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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2051

Mr CADMAN(10.45) —I wish to make some remarks tonight about the difficult part of the parliamentary day that is called Question Time. Referring to House of Representatives Practice, one notes on page 500 that the Speaker has no power to require a Minister to curb his answer to a question without notice. House of Representatives Practice goes on to state that in many instances Speakers have requested Ministers to give their answers in the form of parliamentary statements. I have felt the frustration, as have many Opposition members, of the Government's abuse of Question Time by the use of excessively long and abusive answers, most of which are prepared and are given without relevance to the questions which are asked. Your inability, Madam Speaker, to prevail upon Ministers to shorten their answers and to make them relevant has served only to encourage Ministers to pursue their abuse.

Madam Speaker, we on this side of the House have sympathy for your position in this matter. One only has to look at this week's record of Question Time to see that on Tuesday, for example, the Minister for Community Services (Mr Hurford) gave an answer on rehabilitation services. He could easily have made a statement. No previous statement had been made. It was a lengthy answer. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), answering a question on family assistance, was interrupted twice by points of order on relevance. He was answering a prepared dorothy dix question typical of those Government members are prepared to accept in a planned Question Time where members of the Government are limited to asking prepared questions of the Government.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) spoke about housing finance. His answer should have been a statement. In fact the Minister on that occasion read a Press release of his own.

Mr Cunningham —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. This is the second speaker tonight on the adjournment debate to deal with an issue which I think goes to the very heart of your position in the chair, Madam Speaker, and how you are handling that position. You work within the Standing Orders. This attack is certainly aimed at the Chair and should be ruled out of order.

Madam SPEAKER —The Chair is listening carefully to the honourable member for Mitchell and may have a few words of its own to say later.

Mr CADMAN —The Prime Minister spoke on small business. The Treasurer spoke on economic performance. The Minister for Community Services, again, spoke on nursing homes. That is a matter of Government policy which deserves debate by the Parliament. The Minister should have made a statement on that important matter to all our electors. We are prepared to debate any of these statements. On Wednesday the Treasurer went on at length about the Australia Card. There were three points of order regarding relevance of his reply to the question. Today was particularly difficult because, Madam Speaker, despite your comments to Ministers, they chose either not to hear you or to pursue their answers to questions, as is their right under Standing Orders, provided that they are relevant.

The Opposition is concerned that the authority of the Prime Minister over his Ministers in this regard should be absolutely paramount at Question Time. Unless the Prime Minister and his Ministers are prepared to co-operate with us and with the Speaker, Question Time becomes unworkable for all us and the level of frustration grows. One only has to compare the number of questions asked in Question Time under this Government with what happened under the previous Government. In the last three years of the Fraser Government an average of 13.8 questions were asked per Question Time. In the last three years of the Hawke Government 11.6 questions have been asked per Question Time. So we have dropped an average of two questions a day through the conscious behaviour of Ministers.

I was going to read the most recent edition of what the Treasurer (Mr Keating) has said in abuse of individuals in this House. It happens day after day. There are pages of these comments which I regard as an abuse of Question Time but which cannot be controlled. The Opposition has put down a notice of motion-and a sensible one, too-requiring short answers of three minutes with an extension available for another two minutes if it is appropriate or if the answer is complex. The Government has not produced statements which can be debated. I believe that the House deserves the authority of the Prime Minister in support of the position of Speaker-your position, Madam Speaker. We will co-operate with any reasonable suggestions.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.