Aussies want better tone to question time

Rebecca Gredley
A survey shows that many Australians want parliament's question time to have a better tone

Australians want the tone of federal parliament's question time to improve, an inquiry has found.

Politicians are combing through more than 500 pages of answers to a public survey on how federal parliament's question time can be improved.

More than 3400 people have responded to the survey, while 41 submissions were also made since the inquiry was launched in August.

"The committee was struck by the number of people who took time to provide detailed comments," chair Bert van Manen told the chamber on Monday.

The committee hopes to make recommendations to parliament by next year, in a bid to have updated rules by the end of 2020.

Mr van Manen says the feedback mainly relates to the format and topics of questions, the relevance of answers and ways to decide which politicians can ask questions.

Labor's Milton Dick is the deputy chair of the committee and says Australians want better answers and for the overall tone to be raised.

"The feedback has been crystal clear - they want question time to be answer time," he told AAP.

Mr Dick says it's not a reflection on Speaker Tony Smith, who he credits as being one of the best in the nation.

"But he can only use the tools that he's got in his toolbox," he said.

"I want to give him greater scope to sit ministers down who aren't answering questions ... or use more powers to get ministers answering questions."

He thinks question time should remain a place for tough, robust debate, while being respectful and focused on issues rather than politics.

Question time has been widely criticised, particularly over the practice of "dorothy dixers" - questions put by government members to ministers which allow for pre-arranged answers.

In such questions ministers are often asked if they're aware of any "alternative approaches" to their policies.

"(This) basically means question time is a free-for-all for government to talk about policy for about 20 to 30 seconds, then to bash the opposition," Mr Dick said.

To test it out, the MP once asked the deputy prime minister about a specific road project, which wasn't spoken to in his answer.

"I understand that if you ask a political question you get a political answer, but not when asking about a project relating to an electorate in this country," he said.

"I think we've got to do better."