Australia

Voters dismiss 'woeful' Question Time as an 'obnoxious political fight club'

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Submissions to parliament’s Procedure Committee, which is conducting a public inquiry aimed at improving the centrepiece of Australia’s democracy, dismiss Question Time as “unedifying” and “unnecessarily confrontational and combative”.

Fed up Australian voters are calling for politicians to face random sobriety tests, fines for misbehaviour and real-time independent fact-checking to help rebuild federal parliament’s “utterly dire” Question Time and hold the House of Representatives “to the same standards as every other workplace in Australia”.

“The participants in Question Time show a lack of self-respect, a lack of respect for parliament and a lack of respect for their constituents,” voter Chris Curtis has told an inquiry into how Question Time can be improved. 

“No other work-place is so rife with bullying, name-calling and all-round bad behaviour - and that includes contact sport.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, September 16, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in September.
AAP

“It is made up of pathetic Dorothy Dixers, witless and nasty yelling across the chamber and aggressive and irrelevant answers.

“The public looks on in dismay and then turns off, not just Question Time itself, but also the important business of democracy.”

Other scathing submissions to parliament’s Procedure Committee, which is conducting a public inquiry aimed at improving the centrepiece of Australia’s democracy, dismiss Question Time as “woeful”, “a giant waste of time”, “a political fight club”, “unedifying”, and “unnecessarily confrontational and combative”.

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and his frontbench during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, September 16, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and his frontbench during Question Time.
AAP

One voter, who asked not to be named, told the inquiry: “No other workplace in Australia would allow workers to behave abusively for an hour each day whilst wilfully ignoring their work responsibilities – they would be sacked”.

Belinda Jones, from the Queensland electorate of Forde, which is represented by inquiry Chair Bert van Manen, told the Committee Australia is facing “a crisis of political apathy and discontent”.

Labor Member for Cowan Anne Aly in the House of Representatives
Labor Member for Cowan Anne Aly in the House of Representatives.
AAP

'I'd pretty much agree with that 

Politicians returning to Canberra for the Spring sitting fortnight agreed there was room for improvement on Capital Hill.

“As somebody who had never watched Question Time before I entered politics - and then went into my first Question Time with a pen and paper, thinking I was actually going to get questions and answers - I think I'd pretty much agree with that”, Labor’s Anne Aly told SBS News.

“There are a few politicians I think who'd like to see it shut down too,” joked Senator Cory Bernardi.

“Ultimately, we have to improve it.

“I think it needs to be less theatre and more substance and maybe - just maybe - if people stopped playing up to the cameras, we might get a better body politic.”

Senator Cory Bernardi
Senator Cory Bernardi.
AAP

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the performance – in both chambers – leaves a lot to be desired.

“I always watch what happens in Question Time and I look up at the public gallery where you see the school kids watching and you wonder what they're thinking with all of the rabble that goes on inside the chamber”, she told SBS News.

“Let's get some answers to questions and let's get rid of those awful Dorothy Dixers."

Sarah Hanson-Young.
Sarah Hanson-Young.
AAP

Assistant Minister for Children and Families Michelle Landry told SBS News she thought 'a bit more respect in Question Time wouldn't go astray'. 

“It probably does put us in bad light at times,” she said.

Fellow Queensland MP Keith Pitt said: “Question Time is a little bit of theatre at times, but it's a long-standing tradition of the parliament and I think it needs to be maintained."

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke said he thought: “The problem with Question Time is because of a much deeper problem that we have in parliament at the moment."

“If you have a government that has no plan for what's happening with the economy than you end up with answers where all they do is just throw mud at their political opponents,” he said.

While Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally said: “I think government ministers would always best serve the public if they actually answered the questions they were asked.”

Kristina Keneally is set for a prominent spot in the new look opposition.
Kristina Keneally.
AAP

The Inquiry was established in August amid growing frustration among parliamentarians and the public, particularly around the growing practice of government MPs ending their questions to government Ministers with the phrase: “is the Minister aware or an alternative approaches?”, allowing the government to launch a partisan political attack on the opposition and crossbench rather than scrutinise a particular policy or issue.

While several voters praised the concept of Question Time, none believed parliamentarians were achieving its goals in practice.

“This is a broad-ranging inquiry that will look at the rules and conventions around Question Time and consider opportunities for change”, Deputy Chair and Labor MP Milton Dick told SBS News.

“The Committee will look at how Question Time runs and how this could be improved,” he said.

What the public wants

Many of the public’s suggestions about how Question Time can be improved include:

  • Questions from constituents
  • ‘Pay docking’ for MPs who misbehave
  • ‘Random sobriety tests’ for drugs and alcohol
  • Alcohol breath testing before votes
  • Real-time, independent fact-checking displayed in the chamber 
  • MPs lining-up to answer questions, replacing ‘unnecessarily combative’ face-to-face seating configuration
  • Dump ‘Dorothy Dixer’ questions from Government backbenchers
  • Portfolio-specific Question Time, similar to the UK’s House of Commons
  • Improve standing orders around the ‘direct relevance’ of answers
  • Appoint an independent speaker
  • Scrapping ‘Statements on Indulgence’
  • Extending Question Time to a minimum 90mins each day 
  • Real-time explanations of rules and procedures on the parliamentary TV coverage
  • Ban on Prime Minister and Ministers transferring questions to other Ministers

Submissions to the committee close on 31 October.

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