Changing question time

Andrea Vance writes:

MPs tell themselves it’s an important democratic institution, a check on accountability.  Last week, gave us a petulant display from Winston Peters as he sought to slip out of answering Paula Bennett’s questions. Curran’s career-ending confusion was a rare episode.

It now matters so little that leaders don’t bother to show up on Thursdays, and the Greens gave over their questions to National.

And it’s horribly expensive. Hours and hours of public servants, officials and advisors time is wasted prepping, ringing around and taking instruction for Question Time.  If your minister has a question, the hours 10am to 2pm will be a write-off as you script their answers and try to guess what follow-up questions could trip them up.

Opposition staffers and MPs grind away strategising for Question Time. Even backbench Government MPs – or their assistants – will devote at least an hour perfecting their rare patsy question. Three to five hours of sitting time is wasted on the archaic, unproductive ritual where MPs take turns to squabble over points of order or bait each other. For each of those hours, every MP is paid at least $80.

And to what end? The beltway obsessions and semantic gymnastics that consume Question Time are of little consequence to the average person.

Vance says question time should be reformed or scrapped.

Here’s the changes I would make.

  1. Turn Monday into PM’s question time as the House of Commons has. No questions set down in advance. Just an opportunity for any MP to question the PM on issues of the week
  2. Reduce the number of primary questions from 12 to 8. It is often a struggle to find enough worthwhile topics. And the media will never cover more than a couple of issues anyway
  3. Have six of the eight questions reserved for the Opposition and just two for backbench Government MPs.
  4. Allow more supplementary questions so MPs have a greater ability to keep questioning evasive Ministers

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