by Russel Norman
Rt Hon David Carter
Speaker of the House of Representatives
20 March 2013
After sitting through another chaotic question time I feel compelled to write this open letter to you as Speaker.
I strongly urge you to revert to the set of rules that Lockwood Smith had developed over the course of his Speakership. These rules can be summarised as “A straight question will get a straight answer”. These rules resulted in a much more orderly question time and a much more effective question time. The Opposition knew that if they asked straight questions then the Speaker would insist that Government Ministers gave straight answers. And we knew that if politically loaded questions were asked then the Ministers would be free to give politically loaded answers. Ministers retained the “public interest” defence for not answering questions.
Your current approach of only requiring Ministers to “address” the question means that Ministers now know that they don’t need to answer questions in Question time. This is causing disorder in the House as opposition members attempt repeatedly to get Ministers to answer questions. It also means that the House of Representatives is unable to fulfil its function of holding the Executive to account for their actions – we can’t hold the Executive to account if the Speaker does not require Ministers to answer questions.
If you continue down your current path Question time will continue to be disorderly, increasingly so, and the House will rightly be viewed as no longer serving its democratic functions.