Question Time
Question Time

Drastic mobile phone action plan against MPs

FEDERAL politicians engrossed in their mobile phones during question time have earned the ire of members of a parliamentary committee considering drastic action to snap them to attention.

Liberal MP Ross Vasta chairs the committee and said consideration would be given to shortening question time to the 30 minute fast paced and intense format used by the UK parliament to force MPs to put down their phones or they could be banned altogether.

"If we shortened question time then I think there is a good opportunity to not take phones in," Mr Vasta told Nine yesterday.

"That's something we will look at."

The committee will also consider banning questions known as Dorothy Dixers where a government member asks a minister a question allowing them to boast of achievements or score political points.

 

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull confers with Josh Frydenberg in 2017. Picture: Sam Mooy
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull confers with Josh Frydenberg in 2017. Picture: Sam Mooy

"I believe, and I think most of the Australian public believe, that the format is wrong and there needs to be a change," Mr Vasta told The Australian.

"We are going to review everything, even the point of relevance, because we want question time to not be a debate for lawyers and technicalities and rules.

"Standing orders have become overcomplicated and the free-flowing nature of question time and the information it can provide for the public has to be far more important than oppositions or governments trying to score cheap political points."

Labor MP Milton Dick, who deputy chairs the committee with Mr Vasta, said the community was "fed up" with the spectacle of question time.

"This may be unpopular with my colleagues, but I think it is time we looked at Dorothy Dixers," Mr Dick said.

The format restructure would mirror question time in the UK parliament.
The format restructure would mirror question time in the UK parliament.

"Speaker Tony Smith is one of the best Speakers in our commonwealth's history, but he can only use the tools that he is given.

"So let's open the toolbox to see what we can do to improve the ­respectability of question time.

Australian PM Scott Morrison and Ross Vasta. Picture: Dave Hunt
Australian PM Scott Morrison and Ross Vasta. Picture: Dave Hunt

"The Australian people are sick and tired of the spectacle of question time. It is demonstrating probably the worst elements of politics in Australia."

Coalition and Labor MPs on the parliament's procedures committee will finalise the terms of an inquiry into question time this week.

They have taken submissions from the public.

The probe into parliamentary procedures will build on submissions from a previous inquiry in 2015, which lapsed before the 2016 election without being completed.