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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 5 Hansard (6 May) . . Page.. 1547 ..

Tuesday, 6 May 2003

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 10.30 am, made a formal recognition that the Assembly was meeting on the lands of the traditional owners and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Statement by Speaker

Standing order 117

MR SPEAKER: Members, immediately following questions without notice on Thursday, 3 April 2003 the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Smyth, queried a ruling I had made earlier concerning a question by Mr Pratt. Mr Pratt's question was in the following terms:

My question is to the minister for education. Minister, why did you say in debate yesterday that you could not spend the $7.4 million slush fund, because "it is not in the budget this year", when Mr Corbell has previously told the Assembly "that that money is in the budget so that we fulfil in full our election commitment"and we know that the money is there, because we put it there?

Why have you contradicted Mr Corbell? Is the money there, or has it been swallowed up by your government's financial incompetence? Who has misled the Assembly-you or Mr Corbell?

As I indicated at the time, Assembly standing order 117 (e) (i) stipulates that questions shall not refer to debates that have taken place that calendar year. In querying my ruling, Mr Smyth directed my attention to the relevant section of House of Representatives Practice and stated that what the question was asking was on an entirely different subject than the debate the preceding day. He contended that the ruling I had made was incorrect and so broad that in the context of time it would rule out 95 per cent of the discussion in this place.

I undertook to review the Hansard on the issue. I have reviewed the Hansard report of relevant proceedings; in particular, the question asked by Mr Pratt and the arguments put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. I have to advise that I am not prepared to change my ruling. I note the arguments put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and his clear concerns that such a ruling would impede or stifle the ability of the Assembly to scrutinise the executive. However, the standing order is there for a purpose, chief of which is to preclude debates that have taken place or have been adjourned being further pursued in question time. When a member commences a question by querying a minister as to the contribution he or she made in a debate the preceding day, as Mr Pratt did, I have no option but to rule the question out of order. I think the standing orders are clear.

As to the concerns expressed by Mr Smyth, I believe that my ruling does not necessarily preclude questions being asked of ministers on matters relating to the administration of their portfolios. As I mentioned at the time, drafting assistance is available to assist members in framing questions and I would urge members to take advice if they are unsure on these matters.

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