How can members find out if the government is doing its job properly? Question Time and written questions are an important way for members to examine and challenge the work of the government.
Questions asked by members without notice during Question Time or on notice via the Questions and Answers Paper are one of the many ways in which the Executive can be held accountable to Parliament. Questions allow members to seek information about government administration, decisions and policies.
What are the rules for Questions and who oversees this?
The rules for questions can be found in a number of different standing orders and sessional orders, but generally, questions must not contain argument, inferences, or hypothetical matters. As the purpose of questions is to seek factual information, it is not in order to ask for a Minister’s opinion.
The President is the sole arbiter on the rules for questions and is regularly required to rule on whether a question is in order.
What happens during Question Time?
Question Time occurs for one hour each sitting day, with the vast majority of questions being directed to Ministers relating to their portfolio responsibilities. However, questions may also be directed to Parliamentary Secretaries regarding any public affairs to which they are connected or proceedings in the House. Other members may also be asked questions about matters they want to raise for debate and to committee chairs in relation to the activities of a committee. Question Time often attracts media interest and visitors in the public galleries.
The President rotates the order in which members ask questions between Opposition, Crossbench and Government. Typically, between 15 to 20 questions are asked each Question Time. At the discretion of the President, supplementary questions can seek further elucidation of a Minister’s answer.
Answers to questions without notice during Question Time are given orally and immediately. However, a Minister may take the question ‘on notice’ and refer it to the responsible Minister in the Legislative Assembly, or if the question necessitates a detailed response. Questions and Answers are recorded in Hansard each day.
And what about written questions?
New rules for Question Time and written questions
Several new rules for questions were adopted this year. These new rules include:
🎯 answers must be ‘directly relevant’ rather than ‘generally relevant’
⏰ members now have three minutes to answer a question during Question Time rather than four minutes
🗓 answers to questions taken on notice and written questions must be provided within 21 calendar days, rather than 35 calendar days, and
🗨 following the asking of a supplementary question, a further supplementary question may be asked by a non-government member
❓ questions can be directed to Parliamentary Secretaries not just Ministers
🖊 at the end of Question Time, a member from each party and any independent member may ask a supplementary question to elucidate answers to questions that day, and Ministers must lodge written answers to these supplementary questions by 10 am the next working day
📔 a ‘take note’ debate following Question Time may be moved to allow members to canvass the answers to oral questions asked that day and answers to written questions received
📝 written questions can be lodged on any business day throughout the calendar year, rather than only on sitting days. Questions must be lodged by 4 pm to be published that day.
Watch Question Time when the House resumes next week to see these new sessional orders in action.