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Quiet obedience can never serve Labor MPs well

By Barry Cohen - posted Friday, 20 April 2007

There are very few occasions on which the executive is placed under the microscope and subjected to the full scrutiny of parliament. Question time is one of them. Any member can rise and ask a question of any minister, from the Prime Minister down.

Well, that used to be the practice.

On March 20, Kevin Rudd, Robert McClelland, Rudd, Julia Gillard, Gillard, Gillard, McClelland, Joel Fitzgibbon and Stephen Smith asked questions.


Either I had double vision or someone had pushed the replay button. All of the above are on the Opposition front bench. Not a backbencher in sight. Labor's leadership had arrogated question time to itself.

Worse, no one seemed to care. Not the Labor Party, not the media and certainly not the general public.

I raised the matter in a column almost four years ago after the following discussion with a Labor backbencher, who I suggested should ask a question on a current issue.

"They won't let me."

"Who won't let you?"

"The tactics committee."


I listened, mouth agape, as he told me that each sitting morning, the tactics committee met to decide the questions that would be asked and who would ask them.

The tactics committee, I learned, was made up of the same bright sparks who had guided Labor to its electoral triumphs of 1996, 1998 and 2001. They repeated the dose in 2004.

After regaining my composure I explained to him that he was a member of parliament and he had a right - nay, a duty - to ask any question he wished.

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First published in The Australian on April 16, 2007.

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About the Author

Barry Cohen was Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Environment in the Hawke Government from 1983 to 1987. He currently runs an animal sanctuary in Calga, NSW.

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