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Parliamentary Questions and Question Time

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 of both houses to ask a minister about matters of concern relating to government policy and activities in that minister’s portfolio. Through parliamentary questions, members attempt to obtain information. Members who do not support the government will often frame their questions in a way that implies 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). The Speaker in the Legislative Assembly and the President in the Legislative Council may disallow or edit a question that is considered at odds 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, and
  • questions on notice.

Questions without Notice (Question Time)

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.

Questions without notice are asked orally during question time in each house on every parliamentary sitting day. These questions are usually answered orally by the relevant minister (or a minister representing the minister in the other house), although ministers may ask that questions seeking extensive information and detail to be put on notice.

Question time is a set part of each sitting day. In the Legislative Assembly, ministers are asked questions for approximately 40 minutes starting at 2.00 pm. In the Legislative Council, question time takes place for approximately 30 minutes, starting at 4.30 pm.

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 brought to a prompt conclusion.

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 dixer' questions. This term originated from a twentieth century American journalist who would frame questions to herself from 'readers' to allow her to publish prepared answers in her newspaper column.

There is some variation in practice between the houses during question time. The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly may permit a supplementary question as long as it relates strictly to the original. In the Legislative Council, dorothy dixer questions are rarely asked and the majority of questions are allocated to members who do not support the government.

Question time, along with all proceedings of the houses, is broadcast through the Watch and Listen page, available through the Watch Parliament link on this page.

Questions on Notice

Questions on notice are submitted in writing, and are responded to by the minister on a later day. These types of questions 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 without prior notice. When a question is placed on notice by a member in one house to a minister who is a member of another house, the question is directed to the representative minister for a response.

Questions on notice are lodged with the Clerk of the house and edited in accordance with the Presiding Officer’s directions before being sent electronically to the relevant minister’s office. The minister’s answer is returned electronically to the Parliament for circulation to the member who asked the question and for publication in Hansard.