Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Statement by the President

Questions Without Notice

9:31 am

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday in question time, I ruled a number of opposition supplementary questions out of order and undertook to review the Hansard. As I have said on many occasions, ministers must answer questions only insofar as the question relates to ministerial responsibilities—in other words, the public affairs with which the minister is officially connected, proceedings pending in parliament, or any matter of administration for which the minister is responsible in a personal or representative capacity. However, an answer may provide clarification of statements made by ministers—as ministers—even if the statements are not clearly within their ministerial responsibility.

In this case, the substance of the questions went to events that were the subject of a statement made to the Senate by Senator Sinodinos on 28 February 2013, events relating to his business interests before he was appointed to the Senate and before he became a minister. Although Senator Sinodinos made general reference to this statement in response to questions asked of him in the last sitting week, including that he stood by the statement, the supplementary questions—with one exception that I will come to—went to details of the historic events and not to areas of ministerial responsibility. As senators will be aware, I drew to the Assistant Treasurer's attention on several occasions that he was required to answer the questions insofar as they related to his ministerial responsibilities.

The exception, which I did not hear at the time because of the amount of disorderly conduct in the chamber, was the second supplementary question asked by Senator Collins. On reviewing the Hansard, it is apparent that Senator Collins was asking when Senator Sinodinos became aware of certain information and whether he was Assistant Treasurer at the time. The part of the question I heard was not in order and, as the remaining part of the question was inaudible, it was not ruled upon. When Senator Wong brought that part of the question to my attention, I undertook to review the Hansard. On reflection, if that part of the question had been audible, it could have been answered by the Assistant Treasurer insofar as it related to his ministerial responsibilities.