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My first Parliamentary sitting week as a Minister
This week has been my first sitting week of Parliament as a Minister. For the last two years I’ve been a Parliamentary Secretary, where you get to do some – but not all - of the things a Minister does.
But there are significant changes when you become a Minister – and some are particularly evident when Parliament is sitting. The first is where you sit in Parliament. The House of Representatives chamber is arranged in a horseshoe shape with four rows of seating. The first row, where Ministers sit, is referred to as the ‘front bench’; those who are not Ministers sit in the other four rows. From these seating arrangements come the terms ‘frontbencher’ and ‘backbencher’.
If where I sit has been the first change I have experienced this week, the second big change has been participating more actively in question time. This is the period of parliamentary business, running from 2 pm until around 315 pm each day, where questions are asked of the Prime Minister and other Ministers. Half of the questions are asked by Opposition MPs and half by Government MPs; as a general rule those asked by the Opposition are designed to attack the Government, while those asked by Government MPs are intended to give Ministers the opportunity to highlight positive developments in their portfolios.
My first Parliamentary sitting day was in February 2010, and from then until September 2013 the Liberal party was in Opposition. During that period I was able to ask a question on average perhaps once every second week. We then came into government, and I was made a Parliamentary Secretary – and one of the curiosities of these roles is that, under the standing orders, you are not permitted to either ask or answer questions in question time.
So this week, when I have had the opportunity to answer questions, has been a very big change. In fact I have been asked a question every day of the four sitting days – in each case, by a Government MP. Two concerned my new portfolio of Major Projects, Territories and Local Government. The other two concerned the Communications portfolio – and the reason I answer these questions is that the Minister for Communications is Senator Mitch Fifield. Because he sits in the Senate, not the House of Representatives, there needs to be a Minister appointed to represent him in the House of Representatives – and that job has fallen to me.
This has been an atypical week, with the Government wanting to give new Ministers like me a chance to answer questions, and with several Ministers away on government business overseas. In typical sitting weeks in the future it is unlikely that I will get questions at quite this rate. But it has been a good way to get started in my first Parliamentary sitting week as a Minister.
You can see the questions I have answered this week here.