Tuesday, 25 March 2014

In which Australian House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop appears to invent or ignore standing orders as she pleases

Federal Liberal Party MP and Speaker House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, asserts that Abbott Government ministers are not obliged to answer questions during Question Time, then decides that standing orders relating to relevance don't apply and makes a mockery of the point of order rule by not immediately addressing the point but turning instead to ask a question of the prime minister.

Sinodinos, Senator Arthur

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:26): My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to Senator Sinodinos's statement to the Senate in February 2013 that he played no role in the awarding of the January 2012 contract to Australian Water Holdings by Sydney Water. Was the Prime Minister aware that Senator Sinodinos had in fact arranged for a letter from Premier O'Farrell to help secure the contract? When did the Prime Minister become aware of this?
Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Prime Minister) (14:27): These are all matters that will quite properly be canvassed by the ICAC inquiry.
Mr Burke: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
The SPEAKER: Has the Prime Minister finished his answer?
The SPEAKER: He has finished his answer. Do you have a point of order?
Mr Burke: Yes, under standing order 104(a), Madam Speaker.
The SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has finished his answer.
Mr Burke: Madam Speaker, it cannot be the case that the moment—
The SPEAKER: You were very quick on your feet.
Mr Burke: I am given the call, you then, instead of hearing the point of order, turn to the Prime Minister for advice.
The SPEAKER: I point out to the Manager of Opposition Business that that is coming close to a reflection.
Mr Burke: Well—
The SPEAKER: Resume your seat! The member would also know that, under the standing orders, ministers are not obliged to answer questions.
Mr Burke interjecting—
The SPEAKER: No, they are not, as you well know. Merely because you do not get the answer you wish does not make it outside the standing orders. [my red bolding]

Excerpts from House of Representatives Standing and Sessional Orders (44th Australian Parliament) concerning questions to government ministers and points of order:
(a) A Member may ask a question in writing of a Minister (but not a Parliamentary Secretary), to be placed on the Notice Paper for written reply.
(b) During Question Time, a Member may orally ask a question of a Minister (but not a Parliamentary Secretary), without notice and for immediate response.
(c) A Minister can only be questioned on the following matters, for which he or she is responsible or officially connected:
(i) public affairs;
(ii) administration; or
(iii) proceedings pending in the House.
(d) Questioners must not ask Ministers:
(i) for an expression of opinion, including a legal opinion; or
(ii) to announce government policy, but may seek an explanation about the policy and its application, and may ask the Prime Minister whether a Minister's statement in the House represents government policy. [my red bolding]

86 Point of order
(a) Subject to standing order 104, a Member may raise a point of order with the Speaker at any time. After the question of order has been stated to the Speaker by the Member rising to the question of order, consideration and decision of every other question shall be suspended until the matter is disposed of by the Speaker giving a ruling thereon. [my red bolding]

Excerpt from Parliamentary Library Research Paper, 22 November 2013, on the subject of relevance:

Standing Order 104 was amended on 29 September 2010 in relation to relevance as follows:
(a) An answer must be directly relevant to the question.
(b) A point of order regarding relevance may be taken only once in respect of each answer.
(c) The duration of each answer is limited to 4 minutes.

Hitherto the requirement had been for answers to be 'relevant to the question'—meaning 'relevant in some way or relevant in part, rather than directly or completely relevant', with the result that 'provided the answer is relevant and is not couched in unparliamentary language Ministers may virtually answer questions without notice in any way they choose'. [my red bolding]

The fact that the Speaker is so visibly partisan does not earn her the respect of her own party.

It is becoming increasing obvious that government ministers, from Prime Minister Abbott down, are cutting short her remarks or directions from the Chair by interrupting/over talking her whenever the mood moves them.

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