This morning at Transport and Industrial Relations select commitee we had the estimates hearings on Vote Immigration, Labour, and Employment. Three Ministers in three hours (minus time for the briefings from audit), so not a lot of time for the opposition to get into the detail of Budget 09, but certainly not unusual.
As a chair of a select committee in the last Parliament an hour for most votes was pretty standard, although for large or more contentious votes we often had longer.
So no complaints there. But what was very different was that Chair David Bennett informed us that he would be running a 50/50 split of time between opposition members (Labour AND the Greens), and National members.
This is not the convention. When I chaired a committee the bulk of time went to the opposition, and yesterday at the Education and Science select committee on Vote RS&T Chair Alan Peachey gave opposition members the bulk of time because of his belief also that it’s a time for the opposition to hold Ministers to account.
The convention is based on the obvious premise that if government MPs are really concerned about an issue, they are able to ask their Ministers about it at caucus. Opposition members, and the general public, can not.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if the government MPs had asked decent questions, but we sat through a series of inane questions about minor issues, the answers to which could be easily found on departmental websites.
Granted the performances by the three Ministers (Coleman, Wilkinson and Bennett) were far from stellar, but I didn’t think they needed that level of blatant protection from the Chair.