Tomorrow marks the end of the most comprehensive Budget Estimates hearing process ever in New South Wales with members asking government Ministers and officials hundreds of questions about the administration of their portfolios and departments over 12 full days. Budget Estimates hearings are just one of the many ways that Legislative Council members use questions to scrutinise the activities of the government.
There are three other categories of questions members can use:
❓Question Time in the House – otherwise known as questions without notice
❓Supplementary questions for written answer
❓Written questions – otherwise known as questions on notice
There are a range of rules governing all types of questions and answers. Questions should not to be used to debate an issue as they are a tool for seeking information and there are plenty of other opportunities in Parliament for members to debate or make speeches about a matter that concerns them.
Questions should not contain unnecessary detail and must relate to the responsibilities of the Minister concerned. They must not contain arguments or opinion, and cannot contain ironical expressions or hypotheticals.
Answers from Ministers must be directly relevant to the question asked and Ministers are not allowed to waste time by debating the merits of the question.
Did you know?
❓Question Time has no official length, but by convention lasts for one hour
❓ The Leader of the Opposition always asks the first question in Question Time
❓At the end of Question Time members may debate the answers given by Ministers
❓Questions during Question Time must not exceed one minute, with answers are maxed at three minutes.
❓Members can ask as many written questions as they wish
❓Last year’s Budget Estimates saw 6,640 written questions following the hearings
❓While a vast majority of questions are directed to Ministers, questions can also be asked to a Committee Chair about an inquiry, to Parliamentary Secretaries about their responsibilities and to any other member relating to a matter they have put forward for debate
❓There are only four ministers in the Legislative Council, but these Ministers are each responsible for answering questions directed to particular Ministers in the Assembly