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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5165

The PRESIDENT (12:31 PM) —Order! In respect of points of order that were taken at question time on 17 August, I make the following statement. Yesterday after question time points of order were taken and a request was made that they be referred to me.

It was suggested that, whenever a point of order is raised during question time, I should explicitly rule on whether the point of order is upheld. As was pointed out in the discussion yesterday, the relevant standing order requires that I determine points of order but does not require that I explicitly make a ruling as such. I attempt to keep my responses to points of order as brief as possible so as to cause the minimum interruption to question time.

It was also suggested that I need not hear additional arguments on points of order before determining them. That is quite correct; it is in the discretion of the President as to how much argument is allowed before a point of order is determined. My general approach is that, if a senator wishes to respond to a point of order, it is courteous for me to hear what that senator has to say, provided that it is brief and to the point. I would encourage senators not to discuss points of order at length unless they raise really significant issues, particularly at question time.

Most of the points of order at question time relate to the relevance of ministers’ answers. I think I should reiterate a point made by President Beahan in a statement he made in 1995. There is a tendency to confuse relevance with responsiveness. A minister, in giving an answer, may be relevant to the question, and may be directly relevant to the question, without necessarily providing the response that the questioner believes should be given. Relevance means relevance to the subject matter of the question.

As presidents have ruled over many years, the chair has no power to direct a minister how to answer a question. If, however, I consider that ministers are not being directly relevant to the question, I draw their attention to the question, and sometimes ask them to return to the question, while reminding them of the time they have available to answer it. I will continue to do so in appropriate cases.