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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 4 Hansard (27 March) . . Page.. 903 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Mr Kaine complained about the time taken to answer questions. He said that the government went on and on and Mr Moore took 15 minutes to answer a question. I would like to read a passage from Hansard of 20 October 1993 which is very pertinent to this matter. It begins, rather ironically, with a point of order taken by Mr Cornwell. It reads:

I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. I refer you to standing order 118 (a), which states that answers to questions without notice "shall be concise and confined to the subject matter of the question". This answer has been going on for 11 minutes now.

Eleven minutes. Madam Speaker responded:

It is purely a question of judgment. Mr Berry-

there is that name again-

is answering the question. Mr Berry may proceed to answer the question. In my judgment, "concise" may well take 20 minutes on some points, particularly if the Minister is continually interrupted. Please proceed, Mr Berry.

Let us cast our minds back to the last Thursday of sitting. What was happening to Mr Moore's answer to his question? He was being continually interrupted, constantly interrupted. Go back and look at the Hansard; there are dozens of interruptions to Mr Moore's answer. Is it surprising that it took 15 minutes, an outrageous 15 minutes, to answer the question?

With respect, Madam Speaker McRae was absolutely right: "concise" in the standing orders does not mean short. Has anyone seen the Concise Oxford Dictionary lately? It is not a short document; it is an extremely long document. You can draw from that that "concise" does not mean "short". An answer should be pertinent and it should be relevant, but that does not mean that it should be short. Mr Speaker, I reject the suggestion that the government is somehow to blame because it gives a longer answer than some members would like and it gives that answer in the teeth of furious interjection.

The second point that needs to be made here is that we are different from the Senate or the House of Representatives because we have provided in our standing orders-uniquely, as far as I am aware, in the Australian experience and perhaps the experience anywhere else-that there is no limit to the length of question time. The length of a minister's answer is, in a sense, immaterial because it will not stop another member from asking his or her question. It does matter in other parliaments where there is a time limit on the total length of question time, but it does not matter here.

I note Mr Kaine's amendment to provide for a limit on the asking of questions and the answering of questions. Without reflecting on an issue that we are not going to debate in full today, I have to ask: what is going to happen when a minister faces continual interjections and the five minutes is taken up with interjections, as it can easily be and has easily been on occasions, and the minister gets to say less than other people in the course of answering his question? What would be the answer to that issue then? I do not

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