current government or future governments have.
Before KRudd became Prime Minister he promised to clean up the practices in Parliament and the Speaker of the House consistently says he would support change (who could blame the poor guy!). As a true believe in the value of the Parliament, I believe we should change.
This is change we can all believe in!
Over to you Albo.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…