30 Apr 2024

Annual ten-hour long interrogation of government performance begins this week

From The House , 10:00 am on 30 April 2024

One of Parliament’s big piece debates begins this week. The Annual Review Debate happens every year as the penultimate stage of a long review of prior government spending and performance (for the financial year ended almost a year previously). 

It will stretch across 10 hours and give the opposition a chance to question a line -up of government ministers about their portfolios. This questioning is a follow-up to months of hearings in the subject specialist select committees.

One of the people managing it in the House (from the Opposition point of view), is the Shadow Leader of the House, Labour MP Kieran McAnulty. Phil Smith chats with him about the event.

Labour Party Whip Kieran McAnulty in the House

 Labour MP and Shadow Leader of the House, Kieran McAnulty in the debating chamber. Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Kieran McAnulty - The Standing Orders give some scope to ask questions about current work programs as well, so it's not entirely looking backwards. But that remains a big part of it. 

The annual review debate is interesting, because it's time-limited. And there's a process beforehand where the Opposition registers their interest in certain topics with the Government. And the convention is that the Government will try and accommodate that, but is not really required to fully, but on the whole they do. And so we've gone through that process. 

Phil Smith - When you say the topics, you mean, which ministers are going to turn up around? 

Yeah, that's right. So the Minister of Finance, Minister of Environment, etc, etc. Associate ministers will be in the house as well during that allocated time period. And if there is a question directed to them, or they are the more appropriate person to answer it, then they can do so from their seat. Whereas the minister, the lead minister, is usually sitting at the Table.

This is the Committee stage debate of the Appropriations (which means budget) Confirmation and Validation Bill, which is the one that sort of ties up all the loose ends on the [old] budget, before the [new] budget. In a committee stage, the Minister responsible for a bill always sits at the table, and is available to answer questions. Well, you know, hopefully answer questions. But then this is like one of those except it's a whole range of ministers. 

Yeah, I can understand why it has been set up this way. It's so that Parliament has an opportunity to scrutinize the areas that it has expressed an interest in. And then certain time allocations are given to ministers. So that this time limited debate can be efficiently run.

Is there a bit of to and fro between you when you're doing the negotiation over who will turn up about how long you can have with this person versus that person? 

If we, as an opposition, were concerned about the time allocation, I'm sure we'd be able to try and negotiate. We weren't uncomfortable with what the Government decided to allocate. We could have made the point that in the past, certain ministers with particular portfolios have been allocated longer, but we were comfortable with it - enough. So we just ran with it.

[I guess] you want changes from year to year anyway according to what’s a current political issue, I suppose.

For sure. …There’s two topics: Media and Communications and Disability Issues that at the start of the term, most people may not have predicted that they'd be in there. But obviously, they are two areas of significant interest at the moment. So we asked for them to be included, and in fairness to the government, they obliged.

And they’re turning up next Thursday I think? 

It’s been pushed back, actually. Because, obviously, there's been a change of minister in both portfolios. So that's now on Thursday the 9th, but we've got no issue with it. That's fair enough. The new ministers need some time to get their head around things before they answer questions on behalf of the Government. So we've got no issue with it. 

Last year doing this, you were in government and being asked questions. This year, you're in opposition and asking questions, but the budget you're asking questions about is actually one where you were the minister for? So how do you kind of do that? That's a weird crossover.

That is a weird crossover. But because there has been a budgetary statement already, sort of a mini budget, you could argue there have been changes to allocations, there's been quite a few cuts, reallocation of resources. There's a number of work streams that were commenced in the period that we're looking at, there's enough to talk about 

From a Whip or …Shadow Leave the House’s perspective, it's actually quite a bit to manage, because you are time limited, but it's harder for the Government. So I've only known it from the government perspective. But it doesn't take as long to ask a question as it does to answer it. And so the Government always has to be really careful about managing its time a lot more, and keeping it allocated to that which has been determined. So an hour for finance, for example. So it's going it'll be a new thing from my perspective to get into it from an opposition approach. But we're ready. The team's been getting their heads together for a wee while about this is a few questions we want answers to so we're looking forward to it.

Note: Kieran McAnulty explains why careful time management is crucial. Time limits are allocated to and time spoken is counted against each party; but neither government or opposition sides would want to run out of speaking time before they got to the later topics and ministers. That would leave them either unable to usefully quiz ministers or unable to reply to hard questions.

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