Question Time in the Australian Parliament

This fact sheet explores Question Time which allows the opposition to examine the work of the government by asking questions. It occurs each sitting day in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Purpose

Question Time is one of the ways the Australian Parliament scrutinises—closely examines—the work of the executive govenment. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios—areas of government responsibility. Question Time also gives ministers an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government.

Procedure

Question Time begins with the Speaker of the House of Representatives or President of the Senate calling for questions without notice and asking 'are there any questions'? The first question always comes from the opposition. The government and opposition take turns putting questions to the Prime Minister or ministers. Crossbench members of parliament also have an opportunity to ask questions.

Question Time can be loud and argumentative, with plenty of lively debate and interjection. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are full during Question Time and the press gallery is always there to report on proceedings.

Question Time is recorded so all Australians can see, hear or read what happens.

Schedule

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about 1 hour. The Australian Parliament has a long tradition of expecting the government of the day to hold itself accountable during Question Time.

Questions without notice

Ministers do not know what questions will be asked by the opposition or crossbench during Question Time. These questions are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers' ability to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also ask ministers questions, in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as 'Dorothy Dixers', after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Questions on notice

At the conclusion of Question Time, the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives and the Leader of the Government in the Senate will ask 'that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper'.

Questions on notice are written questions directed to ministers by members of parliament, placed on the Notice Paper—daily agenda—and answered in writing by ministers. These questions are used to obtain more detailed information about government policy and actions on particular issues. Questions and answers are not read out, although they are printed in Hansard.

History

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made time for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the house by the relevant minister. Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly about important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Senate Question Time

The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate answers a question during Question Time in the Senate.

Parliamentary Education Office (peop.gov.au), DPS AUSPIC

Description

This image shows the main people involved in Question Time in the Senate. In the centre there is a T-shaped table with the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate sitting opposite the Leader of the Government in the Senate who is standing to speak. There are tiers of seating behind the Leader of the Government in the Senate with members of the government seated in them. Members of the opposition sit behind the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

Question Time in the House of Representatives.

The Australian Prime Minister answers a question during Question Time in the House of Representatives.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au), DPS AUSPIC

Description

This image shows the main people involved in Question Time in the House of Representatives. In the centre there is a T-shaped table with the Leader of the Opposition sitting opposite the Prime Minister who is standing to speak. There are tiers of seating behind the Prime Minister with members of the government seated in them. Members of the opposition sit behind the Leader of the Opposition.