Opposition Leader Julian Fraser has voiced complaints about the frequency at which successive governments have shuffled the House of Assembly’s (HOA) order paper at their own leisure.
The order paper lists the agenda for each sitting of the House, and that agenda usually includes a question-and-answer (Q&A) segment in which Opposition members field pre-prepared questions to government ministers.
Fraser said the government, both past and present, regularly and unduly defer that Q&A exercise.
“Over the years and indeed for a few sessions of this House of Assembly — not [just] this House but previous Houses as well — I would say the last three Houses of Assembly; it has become a vexing common practice by governments to shuffle the order paper at their convenience,” the Opposition Leader said.
“Sometimes, you almost felt that it was personal the way it was done. This Premier must understand that one of the principal purposes of the House of the Assembly or any parliament is for the Opposition to get to query the government’s actions and those queries comes in the form of questions and answers,” Fraser added while speaking in the House on Tuesday.
He raised the concern just moments after Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley moved a motion to effectively push questions from Opposition members to the back of the order paper.
Dr Wheatley explained to the House that his ministers were not prepared to answer questions because they weren’t given adequate notice. According to the rules that govern the HOA, ministers must be given at least five days’ notice.
“Through no fault of anyone except for myself, ministers were not given sufficient time to be able to answer the questions due to the late approval of the order paper and I give apologies for that. Generally, we have made a commitment to our colleagues in the Opposition that we will not unduly move questions and answers. We understand that it’s an important part of the parliamentary process and only in exceptional circumstances we would do so,” Dr Wheatley said.
In the meantime, Fraser said he accepts the Premier’s explanation but will be ‘hold him to his word’.
“I hold the Premier to his word when he said that, in the future, the order paper will not be willy-nilly be manicured in order to shuffle the questions and answers to the end of the assembly line. I hold him to that and I believe him.”
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