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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1142

Senator Sanders-Mr President, I raise a point of order under standing order 998, which states:

After Notices have been given Questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs; and to other Senators, relating to any Bill, Motion or other public matter connected with the business on the Notice Paper, of which such Senators may have charge.

Over and over again Question Time has been misused by honourable senators on both sides of the chamber and senators who have real questions to ask have not been given the time to ask them. I am sure that certain Ministers would like to have time to answer them. I ask that standing order 98 be adhered to. We, as members of this Parliament and representatives of the people, are being denied our rights to seek information from Ministers of the Crown.

Senator Chaney-Mr President, I want to speak on the point of order because there has been some concern among Opposition senators about the asking of questions. On the figures which have been taken out it is quite clear that the Australian Democrats, including the honourable member who has just risen, have certainly had more than their proportional share of questions in this place. I do not object to that. I simply say that that is the way the numbers are running at present. I ask that in considering the point of order you consider whether there are some ways by which the excessive debating of questions could be terminated. I think that is a very significant problem in this place. I do not believe that there is a problem with respect to your allocation of questions among the parties.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. Senator Sanders has raised the general question of the conduct of Question Time. I have pointed out over and over again that it is possible for the Chair to have only a certain control over the length of questions and the type of comment contained in them. The Chair has only a certain amount of control over the way in which Ministers choose to answer questions. How questions are asked is a matter for the person asking the questions; how questions are answered is a matter for the Ministers answering them. Over and over again I have appealed to honourable senators asking questions and to Ministers answering them to keep their questions and answers as brief and to the point as possible so that everyone can get a fair go.

I have tried to keep the balance of questions between the Opposition and members of the Australian Democrats, in proportion. I think I have done so fairly, on balance. From time to time it gets out of equilibrium. Today I tried to balance it. It will be noted and observed that the Democrats asked only one question today. Probably they will ask two questions tomorrow.