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06 December 2013

Question time is faster, but is it any better?

Tony Abbott is speeding up question time but that doesn't mean the opposition is eliciting anything more than abuse and derision.

Tony Abbott has started boasting of a swift and efficient question time under his regime.

And so it is becoming, under one crude measure.

But whether there's been a productivity gain, or a quality gain, is another matter.

The convention, unchanged from the previous parliament, is that question time should run until 3.10pm or 20 questions, whichever comes first.

Abbott has been letting the session run full time, irrespective of the number of questions.

On Thursday, when he finally called a halt, he exulted: After 25 questions and magnificent answers.

Twenty five, yes. Magnificent, scarcely. It doesn't much matter whether there's one question or a hundred if they are never answered.

In fact, in a sense, there were 26 replies, given that Joe Hockey half answered a question about north Queensland irrigation from Bob Katter before, most unusually, handing it on to Warren Truss.

Katter probably felt he deserved special treatment as he'd started by declaring Hockey an honorary north Queenslander.

In another sense, there were only 24 answers.

Malcolm Turnbull, delivering what's becoming his daily ridicule of the old government's NBN, recycled stuff he'd used earlier in the day during debate on legislation to strengthen the protection of undersea cables. A double counting of irrelevance.

Abbott himself was mainly responsible for the rapid questions turnover.

Three of his answers were a single, derisive sentence. One of them: The Leader of the Opposition has simply got his facts wrong.

He left most of the aggravation to his ministers and they joined the fray with enthusiasm.

Greg Hunt linked Qantas job losses with the carbon tax, provoking Bill Shorten to shout, Stop politicising job losses. Shame on you. Shorten earned a rebuke from Bronwyn Bishop for his trouble.

Peter Dutton calculated that the take up of the Labor government's electronic health records was so slow that it worked out at $100,000 a patient.

He thought about that for a moment, then sneered: By their standards, not a bad result.

Sussan Ley did a little number on the way Labor has regulated child care.

When red tape goes up, commonsense goes down, she said.

Labor backbencher Graham Perrett shot back with, You'll have free range kids in child care, and was kicked out.

Finally, there's yet another way of looking at what Abbott suggested was a record question time.

One question was ruled out of order, making it 25 questions but only 24 answers.

So a claim for a record might be dodgy, what on an athletics track might be called wind-assisted.

There was, after all, plenty of wind.

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