Snapshots: Question Time
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Snapshots: Question Time

October 11, 2019

#Music# An important job of the Parliament is to scrutinise, or look very closely, at the work of the government. In Question Time members of parliament ask the government to explain its actions and decisions. “My question is to Senator Cash, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. Can the Minister advise the Senate of the current capacity, how many people are currently held, and how many further people can be accommodated at the Manus Island Detention Centre” “I don’t have the statistics on me at this present point in time. However I will obtain a brief and provide them to you at the end of question time.” Question Time takes place in the House of Representatives and the Senate at 2pm each day Parliament meets. “The time for Members’ statements has expired. We will move to questions without notice”. “It being 2pm we proceed to questions without notice. Firstly, Senator Abetz”. It lasts about one hour and is one of the most watched parts of the day. The public galleries are often full and most of the press gallery, or media, are there. The Prime Minister and ministers are expected to attend to answer questions. “…and I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question…” In the House, the Leader of the Opposition usually asks the first question. “I call the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition”. “My question is to the Prime Minister. How many times did the Prime Minister sit down and talk to Holden senior executives to ask them what he could do to keep Holden and its jobs in Australia?” “I call the Honourable the Prime Minister”. “Well, I do thank the Leader of the Opposition for his questions because this is a very serious subject…” Then government and non-government members take it in turns. On the government side, only backbenchers ask questions. There are strict rules about how Question Time is run. In the House, questions can only be 30 seconds long and answers three minutes. In the Senate the time limits are slightly longer. A question cannot be used to debate an issue or argue a point. Ministers are expected to give answers that are relevant to the question. “Mr. President my point of order is on relevance. The question referred to the government making a decision. The Minister began his answer by not even going close to what the question was”. While Question Time looks unrehearsed, it’s actually carefully planned. As well as keeping a check on the government, the opposition wants people to see it as a better alternative. Opposition questions often focus on mistakes the government may have made or weaknesses in a minister’s performance. Ministers have to be well-prepared so they can answer these questions immediately. “Madam Speaker, by question is to the Treasurer. Will the Treasurer outline the importance of the government being honest and transparent about the state of the economy and the budget?” Government backbenchers ask ministers about what the government has achieved or how it is responding to a problem or crisis. This allows ministers to say what a good job the government is doing. “I thank the new member for Barton for his question. Well done, what a great victory that was. And it is vitally important to be very honest about the state of the budget…” Ministers plan these questions with the backbenchers. These types of questions are called Dorothy Dixers. They are named after a newspaper advice columnist who wrote her readers’ questions as well as the replies. “Before I call the Honourable the Prime Minister, we’ll have some silence on my right!” A lively part of Parliament, Question Time is covered by the media. It will report if the government performs well in Question Time or if it does a bad job of explaining itself. For the public, Question Time is another way to find out about the work of the government.

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