Parliamentary Question Time has been dominated by economic and government affairs over the current term, while many social issues have been swept under the carpet.
Question Time is designed for the Australian parliament to scrutinise the role of the executive, and the House:Divided data-driven investigation trawled the archives to see what topics dominated political debate.
Questions Without Notice
Bond University students reporting for UniPollWatch analysed 3402 Questions Without Notice—all questions asked between the beginning of the current political term (November 12, 2013) and January 1, 2016.
Collectively dominating almost 40% of Question Time, the highest categories of debate were the budget, economy, government roles and businesses, foreign affairs, trade and carbon pricing.
In contrast, social issues were not a focus. For example, same-sex marriage was discussed in Question Time only 12 times (0.4% of questions).
Social issues and services—including same-sex marriage, unemployment, farm finance, and family planning— totalled 1.3 % of the questions.
An even smaller 0.2% of Question Time was dedicated to discussion of Indigenous affairs, which was raised only seven times—a figure that prompts questions about Indigenous representation in parliament. The majority of indigenous affairs issues were posed by Ken Wyatt, the country's first indigenous member of the House of Representatives, and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Other issues discussed in Question Time include: defence and border security (6.8%), education (5.7%), health (4.6%), immigration (4.1%) and industry-specific concerns (4.6%) and aged care, pensions and superannuation (2.4%).
Infographic – interactive pie chart Question Time by issue.
Questions in Writing
Agriculture was the most scrutinised portfolio during the last political term, with 58 written questions, many alleging inappropriate spending, submitted in the House of Representatives.
Of the 1479 questions in writing submitted between parliament’s first session in November 2013 and the beginning of 2016, the Departments of Agriculture, Agricultural, and Agriculture and Water Resources were quizzed over matters including consultants, funding and lost and stolen items.
The questions found that from September 2013 to August 2014 the Department of Agriculture spent more than $5 million on overseas travels, almost $2 million in legal services and nearly $18 million in credit card expenditure from 2014 to 2015.
Outspoken Labour MP Pat Conroy led the inquiries into agriculture departmental spending, asking 59% of the questions.
According to the Parliament of Australia procedure, Questions in Writing give members an opportunity to receive a detailed answer about government activities and administration; in contrast, reponses to Questions Without Notice in Question Time are unprepared.
Other departments that came under fire through Questions in Writing were the Department of Communication (48 written questions), the Department of Veteran Affairs (41 questions) and the Department of Immigration with (39 questions).
Again, the questions focused on spending, resources and staff travel costs within each portfolio; written questions rarely extended to areas of policy.
The Drought Concessional Loans Scheme was the focus of only three question, which included the details of the scheme eligibility and then later how many applications had been approved.