Parliamentary Questions are an important means used by Members of Parliament to ensure the Government is accountable to the Parliament for its policies and actions and, through the Parliament, to the people. Questions are used by members on both sides of the House to ask, on behalf of the constituents they represent, a Minister about matters of concern relating to Government policy within a Minister’s portfolio. Through this means, members attempt to obtain information, and often the questions imply criticism of Government policies and actions.
Questions must conform to the rules or the Standing Orders of each House (see Legislative Assembly Standing Orders 75 to 82 and Legislative Council Standing Orders 136 to 140, which are available on the Parliament’s Internet site). The Speaker in the Legislative Assembly and the President in the Legislative Council may disallow or edit a question that is considered not to conform with the House’s Standing Orders. Questions asked of a Minister must be brief, not contain a long preamble (introduction), and must relate to the Minister’s portfolio or area of responsibility.
Parliamentary Questions are categorised into two groups:
Questions without notice are asked orally by Opposition or Government backbench members during Question Time in the House on every Parliamentary sitting day. These questions are usually answered orally by the relevant Minister. Ministers may request questions seeking extensive information and detail to be put on Notice.
Question Time is a set part of each sitting day, and occurs in both Houses. In the Legislative Assembly, Ministers are asked questions for approximately 40 minutes every sitting day starting at 2.00 p.m. (or shortly thereafter). In the Legislative Council, Question Time takes place for approximately 30 minutes starting at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Question Time is one of the liveliest parts of a parliamentary sitting day. Generally all members are in attendance in the House at this time when current issues are raised. For this reason, Question Time attracts media attention, with televised extracts being regularly used in television news programs. Given the media and public focus on Question Time, the performance of the Government and Opposition is under particular scrutiny during this part of the proceedings.
In addition to the rules outlined above, a Legislative Assembly member may, at the discretion of the Speaker, ask a supplementary question providing it relates strictly to the original question.
A Minister’s answer must be relevant to the question asked and must not mislead the House. If a Minister’s answer is prolonged, the Presiding Officer may intervene to ensure the answer is bought to a prompt conclusion. It is also politically important that Ministers ensure their answers are pertinent and complete.
Some questions without notice are asked by Government members with the Minister’s knowledge. These questions enable Ministers to put the Government’s point of view or highlight Government achievements. They are commonly called “Dorothy Dix” questions.
The proceedings of the Legislative Assembly (including Question Time) are televised live in the Legislative Assembly section of this site.
Questions on Notice are submitted in writing, and are responded to by the Minister on a later day. These are often used when a detailed answer is required and it is unrealistic to expect the Minister to answer the question comprehensively during Question Time. When a question is placed on notice a Minister, representing another Minister, may respond to the question.
Questions on Notice are lodged with the Clerk of the House, checked, edited in accordance with the Presiding Officer’s directions, and sent electronically to the relevant Minister’s office. Following advice from departmental and ministerial advisors, the Minister’s answer is returned electronically to the Parliament for circulation to the Member who asked the question and for publication in Hansard.