May 25, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Why Embarrass a Marginal Seat Colleague??

When you have worked for and with politicians for as long as I have, it is hard to feel embarrassed for them.
Yesterday I actually felt embarrassed for the Federal Minister for Community and Youth Affairs, Larry Anthony. Anyone else who watched or heard question time in the House of Representatives could be excused for feeling the same way.
The Opposition asked Mr Anthony a question on family payments – in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Family Services, Senator Kay Patterson. The Treasurer jumped to his feet and answered the question.
Then the Opposition asked Mr Anthony a more direct question – about comments he made in an interview with Laurie Oakes on the “Sunday” program, and the impact of over payments in his own Richmond electorate.
As Mr Anthony gingerly got to his feet, the Treasurer jumped to the despatch box and answered the second question as well.
Mr Anthony looked embarrassed, and was probably thanking his lucky stars that just about no one in Richmond watches, or listens to, the broadcast of Question Time!
I am old enough to be able to remember listening to question time on radio when Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister. If a Minister, no matter how junior, was asked a tough question, he answered it!!
More than one Minister in the Menzies’ years was either consigned to the backbench, or given a comfortable overseas posting at the first opportunity!
The idea that somehow Ministers should be protected from parliamentary scrutiny in question time would seem to be relatively new – and the sooner it is jettisoned the better!
Larry Anthony has now been a Minister for six years. If he cannot be trusted to answer a question in his own portfolio area, or that of the Minister he represents, then he should not be there.
Laurie Oakes now knows that the Treasurer watches the Sunday program, because Larry Anthony’s performance on Sunday was dreadful. That is clearly why it was decided he would have to be “protected” yesterday.
I can recall Ministers in the Keating Government being similarly protected, but it is happening with increasing, and embarrassing, frequency.
It was wrong then, it is wrong now.
I occasionally watch question time in the House of Commons on Sky News…….especially the weekly Prime Minister’s question time.
Fortunately, it remains the real thing – robust and unscripted. There are times when the toughest questions Tony Blair is asked come from the Labour backbench, and his exchanges with the new Opposition Leader, Michael Howard, are real, no holds barred stuff.
Question time in Canberra suffers because the Speaker constantly intervenes (he does not even allow humorous interjections), and because every second question is a “Dorothy Dix” without any pretence of being otherwise.
Now it is possible that Larry Anthony would have given competent or passable answers……but we will never know!

Posted by Jeff Wall at 10:36 am | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. I’ve tried watching Question Time, you are right when you say that the speaker is a spoil sport and that a good majority of questions are of the “dorothy dix” variety, but it is not very different from the questions our government pollies get asked by the commercial media.
    I guess it’s just a familiar and comfortable environment for them.

    Comment by matthew byrne — May 25, 2004 @ 11:15 am

  2. The public should be able to see Larry Anthony in action and Costello’s actions are patronising to him and to us.
    How will Anthony ever learn if big brother Peter doesn’t let him answer all by himself?
    Perhaps this is indicative of how worried the Government is, which can only be a good thing.
    I do take offence at the comment about Richmond, let’s not generalise, hardly anyone anywhere watches or listens to Question Time.

    Comment by Darlene Taylor — May 25, 2004 @ 11:22 am

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