Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Statement by the President
Points of Order
We will move to question time now. We are starting a minute-and-a-half late. I also note that I said yesterday that I'd come back to the Senate in relation to points of order taken by Senators Whish-Wilson and McKim in relation to matters raised in question time. I reiterate the point that I made at the time, which is that I considered the minister's answer to be directly relevant to the questions asked. I do not see it as my role as President to interpret a question as narrowly as the questioner might wish in circumstances in which the minister—and, in particular, a minister in a representative capacity—is talking directly about the government's intentions or actions in respect of the matter raised. This falls squarely within the principle that a president cannot direct a minister how to answer questions.
In answering the primary question, the minister discussed the government's provision of additional funding to enhance the management of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of several issues, including the specific matter raised. By speaking further about the scope and aims of the funding, the minister remained relevant to the question asked, even though senators may have preferred that the minister provide a different response.
There are a number of issues in relation to your ruling on which the opposition might seek put a submission to you. In particular, I note the reference to representative ministers. The Clerk has previously indicated—and, I think, Senator Ryan, has previously indicated—that if a minister representing is asked about the state of mind of another minister, then, obviously, that's not in their knowledge. But I would respectfully suggest that it would be a new threshold to suggest that somehow ministers representing have a different level of accountability to the chamber than do ministers in their own portfolio.
I don't wish to delay the chamber. I wish to reserve our position in relation to what you have articulated. We do want to consider whether or not what you have just said, Mr President, is consistent with rulings of past presidents. I note that you said that we started 1½ minutes late. I would ask that question time continue from the moment the first question is asked, not from the argy-bargy beforehand.
In very brief response to your ruling, Mr President, I indicate that we share the concerns expressed by Senator Wong and place on the record that we may seek to make a further submission to you in regard to that ruling.