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Tuesday 21 March 2017

Author’s note: I have updated and re-posted this because it is of great public importance.

Has Question Time in the Australian Parliament improved? Well just slightly since Tony Smith took over from Bronwyn Bishop. Bishop was an insult to the intelligence of reasoned people. Although it is only watched by those with a professional interest and political tragics like me, it is nonetheless the prism through which the Australian public form a perception of their politicians.

Now and then news services showcase Question Time and voters are left wondering if it’s for real or just a group of bad actors auditioning for play school.

It is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Question Time under Speaker Bronwyn Bishop degenerated into a bear pit of mouths that roared with hatred. The Speaker gave the appearance of disliking men with a bitchy witchlike headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Disney movie than a democratic parliament.

Her demeanor was obnoxious, threatening and deliberately intimidating. She was consciously biased to the point of dismissing legitimate points of order out of hand. And in a mocking manner that lacked any dignity and grace. In doing so she gave the impression of a women obsessed with herself and her party rather than acting in the impartial manner the position demands. All with an authoritarian sharp-edged sarcastic manner calculated to make her subjects cringe. Her condescendingly belligerent manner lacked the civility required for reasoned discourse.

Unlike Speakers before her she attended her party’s parliamentary meetings to listen and be advised of tactics in order to respond accordingly. Anything to humiliate the opposition. There can be no other reason for doing so. In addition she regularly used her offices for party fund-raising functions. Something previous speakers would never consider.

She threw out the ”standing orders” and invoked her own set of rules. Particularly when it came to relevance, sometimes ignoring points of order or dismissing them out of hand. She even allowed Ministers to continue talking when points of order had been raised pretending to not to notice members at the dispatch box. Answers were allowed that were so far removed from the question asked that one could be excused for thinking one had a hearing difficulty. All in all Bishop so corrupted question time that it became so totally dysfunctional that it either needed to be terminated or reconstructed.

A new Speaker has returned some decorum to the chamber but it really serves little purpose. In so far as relevance is concerned it has not improved under Smith.

While a lot of the contestation is part of the drama of the Parliament; no one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Never the less, Question Time all too regularly descends into an unedifying shouting match between the Government and Opposition, damaging the public image of the Parliament and of politicians in general.

According to the Parliamentary Education Office the purpose of Question Time is to allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about one hour. By custom, the Prime Minister decides how long Question Time will last and indeed if it will be held at all.

Ministers do not know the content of questions posed by the opposition during Question Time. These are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers’ capacity to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers, in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’ after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made provision for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the chamber by the relevant minister. Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly in regard to important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. Every government on being elected says it will reform Question Time. As part of an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard Rob Oakshot and Tony Winsor made some effort at reform with a greater insistence on relevance and supplementary questions.

Prior to the last election Christopher Pyne, the then Manager of Opposition Business, but better known as ‘the mouth that roared’, or ‘the fixer’, had this to say:

”An elected Coalition Government will move to reform Parliamentary Standing orders in the House of Representatives.”

”Our reforms will make Parliamentary Question Time more concise and ensure Ministers are held to account and remain relevant to questions asked.”

”We will look to strengthen the definition of ‘relevance’ in the standing orders so Ministers must stay directly relevant to questions and ensure Matter of Public Importance debates follow Question Time.”

What a ludicrous load of nonsense. As I stated earlier, there is no requirement for relevance at all. And without it Ministers simply cannot be held to account. Without civility reasoned debate cannot take place. All we have at the moment is a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy. It has degenerated to the point of being obsolete. It needs to be given the flick and rethought.

How should this come about? Try this. Bill Shorten should walk out of Question Time with his colleagues straight into a press conference with a detailed list of reasons for doing so. They being that Question Time has become untenable, so lacking in relevance that there is no purpose in asking questions.

After siting all the obvious reasons he should then, having prepared himself, launch into a list of proposals to make governments and Ministers more accountable. The whole point of his presentation should center on a better more open democracy. An address that takes the democratic moral high ground that is critical of both sides of politics.

”None of us can claim that in this place, first and foremost on our minds is how we serve the Australian people’.’

Let the ideas flow. I propose to appoint now, a panel of former speakers from both sides of the house, to rewrite the standing orders and reform Question Time.

All this is hypothetical of course because I am thinking out loud. But consider the following.

1 An independent speaker. Not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. The Parliamentary Speakers Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politicians expenses. It could include a ‘’Fact Check Office’’

2 Imagine if the Speaker’s Office adjudicated on answers and published a relevance scale on its website. This might serve two purposes. Firstly it would promote transparency and truth and secondly provide an opportunity for ministers to correct answers. It wouldn’t take long for profiles of ministers to build.

3 If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability it should always be allowed. Documents would also come under the scrutiny of the Speakers Office and both their authenticity and relevance be noted in the Speakers weekly accountability report.

4 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speakers Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

5 Dorothy Dixers would be outlawed because they serve no purpose. If back benchers want information from Ministers, then pick up the bloody phone. Question Time is not a public relations department. A place for policy advertising. Question Time is about Government accountability.

6 I acknowledge that our system requires vigorous debate and human nature being what it is passion sometimes gets the better of our politicians. When it occurs the Speaker should have the power to call time outs.

7 Lying to the Parliament is a serious misdemeanor yet the Prime Minister and the Ministers in this Government do it on a regular basis. An Independent Speaker would be able to inflict severe penalties on serious offenders.

8 In fully answering a question, a minister or parliamentary secretary must be directly responsive, relevant, succinct and limited to the subject matter of the question. Penalties apply.

Nothing has changed. The Government owns Question Time, the Speaker and the Standing Orders.

Democracy is dead. Lunacy prevails. Anyway I think I have made my point.

My thought for the day.

”If you have a point of view, feel free to express it. However, do so with civility. Then your point of view is laced with a degree of dignity.”


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  1. Terry2

    If you ever thought that you might like to make a contribution to your community and to the nation at large and stand as an elected member to the federal parliament, you just have to watch Question Time in our parliament to get an idea of how things will work out for you in reality.

    Having been pre-selected and voted into office by your peers, you pack your bag, say goodbye to your spouse and children and hop on a flight to Canberra full of worthy thoughts and ambitions.

    If you are not selected to be part of the inner sanctum, in Cabinet as a minister, you will go to the back benches and sit through hours of boring procedural processes and you will vote on every issue in accordance with the instructions of the party Whip. You may not always agree with the direction of the party and you may have considered opinions to put forward : doesn’t matter, you are just there for your vote.

    To add insult to injury, prior to Question Time, the Whip will deliver to you a faux question, a Dorothy Dixer, to ask of a Minister. It is not really a question at all, it is merely a device to give the minister in question an opportunity to blow his/her own trumpet on a subject that is close to the government’s heart and an opportunity to rubbish the opposition.

    You may think that, as an educated adult with a free-will, it is for you to determine when you ask a question and the nature of that question : doesn’t matter, you are just there to do as you are told and if that includes asking silly questions and telling blatant lies then so be it.

    If you are a conscientious person you will probably become disillusioned and depressed and yearn for the time when you can return your real life and to the bosom of your family. Or you may just settle in to status quo and rort your expense allowance, focus on your property portfolio, live the good life along with the rest of them and pretend to yourself and your family that you are making a contribution to your nation.

    But, in the wee small hours of the morning when you wake in a cold sweat you will confront the fact that the system is broken and that you are a fraud.

  2. Harquebus

    I tried to watch question time yesterday. It was disgraceful, a waste of time and I soon lost interest.
    Our current crop of politicians, everyone of them, do not have the ability to solve our problems and even if they did, do not have the courage to implement them. This will end badly.

    “Ultimately the practice of modern farming is not sustainable” because “the damage to the soil and natural ecosystems is so great that farming becomes dependent not on the land but on the artificial inputs into the process, such as fertilizers and pesticides.”
    “And exactly what have we gained by poisoning our land, air, and water? About a third of industrial crops are lost to pests, but that was roughly what farmers lost as well before we used chemicals.”
    “It takes years to get the soil from being as dead as the Australian great barrier reef to a soil that can sustain plants and help them fight off pests.”
    “Fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, insecticide and so on are made out of fossil fuels, which provide the energy to make them as well. Farmers will be forced to go organic at some point. Wouldn’t it be easier to start the transition now, rather than a crisis?”

    “Their influence and reach has metastasized to the point where we now live under a captive system. From our retirement accounts, to our homes, to the laws we live under — the banks control it all. And they run the system for their benefit, not ours.”
    “It should come as little surprise that, with all this advantage they’ve amassed, the banks have enriched themselves and their cronies spectacularly. They have made themselves too big to fail, and too big to jail. Remember that their reckless greed caused the 2008 financial crisis, and yet, in 2009, not only did bankers avoid criminal prosecutions, not only did the banks receive hundreds of billions in government bailouts, but they paid themselves record bonuses?”

    “The idea that the government could spend borrowed money to grow the economy out of debt has become patently ridiculous. Nonetheless, government economists continue to advocate these policies because, academically, they have no other alternatives.”


  3. wam

    wow Lord, et al, question time is as named and the questions are befitting the labor leader.

    The MSM is about the answers and they, also, befit the labor leader. When he reverses the procedure – ‘joy de view’ will return

    I have not heard bill or labor elite since the uhlmannising of sales and fernandezing of lateline made the ABC unwatchable.

    Modern use of sustainable’ is, in translation, ‘as much gain in the shortest time, as greed can achieve or, in real terms from our youth, lord, whip it in whip it out wipe it.

    Trump tweets – trumble tweets – billy twaits patiently – we forget yesterday – money and leadership who has plenty of both?

    ps I laughed at a drug affected club appointing the leader of the first drug affected club was befitting.

  4. nurses1968

    I once asked a senior Labor MP why they didn’t use Question Time to launch major attacks on the Government and she just laughed and explained that QT had degenerated to such an extent that it is now a 60 to 75 minute TV ad for the Government to pour scorn on the Opposition simply based on time and at best the Opposition have on 6 to 7 minutes combined to make their presence felt.
    With condolences Ministers statements Speakers rulings etc the time is eroded even more.
    With on average about 24 questions in QT the ALP get half,so their 12 questions are limited to 30 seconds to which the Government minister has 3 minutes to respond.
    Throw in the occasional 45 second question from unaligned MPs and the time is eroded even more and supplementary questions even more time gone,
    So, if QT goes for the 75 minutes, throw in interventions and rulings by the Speaker, the Governments dorothy dixers and the 3 minute replies, and the average of 24 questions are asked then the best Labor can hope for is 6 or 7 minutes total and between them the Speaker and Government the remaining 67 -68 minutes, QT becomes a forum for Governments to pour scorn on Oppositions and hardly a forum for questioning the Government .
    A sham

  5. Egalitarian

    I have never witnessed a more desperate character than Malcolm Turnbull. All the hand waving and uncoordinated hand gestures prove to me that he has been sleep walking through his life until now. As he has had to fight for his life to stay in power.And now the real Malcolm would say and do anything to stay in power.The man is an ignorant silver-tale who couldn’t give a stuff about the working class or the underprivileged.

  6. 1petermcc

    I believe they have no chance of scoring a Play School role unless you mean as an audience member. Anything else would be a tad too cerebral.

    Just last week I was watching a clip of JPK telling Dr John Hewson “I want to do you slowly” and I was much taken by the laughter across the chamber including from Hewson himself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEsN4-XLE2k

    It seems to me things were more good natured back then even though the place was very competitive. I suspect things went South when Mark Latham and Tony Abbott started making their contributions.

    At the time of this clip is was worth having a listen to QT but not these days.

  7. Ella Miller

    Mr. Lord as always a very educational piece,
    I only wish the changes you discuss could somehow be implemented . I get so angry at “Dorothy Dixers” i think the government has ample opportunity to promote their issues without this waste of time. It only uses up time that could be better used to hold the government to account.I would also like to see a list of LNP and other parties being sent out.
    A TOTALLY independent speaker would help.
    Insisting that a minister answer a question without BS that goes on might also help.
    Mind you it will never happen and I fear for the survival of our democracy.

  8. ozibody

    Whilst Australia remains on this list ( N0. 7) we are ‘ enslaved ‘ along with all the rest.! ….. opinion ….


    None of this is ‘New News ‘ of course, so it comes down to a matter of opinion, and could be regarded as ‘Too Hard ‘ or ‘ The Norm ‘ …plus, there’s plenty of company ( since the 1950’s in Australia’s case )

    A pity the ‘ interest ‘ we pay has to go ‘ off shore ‘ !!

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    Speaker if literal treatment of questions is needed to get answers, please proceed. Politics needs to be taken out of question time.

  10. helvityni

    1petermcc, you are right, and it happened because at that time we still had at least one good Liberal politician, maybe even two.

    The average Liberal is not known for their sense of humour; they smirk and speak in putdowns…

  11. helvityni

    Egalitarian, the polls are not going his way, so he’s becoming shrill, he has put money into becoming our PM, now he desperately wants to hang on to his position.
    Ordinary working people are also trying hang onto theirs; many are jobless….the jobs and growth never happened…

  12. helvityni

    Both Bishops like to look menacing, the Junior used to be proud of her infamous stare, the Senior is a personification of a nasty stepmother of Grimm’s fairy tales…

  13. Arthur Tarry

    I can only imagine what formal guests to our Federal Parliament think of the conduct of our question time. And it’s no better in our state parliaments. I wonder if one of the state parliaments would trial the concept of a totally independent Speaker as it would unlikely be approved by the ‘Feds’ – they are demonstrably addicted to the present charade. Question time is, without doubt, a total disgrace in all our parliaments – Australians deserves something better. Politicians calling one another liars is simply a travesty, as are most of the other ways question time is filled out by drivel, opportunism and so-called theatre. It’s all just rubbish and a total insult to we who pay them. Don’ they realise how ridiculous it is to normal people? Hence the lack of respect.

  14. Egalitarian

    Yes the man is just growing up now.He’s now realizing how harsh the world can be.He thinks being nasty and matching it with likes of Abbott is leadership. He’s a vacuous soul.

  15. Michael Taylor

    Same here, Kronomex, nowhere to put this, but … the headline in the local paper was all about the NBN failing us rural folk.

    I didn’t buy the paper. I already know it’s a lemon anyway.

  16. Chris

    Wow Kronomex…..nothing subtle about that. Had they run out of wastrels at the IPA to appoint to things ?

    The ABC is already a bad joke, these days.

  17. Roswell

    I too must apologise for going off topic, but the news coming out of America isn’t good for Trump. I think he’ll be lucky to last before the end of June, at a guess.

  18. Harquebus

    Thanks for that link.

    “Bankers own the Earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create money, and with a flick of the pen they will create enough money to buy it back again.
    However, take away from them the power to create money, and all the great fortunes like mine will disappear and they ought to disappear, for this would be a happier and better world to live in.
    But, if you wish to remain the slaves of bankers, and pay the cost of your own slavery, let them continue to create money.” — Sir Josiah Stamp – Former Director of the Bank of England.

    “We are greatful to the Washington Post, The New York Times, Time Magazine, and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost 40 years.
    It would have been impossible to develop our plan for the world if we had been subjected to the lights of puplicity during those years.
    But now the world is more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government.
    The supra national sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to national auto-determination practiced in past centuries.” — David Rockefeller – Private Banker, Council on Foreign Relations

  19. Chris

    @Roswell – I don’t think he is governing anyway. The instant ‘lame duck’. I imagine things won’t change that dramatically. His

    corporate appointees and wreckers will continue with no one ‘present’ to be held accountable.

    Getting rid of him ‘might cause more problems’ seems to be a common belief. I don’t think I could see him quitting of his own


    You could be right….but Marcy Wheeler hasn’t called it yet…. 😉

    ….Any particular news you were referring to ?

    ps my crap internet keeps not registering ‘enter’ in the right spots…

  20. Florence nee Fedup

    Great Essential Poll. On all questions for that matter.

  21. ozibody


    You’re welcome, and thank you for the quotes you offered…

    They brought to mind what has been remarked about the ‘ infamous ‘ J.F.K Executive Order # 11,110, and the ( said ) repercussions thereof…… as always on such matters, I offer the following link simply out of interest ….. not necessarily an opinion …..

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