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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3239

Mr SPENDER(4.31) —Madam Deputy Speaker, we agree to the motion, but in agreeing to it I would like to go back to one issue of great importance in this House, and that is the conduct of Question Time. We have recently had a report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure; the Leader of the House (Mr Young) will have read it and he will know what it is all about. That report points out that there is a clear trend over the years in the number of questions that are being answered, and that trend is downward, from 19.3 questions in 45 minutes in 1976 to 12 in 1985. When we come back here, of course, the central exercise in this Parliament will be the conduct of Question Time. We have said again and again that we wish Question Time to operate more effectively and more in accordance with Standing Orders. The Speaker has pointed out that she has difficulties in her view of Standing Orders in enforcing relevance on Ministers. Time and time again questions are asked here, as the Minister well knows, and answers are given which have nothing to do with the questions, even though the Standing Orders say that the answers shall be relevant.

In Question Time in the Canadian Parliament they are able to get through about 38 to 42 questions without notice in a 45-minute Question Time. Yesterday we got through nine in just about one hour or so--

Mr Young —And 15 points of order.

Mr SPENDER —And very few points of order.

Mr Young —Five on one question.

Mr SPENDER —And today we got through 13. The Minister has said before: `If you did not raise so many points of order, we would answer more questions'. He knows that is nonsense and he knows that the reason why points of order are raised is to try to bring members of the Government back to the question.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) -Order! I point out to the honourable member for North Sydney that I have given him some traditional flexibility, but we are not meant to be debating any particular question other than `That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday, 26 May'.

Mr SPENDER —Yes, Madam Speaker, I entirely agree. What I say to the Minister is this: When he comes back here he could use his good offices, if he wishes to, to try to get the Ministers on the front bench to answer questions, because the Australian people would like to hear the answers.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for North Sydney is out of order.

Mr SPENDER —Madam Deputy Speaker, the motion is that the House adjourn to a certain time. On the adjournment we will be debating many issues, and one of the things we are going to have to do here is to come back and ask questions. Therefore, on this motion that the House do now adjourn, which is a general motion, I am entitled to raise this kind of issue-and no objection has been taken by the Minister at the table to its being raised.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —No, I have just been drawing the attention of the honourable member for North Sydney to the factor of the motion we are debating and requiring him to speak to that motion and not to make it a wide-ranging debate on Question Time and other matters.

Mr SPENDER —Very well, Madam Deputy Speaker, it will be brief, and I will just say it again. Question Time has been abused and debased. It happens day in and day out. The Minister has said-and I think that he genuinely means it-that he would like to see Question Time operate better. We will have to continue to raise points of order so long as Ministers deliberately flout not just the spirit of the Standing Orders but the Standing Orders themselves.

Mr Hand —I raise a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have repeatedly asked the shadow spokesperson to get back to the point. He is wasting the time of the Parliament. We are waiting to pass legislation that will affect Australia, and he is going on about an issue that has nothing to do with the matter before the House.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Melbourne has delivered his point of order. I uphold the fact that it was not relevant, but I call the honourable member for North Sydney and ask him to terminate his remarks.

Mr SPENDER —The last thing that I would therefore say, Madam Deputy Speaker, is that I believe the Minister has a genuine interest in the way in which this House works. I believe he has a genuine feeling for parliament as an institution. He is a very experienced member of this House, and he is very experienced in the conduct of Question Time. Therefore, I would ask him when we come back here-because he intends when we come back, as part of the business, to bring back the Government's response to the recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure-to bring forward proposals which will make Question Time in this House work as it was intended to work and as it should work and not as it presently does, which is a debasement of parliamentary procedure.