No question about it – it’s time to boycott Question Time

Like most Australians who find it difficult to form human relationships, I am an avid follower of parliamentary proceedings.

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Of course, I take a particular interest in Question Time, that wonderful opportunity for opposition members to hold the government to account and get answers to the important questions of policy on behalf of the Australian people.

The trouble is, sometimes it seems like the modern Labor Party is struggling a little bit with that whole “holding to account” thing – they’re not really making Question Time work for them as a mechanism for restraining the excesses of government.

So, I hope some Labor MPs are reading this, because I have a brilliant idea for making Question Time more meaningful, both for them and for the nation as a whole. And here it is: 

Stop showing up.

I have only rarely been more serious. Our nation’s political landscape could only be beautified by the Federal Opposition instituting a blanket boycott of Question Time. Here’s why: 

1.) The questions don’t get answered. People often say there’s a reason it’s called Question Time and not Answer Time, but those people can’t tell me why it’s not called Ignoring Time or Yelling Irrelevancies Time. Government ministers train for years to make sure they don’t mess up on the big stage and accidentally provide a relevant and coherent answer to anything – if an Opposition MP ever gets one it’s only by accident. What’s the point of continuing to show up when questions bounce off these people like ping pong balls off a giant tortoise?

2.) Half the questions are from the government anyway. It’s faintly ridiculous that Dorothy Dixers are even allowed, before you even get into how asinine they are in practice. I always imagine that MPs who ask Dixers in QT hurry home afterwards to scrub the shame off themselves in the shower for hours. Playing the part of the vomitous toady so transparently can’t be good for the soul. Every query from a government MP to a minister is cringeworthy and moronic. “Can the Minister update the House on how the government is helping families get ahead?” “Can the Minister update the House on how the government is helping build a stronger, more secure Australia for the 21st century?” “Can the Minister update the House on how the government is made of rainbows and fairy floss and is producing unicorns at an unprecedented rate?” Guess what – if the Minister needs to update the House he can email them. Why would any opposition member want to waste their time sitting through these interrogatory cowpats?

3.) Every opposition question is a target for the government to aim at. As noted above, ministers will not answer questions from the opposition. But they will seize on the opportunity to abuse the hell out of anyone who has the temerity to ask. Ask why Joe Hockey’s sums don’t add up and he’ll shout at ever-increasing volume about Labor’s debt and deficit disaster. Ask Peter Dutton why he is facilitating child abuse in refugee detention centres and he’ll shriek at inordinate length about how much Labor enjoys drowning people and helping terrorists. Why should Labor troop into the chamber day after day to provide set-ups for the government’s red-faced ranting?

4.) The game is rigged. Bronwyn Bishop is the Speaker. She sees her job as to help the government bellow its own praises, and shut the opposition up. Due to the idiotic convention of having a member of the government sit in the chair, all Speakers tend to a bit of bias, but Bishop is the Bradman of bias – every other Speaker in history is competing for second place in the Hopelessly Compromised Stakes. She ejects opposition MPs like it’s a nervous tic, and would no more think of ensuring ministers adhere to principles of relevance than she would consider looking up “impartial” in a dictionary. She is biased to a comical degree – the only thing funnier than her bias is the way the government pretends it doesn’t exist. They know she’s not interested in doing her job properly. She knows it. We know it. Everyone knows it. Labor certainly knows it – why should they bother continuing with a game refereed by an official who exudes desire for their destruction with every breath? They might as well get Andrew Bolt to moderate leaders’ debates.

5.) Labor’s no good at it anyway. Even if there was an impartial process, Labor couldn’t take advantage of it because they’re rubbish at asking the questions. Sure, the government takes every question as an opportunity to attack the opposition rather than provide useful information, but the opposition keeps making it easy for them by making their questions as dumb as possible. Bill Shorten can’t resist adding one of his brain-dead zingers at the end of every question, making it quite easy for his opponent to deflect. Tony Abbott might feel a little under pressure trying to squirm out of questions about policy backflips, if it weren’t for the fact that the questions are never couched in the simple terms of, say “prime minister, why did you promise no cuts to health or education and then go back on this promise?”; rather they end up as “prime minister, given your past promise of no cuts to health or education, isn’t this just another example of you being a snaky little creep?” So the questioner just looks like a point-scoring jerk, and the import of the question is lost amidst the shouting match. Labor could stick to simple facts and questioning the government on how their words and actions rarely align with them, but they lack the ability to ask a straight question, so the absence of a straight answer rarely causes much discomfort for the government. Why bother returning to QT to demonstrate your own inadequacy to the nation?

6.) Nobody’s really listening. The group of Australians who actually pay attention to parliament is vanishingly small. Even if by some miracle, we got an impartial Speaker, Dixers were outlawed, the opposition developed some semblance of interrogative skill, and the government had a sudden attack of integrity and began answering questions …it wouldn’t matter, because hardly anyone will hear what they say and the tiny band of hardcore political junkies will never be capable of influencing elections, or policy, or anything. Why on earth would anyone want to engage in a process designed to keep the public informed, when they know it never will? 

So, there you go. A compromised process that doesn’t come close to fulfilling its purported goals, and wouldn’t change anything if it did.

Moreover, the farce that is Question Time diminishes everyone involved in it. There is no way that Labor can impress anyone or effect any change by participating in QT. They’ll have a much better chance of achieving something if they just stay away. Empty the opposition benches during Question Time, show it up for the farce it is, and let the government sit there playing with itself for the allotted time. It’ll certainly make more people take notice than anything actually said during Question Time ever could, and might, just might, trigger a bit of serious thought about how the impotent processes of our democracy could be improved. 

I make this appeal to Bill Shorten, to show some initiative and courage and pull his troops from this fake battle. In fact I guarantee my vote to the ALP if they boycott Question Time, and I urge my fellow citizens to do the same.

It’s a stupid, boring, unpleasant game, and the only way to win is not to play. Please, Labor: stand up, and sit out.

Ben Pobjie is a writer, comedian and poet.