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Questions on the Notice Paper

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Tags: Transparency, Dorothy Dixer

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, it is almost an annual event to bring to the Government's attention that there remain a number of questions on the notice paper that date back many months. It is a responsibility of Government to answer questions on notice, preferably in a timely way. Timeliness is one issue but the fact that questions often do not get answered is the more serious issue.

Ms Butler has a question on notice to the Minister for Health about non-urgent emergency patient transport. That question was put on notice by Ms Butler as the member for Lyons on 2 May 2019. When that question was put on notice we had a different Health minister. Ms Courtney, I hope you will pick up the notice paper and see that there are three questions that have been put on notice by Ms Butler relating to the administration of the Health portfolio on behalf of her constituents from 2 May 2019. For four months these questions have been sitting on the notice paper.

In June this year I asked the Premier on notice which ministers are on the expenditure review committee of cabinet? That question was put on notice on 12 June 2019 after budget Estimates in which we asked a series of questions of ministers about who was on the expenditure review committee of cabinet because no government in the history of this parliament has tried to keep that sort of information secret.

We also asked the Minister for Housing a question that I put on notice with respect to the office of the Residential Tenancy Commissioner in relation to the Residential Tenancy Act and Housing Tasmania's evictions policy. That was put on notice on 7 August 2019, so a little under a month ago.

I simply encourage ministers and minders, because it is minders who bring this sort of stuff to ministers' attention and make sure that an answer is prepared by the department, to recognise that it is a really important part of the Westminster system that we are able to put questions on notice and seek information that way, and it should be honoured by the government of the day. We put these questions on notice in good faith and we hope and trust that they will be answered, or we used to. We do not trust that so much anymore, so I am hoping there is a change of practice after five years of neglecting questions on notice.

I also wanted to highlight one of the deepest frustrations of question time, which is the serried ranks of government backbenchers that ask the Dorothy Dixers. I have complained about this before because I believe we are in here for and on behalf of the people of Tasmania and each of us manifests that in our own way according to our values and our party's policies. We are really not in here to do shameless self-promotion and waste taxpayers' money on having government backbenchers ask the minister of the day to tell us how terrific they are. The tedious repetition on the first two Dorothy Dixers this morning was again frustrating and a transparent waste of time.

I went back and counted how long the ministers' answers were on Dorothy Dixers. The question from Mrs Rylah to the Premier was beautifully written and I want to share it with the House. She asked:

Could you outline to the House how the Hodgman majority Liberal Government is delivering our long-term plan to keep Tasmania's economy strong and to support job creation? Are you aware of any alternative approaches?

It is poetic, isn't it? It is just sweet. We then had that same question a little bit later, but that question was asked at 10.11 a.m. and the next question was asked at 10.17 a.m., which means it was a little over five minutes on that Dorothy Dixer, which is again on the public purse. Then we had another gloriously written - just so much talent - Dorothy Dixer from Mr Tucker to the Treasurer, Mr Gutwein, who asked:

Can you update the House on the state of the economy and jobs in Tasmania under the Hodgman majority Liberal Government's economic plan? Is the Treasurer aware of any alternative economic plan for the state?

Again, just a masterful use of the English language. The question was asked at 10.34 a.m. and the next question was from Ms O'Byrne to the Premier at 10.40 a.m., and on it goes.

Each of the four Dorothy Dixer questions this morning were running at just under six minutes. So, in question time that is supposed to be an hour, we have 24 minutes of Government backbenchers asking ministers they have actually had a cup of coffee with that morning or been in the party room with to tell us how terrific they are, on the public purse.

The New South Wales parliament has moved on Dorothy Dix questions because in this day and age they are impossible to justify as they have become such distortions of the original idea of getting backbenchers to ask questions, which was that they could represent their constituents, not their political party. The New South Wales parliament has moved on Dorothy Dixers, and the Commonwealth parliament is now conducting a review of question time and Dorothy Dixers are on the table. It is something this parliament will need to grapple with. It might not happen this week or next week but it will happen, because we have to look the people of Tasmania in the face and hand on heart say we are doing our best for them in here. Being a backbencher who asks a scripted question of a minister who has a scripted answer in order to fill time to avoid scrutiny is not doing our best by the people of Tasmania. It is not something that the Greens practised when we were ministers and we do not believe it should be practice.

We did not get those shallow Dorothy Dixers and if we were asked a question by a colleague, particularly someone like Mr Booth, we had no warning whatsoever. At the Estimates table when Paul O'Halloran asked me a question, I did not know what he was going to ask me.

Dr Broad - You are talking about DDs in here? You are saying that they didn't know what the DDs were going to be in here?

Ms O'CONNOR - No, we didn't.

Time expired.