Standing Committee on Procedure
From Hansard, 16 September 1996, page 4271
Mrs SULLIVAN (Moncrieff) (12.32 p.m.)On behalf of the Standing
Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report entitled The
operation of standing order 143: questions to members other than ministers,
together with the minutes of proceedings.
Ordered that the report be printed.
Mrs SULLIVANThis is the Procedure Committee's first report
of the 38th Parliament. It relates to an inquiry that the committee was
asked to undertake at the end of the last parliament but did not have
time to commence before the election intervened.
In November of last year the committee was asked by the then Leader of
the House to look at the operation of standing order 143 which provides
for questions without notice to be asked of private members. Under this
standing order, questions can be asked of members in charge of an item
of private members business, committee chairs and parliamentary representatives
on statutory bodies, on matters relating to those items.
This provision has seldom been used in the past. In 95 years, only 18
questions have been asked of private members under this provision. Rulings
over the years have fairly consistently confined the questions and their
answers to procedural or factual matter rather than matters of substantive
debate. For example, questions on private members bills and motions have
usually been restricted to matters of timing, procedure and, occasionally,
to brief explanations of a particular clause of a bill.
On two occasions last year and one this year, answers by Leaders of the
Opposition to questions asked of them about private members' bills which
they had introduced, canvassed more substantive issues (such as policy
formulation). The 1995 questions prompted the then Leader of the House
to ask the Procedure Committee to look at the provision. The new committee
in 1996 resolved to pursue his request. It sought the views of the current
Leader of the House (Mr Reith) and Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley).
The committee considered a number of possible changes to try to ensure
that questions to private members are not overused or abused. It concluded
however that standing order 143 upholds an important principlethat
private members must be responsible for the business they bring before
the House and should be able to be questioned about it. In view of the
infrequent use of the provision andfor the most partrestrictions
traditionally placed on the nature and content of the questions and answers,
the committee recommends the retention of the standing order in its present
form. This accords with the preference of both the Leader of the House
and the Manager of Opposition Business (Mr Crean), as stated in their
replies to the Procedure Committee's letter to them last session.
Since question time has traditionally been concerned with holding ministers
accountable for their actions in the processes of government, the committee
is of the view that limitations on the nature of questions and answers
to private members which had applied prior to 1995 and 1996, should be
enforced. With the present opportunities available for debating private
members business, there should not be a need to use the question time
forum to raise substantive issues relating to private members business.
I commend the report to the House. I move:
That the House take note of the report.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
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