Question Time is one of the most significant parts of the Parliamentary day. This is because almost all the Members are present in the Chamber and topical and challenging questions often arise which may highlight and reveal major issues or problems. Question Time has a theatrical quality which attracts the press and visitors because it can be controversial for the Government. More importantly, it is the clearest demonstration in Parliament of the concept of responsible government under the Westminster system.
Under the Westminster system, Ministers are and remain Members of Parliament and must answer to the Parliament for their actions and the actions of the Government. Question Time, in particular, is the Opposition's opportunity to ask the questions that scrutinise the Government's programs and to receive answers. Inevitably, questions asked of Minsters by the Opposition are intended to reveal something or embarrass the Government, while questions asked by Government backbenchers usually give Ministers the opportunity to highlight something positive in the Government's program. Ministers are required by the rules and conventions to give an answer and one which is neither untruthful nor misleading.
Question Time is usually the most "popular" time of the day for visitors and the Visitors' Galleries are often filled. It is advisable to book ahead for the Legislative Assembly Question Time by phoning the Legislative Assembly Attendants on Sydney 9230 2637.
There are two types of questions asked: Questions Without Notice and Questions On Notice.
Questions Without Notice - These are the questions asked in Question Time. Ministers do not receive notice of the questions to be asked (at least, not from the Opposition). The rules and times for Question Time vary between the two Houses.
As the Premier and most Ministers sit in the Legislative Assembly this is where the most interest usually centres in Question Time. The rules of this House require a minimum of ten answers from Ministers with a minimum time of 45 minutes, although it often exceeds this. This is to prevent Ministers giving excessively long answers and using up the available time. Supplementary questions are strictly limited. Question Time begins between 2.15 and 2.30pm and begins with a question from the Opposition to a Government Minister. Members then jump for the Speaker's attention and questions alternate between Government and Opposition with occasional opportunities for the Independents.
In the Legislative Council there are less Ministers so that the challenge to the Government in Question Time can be less direct. The length of Question Time is at discretion of the Leader of the Government, but is usually an hour. There is no limit to the number of questions other than time and supplementary questions are often allowed. The President rotates question opportunities in the order of Opposition, Cross Bench, Government. Question Time takes place at 4.00pm on Tuesdays and 12.00pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Questions On Notice - These are questions asked of Ministers in writing and the answers are also given in writing. They are tabled in the Parliament but are not the subject of any Parliamentary debate in themselves. there is no limit to the number of these questions.