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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 9030

Parliamentary Procedure

Mr HOCKEY ( North Sydney ) ( 15:3 5 ): Mr Speaker, I recognise that it is an extremely difficult job being the Speaker in such a parliament, but I am wondering whether you could provide clarity to the House in relation to a decision you made with respect to a question to the Assistant Treasurer. Was my understanding correct that you suggested that a question cannot be directed to a minister about their involvement in a matter with a backbencher, another member of this place, or was there some other reason for your determination?

The SPEAKER ( 15:36 ): No. The member for North Sydney will remember questions that related to a backbench member of the last parliament. I certainly changed my attitude to questions based on what was indicated by members of that parliament, in particular members of a much smaller crossbench. As part of the separation between parliament and the executive government, I believe that some of the actions of backbenchers are their responsibility and not necessary the leader's responsibility. But the drift of questions and the drift of interest by members has been that in some way these are of interest to the leaders. As I said earlier, the questions over the last couple of weeks have been directed at the Prime Minister as the leader but within her responsibilities.

Mr Albanese: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: you indicated early in your speakership during this term that you would not engage in exactly this process after question time.

The SPEAKER: I thank the Leader of the House for his reminder because I have tried to avoid it for the last 3½ years. But I think on this occasion I may have confused members by indicating an aside which is my personal view rather than the way that I have allowed things in practice.

Mr Hockey: I understand, Mr Speaker. The question is: how could we frame a question that goes to the minister's knowledge of an issue that relates to a backbencher?

The SPEAKER: I think that is something that the framer of the questions will have to consider. All I was indicating in relation to the question to the Assistant Treasurer is: are ministers to be questioned about every conversation they have about matters unrelated to their portfolios? That is all I indicated.

Mr Hockey: You did not relate it to their portfolios.

The SPEAKER: No, but I did not think the last part of the question from the member for Casey, as I remember it—and we did have the difficulty of what went on in between—was related, whether there had been a conversation. That is all I am saying.