Scrutiny function

  • Scrutiny is essentially holding the government and the ministers to account on their decisions and legislation.
  • They look over the government’s, as well as the department’s, conduct.
  • This is called probity and propriety, meaning personal behaviour and honesty, and acting properly as a Minister in taking care of problems in their department.

Methods of scrutiny

Question Time

The time allocated on every sitting day at 2 pm for questions, without notice, to be put to Ministers. They can be questioned by MPs on both sides of the house, alternating between gov’t and opp’n, with the aim of gaining political insight or advantage, or criticising a particular piece of legislation. Ministers may also prearrange questions with members of their own party, called Dorothy Dixers, and are usually meant to highlight something good.

Questions with/on notice are those given to the Minister in writing, and is given time to respond. Questions are restricted to 45 s, and the responses 4 min. The independents forming gov’t in the 43rd Parliament asked for amendment of the standing orders to accommodate this.

Censure Motions

A motion in Parliament, usually by the Opposition, which is critical of another member, usually a Minister. The motion requires the Minister or member to defend themselves and justify their actions. Rarely happens, as the gov’t would not allow one of their own members to be criticised, so it is mainly used for making a statement. Sometimes, the PM might take notice, even if the censure is not passed, and take action against the member privately.

Grievance Debate

A set period during Parliament where members may speak on any issue, for about 10 min. These debates occur every few weeks, or 1 hour every Monday when Parliament sits in the Main Committee. It is an opportunity to raise issues important to their electorates or to themselves. In 2011, the Federal Member for Bendigo used his grievance speech to air his grievances about large mining companies employing cheap foreign labour while cutting back on Australian employees.

Adjournment Debate

Similar to a grievance debate, this allows members to speak on any topic. Usually, however, members speak on the events that happened during the day, for example, an extra point to add on or airing their opinion of a bill. Following the end of a sitting day, or when a motion is held to adjourn, backbenchers get 5 min to speak, alternating between right and left of the speaker. This is particularly valued by private members, as they use this time to raise matters of individual or constituency concern to the relevant minister. In 2012, the Federal Member for Calwell used her adjournment debate to talk of her personal views on multiculturalism, as well as how the Sydney riots affects her electorate, as Calwell has one of the highest percentages of Muslims and Coptic Christians.

Urgency Debate/Motion

Matters of urgency are events that happen very suddenly needs to be discussed in Parliament. Examples include when asylum seekers capsized and many people died, or if a bomb exploded in a public area. This allows the Parliament to discuss what must happen in response to the matter, whether it be to set up a select committee, or order an inquiry, or change laws. For instance, an urgency debate could be called on to investigate the capsize of asylum seeker boats off the coast of Christmas Island.

Matters of Public Importance

This is a discussion on a single and specific issue, usually critical of the government’s handling of a particular issue. It is essentially a urgency debate, but without the urgency; the debate is on an issue that arises on an important matter that the government is responsible, but it does not need to be urgent. The debate, again, focusses on what can be done to rectify the issue. A recent example is Telstra’s NBN rollout uncovering asbestos, or the ADF’s handling of the sexual harassment problems.

No Confidence Motion

A motion, always by the Opposition in the lower house, which censures an individual Minister or expressing a lack of confidence in the government as a whole. It happens when the government does not have an absolute majority in the HoR, so shifting allegiances in hung parliaments may tip the balance. If the motion passes, either a new Minister is appointed, or a general election will take place. Only 9 motions have been successful; the last one was in 1975, when Malcolm Fraser was appointed PM by Sir John Kerr without a majority in the House.

Committees

See committees.

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