To go or not to go: question time at the seat of power

Irregular writer Max Williams travels to Canberra for a front row seat at question time.

Question time in the ‘big house’

Irregular writer Max Williams travelled to Canberra for a front row seat at question time in Parliament House. He rates the experience.

There we were, at question time in the famous green room of Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra. We had box seats in the Gallery of the House of Legislative Assembly – or lower house – watching the pollies do their stuff. Over the next couple of hours, we would be truly entertained by their antics, not so much with what they said, but with their theatrics.

The ‘new’ Parliament building in the nation’s capital is 30 years old this year. It stands majestic atop Capital Hill, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian War Memorial about one kilometre away. Its massive chrome structure with the Australian flag flying on top is impressive – a fantastic sight in this well-designed city layout.

We collected our free pre-booked tickets from the cloakroom – where you also check in all electronic devices and bags – ahead of question time. There are two rows at the entry – for those who have booked and those who haven’t. It’s better to book because you get great seats overlooking both sides of Parliament.  


The room was almost empty prior to question time. There was some ‘government business’ happening, but very low key. At about 1.50pm, they started filing in for the 2pm sitting. The friendly staff had provided a handout at entry, listing all politicians, their status and their floor location. It’s fascinating seeing all the pollies in real life.

At 2pm, with all seats occupied, the Speaker of the House introduced Ged Kearney, the new member for the Labor seat of Batman. She entered the House flanked by her support group. The members stood as one group, applauding as she made her way forward. There were hugs, kisses and handshakes. What a great acknowledgement by both sides of the floor.

The bipartisan support didn’t last long, though. Question time started and it was gloves off.

The Prime Minister at that time was Malcolm Turnbull. He received most of the questions, some of which he diverted to appropriate ministers. He was impressive on his feet and, mostly without notes, answered the questions well.

Some questions were prepared by his own party and he had pre-prepared answers for those. However, questions from the Opposition were never answered directly, instead receiving a standard party policy response.

The award for best theatrics of the day went to ‘ScoMo’ (Scott Morrison, then Treasurer and now PM). He was very entertaining, throwing his arms around and getting louder and more aggressive as he continued. There was name calling and pointing, and as the passion level increased, so too did the Opposition’s interjections.

Close your eyes and it could have been school kids yelling at each other at play time. Of course, the speaker was shouting, “Order, order” throughout. “The member has been warned,” he would say, in a general direction towards the unruly outbursts by the Opposition.

One Opposition member was ejected from the House during proceedings.

Labor leader Bill Shorten, with his back to the Libs, spent most of the time chatting and laughing with members of his own party.

The entire question time scene was farcical. It appeared most of these pollies were there to release some of their frustrations, have a bit of fun and entertain the gallery.

We decided to have a look at the Senate, the Upper House, in the Red Room. What a farce. There were only three members from each party in the room and about a dozen in the gallery. A Coalition member directed his five-minute talk slot to the gallery than to the three opposition members, because they were having their own discussion, backs turned and seemingly not listening or interested in what was said.

Both sides of the Senate seemed to have a tag system set up so there were always two to three members on each side at any one time. We did see that red-haired lady (Pauline Hanson) enter the room later.

Overall, it was an entertaining and eye-opening couple of hours. I would certainly recommend attending question time when it’s scheduled, otherwise you can take a free guided tour or just explore this most impressive building at your own pace.

Have you visited Parliament House? Have you ever sat through question time? Did you find it entertaining?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    pedro the swift
    14th Nov 2018
    And these so-called "servants of the people" expect our respect? They should be paying us to be allowed in parliament.
    I have on very few occasions watched some tv coverage of question time and got so frustrated with the obvious nonsense I had to refrain from throwing something at the screen.
    These are the people we(more fools us) have elected to run us and control our lives? Most don't deserve to be paid and some even have the hide to suggest they should be paid more and get more "perks". For what?
    I would suggest a collection of year 12 students would do a better job. at least they would be relevant to real life.
    14th Nov 2018
    Hi Pedro-
    I posted my comments before yours showed at least we are on the same wave-length as would thousands of others be if they watched 'question time' in either of the houses.
    14th Nov 2018
    I often watch question time on the TV. These two copied paras below are spot on. After watching I'm always disgusted with the behaviour and wonder why they are paid at all let alone earn pensions and other perks
    Labor leader Bill Shorten, with his back to the Libs, spent most of the time chatting and laughing with members of his own party.

    The entire question time scene was farcical. It appeared most of these pollies were there to release some of their frustrations, have a bit of fun and entertain the gallery.
    14th Nov 2018
    That turning their back to the person who has the floor is a deliberate ploy to pretend to show disinterest in the answer.
    As you said - it's all for show.
    Heaven help us if question time actually had anything to do with the running of the country.
    14th Nov 2018
    It's always entertaining and a free advertisement for both sides.
    I do not like the continual harassing interjection. I think it sets a terrible example on how to behave and have rational debate.
    Question time has lost its original purpose however it does give the general public a snip it of what is actually going on.
    The key is to listen to the key agendas and then start researching what is really going on. How many large scale projects have caught us unaware because both parties think its OK. NBN - you are going to lose your telephone copper cable. Myhealthrecord - we are going to steal your medical records without you realising it. Centrelink ....where to begin. The Drought ...who is mentioning it?
    If it wasn't for question time we would only have what was conveniently handed to us from the pretty trees at the side of the House.
    14th Nov 2018
    I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said b4, I often watch both the Reps and the Senate and agree on the way they pollie talk is truly quite a laugh if it were not so darn sickening and to know these low lives are getting paid a mighty mint for this rubbish they go on with.
    The way they do everything but answer the QUESTION -- duck and weave and go on and on with the same rhetoric over and over again and run down the opposition over and over again even though they themselves have been in power for years --

    To think they are getting paid such a large amount AND also get all the perks AND the pensions -- of which they do not have to wait until they are of an OLD age.

    If kindergarten kids carried on like these morons they would be in trouble.

    Everyone should watch these overpaid scum to realise just what oxygen thieves they are
    14th Nov 2018
    Parliament is or has become a Primary School with all the name calling that goes on. They all need to grow up and do what they are way over paid to do
    15th Nov 2018
    What I find the most annoying is the stroking of egos when the government asks a question of itself. Of course it is all preplanned and meant to make themselves look important.
    Why not have a genuine question that constituents are interested in and not rehearsed.
    15th Nov 2018
    Back in the 80s when I was teaching Primary school, it was a long standing part of the Social Studies curriculum to have the upper Primary students watch Question Time on TV and then late in the year to take a school trip to Canberra and Parliament House. The pollies' behaviour and language became so bad, that State schools were told not to allow the children to watch Question Time and it became very difficult to get permission to visit. And the behaviour has only become worse since then.
    15th Nov 2018
    My daughter was taken on a school excursion to watch Question Time in the late '70s. She came home and asked me, quiet seriously, ''do they really get paid to sleep or fight like pre-schoolers? Why do grown ups pay them to do that?" Then she announced that she would be a politician when she grows up because ''you get paid to sleep or shout and wave your arms. It's a really easy job with high pay."

    15th Nov 2018
    Bill Shorten has confirmed his arrogance makes him unqualified for public office. He responded recently to questions about his franking credit policy by saying you could talk to him ''up hill and down dale'' and he will NEVER change his mind. In the face of a public inquiry and massive opposition, to state that he won't even listen and consider potential problems with a policy confirms that allowing him any say in government is extremely dangerous.

    Unfortunately, I suspect most on both sides of the House are equally arrogant, but Labor members should at least be willing to consider the facts revealed by the public Inquiry.
    Then again, everything Shorten said to try to justify his policy was patently untruthful and totally illogical, so either he's an idiot, or he has a secret and harmful alternate agenda. (And anyone with a brain knows it's the latter!)
    15th Nov 2018
    The other day when that blockhead, Mathias Cormann was asked many times WHY Morrison had been sacked from his job for Aust Tourism -- he went on and on and on with the same garbage like he had been injected with a gramophone needle -- but STILL never answered the question
    15th Nov 2018
    Why should I waste my time watching kindergarten kids play in the sand pit? What must international visitor think? As for the "Speaker" what a waste of time! Where are the warnings the expulsions? There should be more! A fine system might curb their "fun" at our expense!!!

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