Supporting information for teachers

Use these brief notes to prepare for the Run Question Time classroom activity.

Question Time allows the opposition to ask executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios—areas of government responsibility.

Notes

  • Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about 1 hour. It occurs in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • Question time is very different from other business of the Parliament. Question Time can be loud and argumentative, with plenty of lively debate and interjection. The House of Representatives and the Senate are full during Question Time and the press gallery is always there to report on proceedings.
  • The government and non-government members ask questions in turn. The non-government questions are divided proportionately between the opposition and the independent and minor party members.
  • Ministers do not know the content of questions asked by the opposition, independent and minor party members during Question Time. However, they will know what questions their own teammates will ask them. These are known as 'Dorothy Dixers'.
  • In the House of Representatives members generally have 30 seconds to ask a question and ministers have three minutes to answer. In the Senate the limit is one minute for a question and two minutes for answers. Senators are also allowed to ask two supplementary questions after their initial question. The time limit for supplementary questions is 30 seconds, with answers limited to 1 minute.
  • There are rules which restrict the conduct of members during Question Time. They are designed to ensure that questions must be relevant to the government's business and directed to the responsible minister. Answers must relate to the question. Members should not directly address each other or use unparliamentary language.
  • Question Time can be very noisy, and it can be challenging for the Speaker to ensure that members are following the rules in the House. The Speaker can interrupt proceedings to bring members to order if they are breaking the rules. The Speaker can order members to leave the House who seriously or persistently break the rules. Usually members are sent from the House for one hour.