Theme and variations
Would it surprise you to be told that Question Time this week overwhelmingly related to one topic? Probably not.
When one topic dominates the country or news headlines Question Time at Parliament can be a bit one note, but that’s possibly the point of it. The questions are a public opportunity to keep governments and ministers answerable. But even this week the topics and the ministers were wider than you might expect.
Yes there were questions around Covid-19 quarantines and controls; but there were also various questions on aspects of the economy, on the dairy industry, mental health, defense, employment programmes, infrastructure, climate change, transport, training, refugees, disability, and dolphins (two questions on dolphins - which might be a first).
That’s a pretty wide topic range considering, although some of these topics also related back to Covid-19.
There was also a question planned on electoral law but Nick Smith who was to ask it contravened Parliament’s rules badly enough to be ejected from the House before it came up. So that was one question wasted.
Aiming for the flagship
Because the headline acts (party leaders) tend to hog the news coverage of Oral Questions you could easily think that they were the only ones involved. Not so, but they are usually the crux of things.
The Prime Minister has overall responsibility for everything that government does and naturally receives the largest chunk of opposition questions each day; there are just so many things the PM can be asked about.
Tactically speaking, party leaders are always going to ask and answer the greatest share of questions; oppositions have much more to gain by damaging the reputation of a Prime Minister, than that of some more junior MP, say the Minister for Silly Walks.
Of course the Prime Minister also gets asked friendlier questions from her own team to add to the total.
For example on Tuesday the opposition asked 43 questions in total to seven different Ministers. The Prime Minister received 11 of those 43, (plus four more from her own team). A quarter of the total more or less.
On Wednesday she had a mammoth 19 questions aimed her way by opposition MPs (from 45 total opposition questions), plus two from friendlier quarters. That’s a real peppering, close to half the total asked.