Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Statement by the President
Yesterday I undertook to review the Hansard in relation to a point of order raised by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, and come back to the Senate. The point of order related to the requirement in standing order 72 that answers must be directly relevant to questions asked. Previous rulings make clear that a minister cannot simply answer the question at the beginning of their response and then talk about matters that are not directly relevant for the remainder of their time. Every part of an answer must be directly relevant to the question. It is my intention to continue applying those rulings, and I have done so. I've also previously observed that a glancing phrase in an answer is not going to make someone not directly relevant, but an answer that consists of simply attacking the opposition would not be directly relevant.
After points of order on the first supplementary question I brought the minister back to the question. However, the point of order I undertook to review was taken in respect of Senator Wong's second supplementary question, which asked the minister in his representative capacity his opinion on the views of his colleagues. Past rulings have indicated that, where a question is politically loaded, a minister is entitled to some wider latitude to address the terms, assertions and imputations in the question. I take the view that a question asking a minister in a representative capacity for an opinion of the views of others is also allowed similar latitude.
A point of order was also taken on the Leader of the Government in the Senate not facing the chair when answering questions. As I said at the time, there was no point of order. The requirement in the standing orders is about language, not body language, and requiring remarks to be addressed to the chair. I'm perfectly comfortable with all senators looking to the chamber while addressing their remarks to me.