House of Representatives Committees

Standing Committee on Procedure

Questions to Members other than Ministers

Tabling statement

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 SULLIVAN—This 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 principle—that 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 and—for the most part—restrictions 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:

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

Back to top