Question time is a feature of almost all Westminster-style parliaments. It gives members the chance to ask questions of government ministers without any prior notice on the topic. Questions that are asked at question time must be relevant to a minister’s portfolio responsibilities (such as health, education, justice etc).
Non-government members can use question time to scrutinise ministerial performance and to hold the government accountable for its policies, decisions and administration of government operations. Government backbenchers will often use question time to ask questions that highlight government initiatives and achievements or to contrast the opposition’s policies and performance.
For these reasons, question time is one of the more visible parliamentary proceedings and is often the focus of media and public attention.
Question time in the Legislative Assembly for the ACT
In the Legislative Assembly, question time starts at 2:30pm on each sitting day. The leader of the opposition generally asks the first question to a minister of his or her choice. After the minister’s answer, a further (supplementary) question may be asked by the member who asked the original question. The Speaker may allow a further supplementary question to be asked by any other non-executive member, providing that it is relevant to the original question. Question time continues until all members wishing to ask a question have had an opportunity to do so.
Members must ask their questions concisely and ministers have two minutes to answer the initial question and two minutes to answer any supplementary questions that arise.
Questions from government backbenchers are usually prepared in advance to allow ministers to highlight portfolio achievements. These questions are often referred to as a ‘Dorothy Dixer’. Dorothy Dix was the pseudonym used by American columnist Elizabeth Gilmer, whose marriage advice column appeared in many newspapers throughout the world in the early 20th Century.
Question time rules
- Questions must conform to certain rules in the standing orders (Chapter 10. Questions seeking information 113-122). The Speaker has the final authority on admissibility of questions and may direct that the language be changed, or disallow questions.
- Questions must relate to matters for which the minister is directly responsible in his or her official capacity.
- Questions relating to matters before the courts (sub-judice) are not permitted.
- Questions must be phrased to seek information or explanation of a subject, and not debate it.
- The answer given by a minister must be directly relevant to the question.
Questions on notice
Questions on notice are lodged by members in writing and placed on the Questions on Notice Paper. Members use written questions to seek detailed information from ministers about government activities and administration, and to hold the government accountable for its performance.
Ministers have 30 days in which to answer a question on notice. Where a minister fails to provide the answer within 30 days, the member who asked the question may raise the delay with the minister in the chamber immediately after question time.
Answers to questions on notice are published at the end of each weekly Hansard.
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