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Howard Claims Better Record In Question Time Than Keating, Hawke Or Fraser

More questions have been asked during Questions Without Notice during the six years and three months of the Howard Government than during the prime ministerships of Paul Keating, Bob Hawke or Malcolm Fraser, indicating a greater commitment to accountability and parliamentary democracy, according to John Howard.

John Howard, Prime MinisterThe Prime Minister was responding to a question from the Liberal member for Casey, Tony Smith, during Question Time in the House of Representatives.

Howard gave figures which show that proportionally his government’s ministers have responded to more questions without notice than the governments of Paul Keating (1991-96), Bob Hawke (1983-91) and Malcolm Fraser (1975-83).

This is mainly because Question Time has been extended under Howard to allow for a minimum number of questions each sitting day. Question Time often lasts for up to 90 minutes, whereas for decades it was restricted to 60 minutes.

As Prime Minister, Howard has responded to more questions than either Hawke or Fraser. Proportionally, he has not answered as many questions as Keating did, but this did not stop the Prime Minister from using his time to condemn Keating’s introduction of a roster system for ministers which meant that the PM attended Question Time only twice a week.

  • Listen to Howard:
Questions Without Notice
Total Questions Asked In House
PM Party Years Term No. Questions
Bob Hawke
Paul Keating
ALP 1983-1991 13 years
John Howard Liberal 1996-2002 6 years, 3 months

Questions Asked Of Prime Minister
PM Party Years Term No. Questions
Malcolm Fraser Liberal 1975-1983 7 years, 4 months
Bob Hawke ALP 1983-1991 8 years, 9 months
Paul Keating ALP 1991-1996 4 years, 3 months
John Howard Liberal 1996-2002 6 years, 3 months

Howard said that his government “does not regard question time as a courtesty extended by to the parliament by the executive branch”, a comment once made by Keating. This demonstrated the “magisterial contemptuousness” of Keating and was a metaphor for his contempt for his parliamentary colleagues. Howard said that whilst Keating had once described the Senate as “unrepresentative swill”, he also treated his own side with contempt.

Howard said that the parliamentary system depends on the accountability of the executive to parliament and most accountability takes place in Question Time. He said that the test of accountability is the willingness to “front up here” and take questions. “It is the one time of the parliamentary day that commands the full attention of both sides of the house.”

There had been a significant “productivity improvement” under his government, said Howard. “We said we would restore confidence in Parliament and Question Time is the greatest measure of the success of parliamentary democracy.”

Of course, Howard’s claim to greater accountability cannot simply be measured by the number of questions asked in the Parliament. The length and relevance of ministers’ answers has to be considered also. On this score, it can be argued that Question Time is less and less an opportunity for gathering information than it is for landing political blows on one’s opponents.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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