Question Time, Suspension of Standing Orders, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

A new Speaker is in the chair and by Thursday will have completed three weeks in the big chair of the House of Representatives this coming Thursday. This Speaker, Peter Slipper has brought in some small, but welcome changes, shorter questions and shorter answers, the scope for more supplementary questions and a shorter Question Time for those whose health is at risk from too much exposure to the stressful event which takes up just over an hour of the political day. However, Ministers still struggle to be “directly relevant” to any question, even Dorothy Dixer’s involve a major focus on the Opposition. The motion to suspend Standing Orders to censure has also become a bit of a joke, being used too often and knowingly to no avail.

The parliamentary reforms of the Slipper Speakership add to those agreed to between the Gillard Government, the Opposition and the rural Independent MPs. They were an improvement on business as usual, seeing questions limited to 45 seconds and answers to 4 minutes, rather than being unlimited as they were prior to this minority government.

Questions under the new Speaker are limited to 30 seconds, a fifteen second drop on the previous agreement and answers to 3 minutes, a further one minute drop on the original reforms, but still the bullshit that turns people off continues.

The new Speaker has done a fair job of attempting to bring Ministers into line, to try and at least get them in the same postcode of “direct relevance” to the question, short of jumping out of the chair and strangling offenders. Many Ministers continue to be in defiance of these rules and today the Prime Minister was sat down for being irrelevant to the question asked, a very positive development indeed.

Answers also continue to be full of vitriolic rubbish attacking Coalition policy more than outlining why their policy is the preferred option, maybe because they aren’t so confident of directly defending their own.

Wayne Swan is one of the main offenders, reprimanded for making the same old, unoriginal and flat “jokes” about the Coalition economic team being the “three stooges”. Perhaps if he quit with the nonsense, people would not have been advocating today for his removal from the Treasury portfolio because of an inability to sell the economic message of the government.

The sad but true fact is that people would probably have the time of day for Question Time if the stupidity was dispensed with and the government focused on selling their policies, sans hyperbole and without so much name-calling and stuff that primary school kids would be envious of. Along with that goes the shouting across the chamber during answers of contention , though that has been a fixture for as long as the parliament has existed and would always occur to some extent.

But that is not all that is grating and making Question Time become redundant and in the interest of fairness, the suspension of standing orders to debate why a censure motion is essential, is becoming a too regular occurrence.

It is not becoming ridiculous because the Abbott led Opposition are using it to try and highlight the failures of this government and the discord and disunity that has been rife since mid 2010.

The censure motion is becoming ridiculous because of the amount of times it is being used to pursue the ALP Government, who are admittedly failing badly at being relevant at most times and making Question Time an almost redundant farce.

There is one real reason why it is a pointless exercise and that is because two of the rural Independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are so wedded to this Labor Government, along with the Greens MP Adam Bandt, that it would probably take a Government MP committing murder before they were willing to consider supporting the need for a censure motion. Unlikely…

S0 can we please dispense with all the rubbish in Canberra, our health has suffered enough as mere observers of the Canberra zoo. I would like to be able to increase my “Bio-Age” again. My government must be held to account in the strictest of ways, with the Speaker continuing to be strong and building on that. Ministers and their counterparts must also take it upon themselves to dispense with some of the theatrics, thinking less about getting on the news for 15 seconds and more about trying to develop and sell good policy and while I understand the merits of suspension motions,  let’s cool it on this.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at tbridgey@gmail.com or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on February 28, 2012, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. From my observations, I think the government has little choice but to use QT to try to highlight how it differs from the Opposition, given not only that it lags badly in the polls, but also because it is trying to show that the Opposition itself has little credibility when it comes to policies.

    The other thing which has annoyed me is that the Opposition apparently has no desire to propose legislation, believing that it must simply sit on the sidelines and wait its turn. One beauty of minority government, if that is the correct term, is that with no one side holding a majority, then all sides, including minor parties and independents, are free to introduce Bills into Parliament. If the Opposition actually realised this, then perhaps it could have made a positive difference to this term of Parliament.

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