Page 974 - Week 03 - Thursday, 7 April 2022

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Speaker’s ruling

Statement by Acting Speaker

MR ACTING SPEAKER: I would like to thank members for their patience with me as Acting Speaker this week. In particular, it was my first foray in question time and thank you for, by and large, showing the respect to the chair that the chair deserves, irrespective of who is sitting in it. Today I was asked to rule on a question without notice asked by Mr Milligan of Ms Berry in her capacity as Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. The question, word for word, was:

My question is to the minister for education. When asked yesterday during question time whether fire systems at Calwell were in good working order, you stated, “Yes, I believe that they are.” It has now been revealed that your directorate was issued with a further WorkSafe notification prior to your false answer yesterday, which is, “related to fire extinguishers which had been relocated due to students using them as weapons”.

He went on to say:

Minister, why did you say fire safety systems were in good working order yesterday when they were, in fact, removed because they were being used as weapons and an additional two WorkSafe notifications had been issued?

That is the question in its entirety.

Subsequently, Mr Gentleman raised a point of order asking me to rule the question out of order as it contained an imputation or inference, contrary to standing orders. We are talking standing order 117(b)(iii) and (iv), which states that a question without notice shall not contain inferences or imputations.

The question asked by Mr Milligan, which is contained in just the last line that I read, is in order. The imputation is in the preamble to the question. So the question is in order. However, in the preamble to the question, Mr Milligan stated that Ms Berry had given a false answer in question time. The practice of the Assembly, as outlined at paragraph 10.74 of the Companion to the Standing Orders is that members can direct a charge against other members or reflect upon their character only by substantive motion, which requires a distinct vote of the Assembly.

This ruling has given me some grief. I think it is line ball, but, while Mr Milligan may be of the belief that the answer given by Ms Berry yesterday was false, that is still an imputation or an inference, as it implies that Ms Berry has lied to the Assembly. It would have been open for Mr Milligan to move a substantive motion. It is against the standing orders to ask a question that contains an imputation or an inference.

I note that Mr Hanson is about to jump to his feet here. But I would say, Mr Hanson, that we are not debating whether the original statement of Ms Berry was false or not. That is not what we are debating. This ruling is about the fact that Mr Milligan has implied that Ms Berry has lied. And so I would ask, unless you are about to get to your feet, Mr Hanson—

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