Recorded: 21 August 1989
Length: 31 minutes
Interviewed by: Greg McIntosh

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Greg McIntosh recorded this interview with John O’Callaghan at Parliament House, Canberra on 21 August, 1989.  

G McIntosh: An interview with John O’Callaghan, Private Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Parliament House, Canberra, Monday August 21st, 1989. So the first thing I’d like to ask you about is just your general view on the Parliament Executive relations as you see it.

J O’Callaghan: Yeah, do you want to explore some particular questions to sort of lead the way?

G McIntosh: Yeah all right, well some people have said that, particularly in recent years, that the strength the Executive has increased and the parliament’s become less and less relevant or less and less powerful. Have you got a view on that?

J O’Callaghan: Yeah I think the case of the House of Representatives there may be some credence in that argument, but I think in the case of the Senate that argument doesn’t hold forth, mainly because the balance of the power of the Senate as such, and it has been for the last few years with the Democrats holding the numbers, that they can in effect force the Executive to take particular courses of action which they may not otherwise want to take. For example in relation to say legislation on Aboriginals; we’ll always have an Executive trying to anticipate for example what they think the Democrats might do or certainly we’re negotiating with Democrats much earlier in the piece than they would have been perhaps otherwise doing. That’s just one example but there are many others. It may not be the case so much in relation to budget legislation or appropriation bills which in effect take up the most time of the parliament because where there is an acknowledgement on the part of the Democrats for example that they won’t use their numbers to block supply. It means in effect that there is no weapon that they would use necessarily against the government; there might be some exceptions to a whole package but in terms of the whole package with that sort of commitment by the Democrats it means in effect there is a lot more flexibility there for the government with the Executive.

So I think in that sense it would be fair to say that the Executive — as it has always done in the past — is good on the task of bringing in its budget and managing its budget related packages as it always have done. I think if you were going to make some judgment about the relationship between Executive and the Parliament on for example, say budget or appropriation-related matters you want to look at whether the Executive now brings in more legislation in a budgetary context than it has in the past. And look the answer may well be yes, but that might be related to for example, the complexity of the taxation system where — we saw during the 70s and the early 80s schemes to get around the legislations in the [inaudible] that would have been put in place, and then there’s a responsibility on governments from that period on to make sure that the loopholes that emerged were no longer available. So then maybe in that context it’s required a lot more effort in terms of an Executive bringing forward legislation to cover off that sort of angle.

G McIntosh: Well you’d think, given that complexity, I mean the amount of complexity, the amount of information that governments now have to deal with, is that in itself going to be a cause for more Executive power? I mean your poor old backbencher with a couple of staff is really going to have a lot of trouble covering the sort of stuff that bureaucracy can feed into the Executive and that and the back up the Executive’s got.

J O’Callaghan: Well I think — I think there are some again that — certainly the amount of information around is increasing exponentially, but on the other hand, if you look for example at the Senate committee system which was developed fairly substantially the last few years, both in terms of the numbers of committees, the amount of committee enquiry that takes place, that there has been a fair enough although only limited increase in the resources available to committees but their modus operandi has been such that in effect that system has become quite a useful check on Executive authority and power. You’ll always get a bit of dispute about that, by what degree, but I would suggest too that for example, the bureaucrats now spend a huge amount of time preparing themselves for Senate Estimates Committee hearings is much more — much more so now than ever before.

G McIntosh: Particularly for the Feds.

J O’Callaghan: Particularly for the Feds. I mean Kim made the point in relation to, for example, committees enquiring into Defence, and I think there’s a case that something like 70% of committees in the Senate has been devoted to looking at aspects of the Defence portfolio. We’ve got to ask ourselves the question, why is that so? The Senate would say that they have to because the Defence officers, you know, they go on trips, you know, trips to places and trips to places far away, and there is something in that too, but on the other hand the bureaucrats have had to spend a huge amount of time, much more now than ever before, just preparing themselves for Senate estimates, preparing themselves the whole range of joint committee activities, both in the Reps and also in the Senate, and it takes up an incredible amount of time. It takes up an incredible amount of time for the Executive, for example, Minister Beazley spends a huge amount of time just examining submissions in the [inaudible], responding to requests from committee secretaries and committee chairmen asking for visits for Japan basically and things like that, much more so than ever before, and that’s all part of this check and balance system, so it’s no question about that expanding enormously.

G McIntosh: So do you think, you know, 1989, that the Executive is accountable enough to the Parliament?

J O’Callaghan: Oh, undoubtedly it is, undoubtedly it is, I mean…

G McIntosh: Because I’m getting a very — that’s a very strong view from sort of the Executive’s side of it.

J O’Callaghan: Yeah sure, sure.

G McIntosh: But you talk to the backbenchers and you talk to their staff, you talk to other people and they have that completely different view; it seems to be where you’re sitting that affects your perspective, which I guess is just human nature but…

J O’Callaghan: Sure, no I accept that point. No I think — I think it is, I mean for example now most backbenchers have access to a computer database, which they didn’t have say five years ago. That’s enabled them to get a lot more information a lot more accessible and a lot more accessibly. It’s enabled them to be a lot more selective about what they need to look into for example. Yeah, so I think in that sense the check and balance on the Executive is if anything increasing. But I think also there’s been a responsibility on the part of the Executive to sort of take that into account and I think — I think it would be fair to say — certainly in Beazley’s office — that we are doing just about anything of a new policy notion or anything that we think is a bit different from the past is going to bring itself under some sort of parliamentary scrutiny, whether you know, for example at question time or whether generally in debate in the parliament, or alternatively by committee activity, but in the main by committee activity.

There wouldn’t be, for example, one major area of controversy in Defence, which isn’t at the moment being considered by one or other parliamentary committee. Take for example project design, take for example the passage of ammunition in Sydney Harbour, take for example the progress on the new arrangements for the Defence reserve, particularly the Army Reserves, take for example the Minehunter Countermeasures Capability; all those areas which happen to be at this very point in time the most controversial areas in Defence are the areas which are being looked at by relevant committees.

G McIntosh: Is that mainly in the Senate or in the House as well?

J O’Callaghan: Well a combination of both. You know, certainly the joint committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is a lot more active now than it ever has been in the past. Now whether it’s because — well I don’t think you can sustain an argument in which we’ve said their resources must go because I don’t think that’s the case; there has been some increase in their resource base but not a lot. But I just think it’s a question of they’ve become more sophisticated themselves in fleshing out what’s important and putting to one side what’s not, and in a sense I think that’s been quite a useful check on the Executive.

G McIntosh: Another one where there’s been mixed feelings as you would expect anyway is the scrutiny through caucus committees. Some of the backbenchers I’ve spoken to said, you know, it largely depends on the minister and some ministers are real bastards and some are really good. What would your view be on the caucus committee system in general, I mean…?

J O’Callaghan: Well we’re fairly fortunate because Kim Beazley has had a very good working relationship with the two committees that he deals with most, that he deals with regularly, that is the caucus Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and the Industry committees and I think you’d probably find that the general rumour around is that most of his colleagues would — most of his backbench colleagues would acknowledge that he’s one of the better ministers. But there would be not one major Defence issue which he has addressed which he hasn’t brought forward through the relevant caucus committee. For example, just recently this last week he briefed representatives of both those committees on the Anzac Frigate Project prior to Cabinet consideration of the subject. A similar arrangement occurred in regard to the Submarine Project. A similar arrangement occurred in relation to Exercise Kangaroo ’89; we had them all carefully briefed, the relevant caucus committee were — the relevant caucus committee members were represented on the exercise along with their colleagues and the joint committee.

G McIntosh: Is that — I mean is that — do you think other ministers do that? Is it common or is it up to the minister?

J O’Callaghan: Well I think from the point of view of caucus the caucus itself would require a minister to bring forward those sorts of proposals or policy initiatives or changes of substance in the way they do business basically. I think if you looked around the Ministry you’d — some are obviously a lot better than others; I would imagine for example when someone like Kerin who’s got a very good profile amongst his caucus colleagues similar to Beazley. Some ministers are better at doing it than others. On the other hand some ministers have a lot more opportunity for doing it. It would be much more difficult for the Treasurer for example to be doing where he along — you know, and his other colleagues on the ERC, Expenditure Review Committee for example, everyone in effect shackled, month in month out trying to develop you know a budgetary strategy or whatever, and when you’re in effect bringing down two budgets a year. It’s not like in the past where you only had one budget every year and the process was sort of worked up over a period of about two months beforehand; in effect we have two budgets per year; you’re talking about, you know four to six months of solid budgetary-related activity which in effect takes up you know, almost all of their time.

But I know — well I think one of the interesting developments in this place under the Hawke Government has been that people, you know, refer to the Expenditure Review Committee regularly, but no one really understands the dynamics of it. Basically it requires this handful of ministers, Prime minister, Treasurer, Willis Dawkins, Walsh, but to be shackled to the Cabinet room day in, day out, night in, night out, week after week in the period leading up to the budget whether it be an April budget or April statement or the May budget, and that means for example those guys just don’t get the opportunity that other ministers would have, for example brief relevant committees because of that shackle. So that’s an important development, that’s the sort of development that we should have said to Brian Howe who was involved in process, but that’s a broad consideration, but I would think if you went along to Joe Dawkins and said — and looked at his record in brief in caucus committee I would imagine it’d be pretty good. I mean he brought some fairly fundamental changes in higher education, and I would imagine, and I’d be surprised to hear otherwise, I’d be surprised if he hadn’t been going regularly to his caucus committees, or at least having his office represented there.

G McIntosh: We’ll just move onto the second one. What’s your general views on the new Parliament House building and do you think it’ll have any effect on — you’re aware of the speculation that, you know, people have made about the effect on the Parliament Executive — what’s your view on the new building?

J O’Callaghan: Well firstly it’s a magnificent facility and there’s no — none of my colleagues would disagree with that. My comparison was the old arrangements. In the old arrangement it would not have been possible to do an interview like this for example in our old office in Parliament House, there wouldn’t be — you would not have been able to do it because there was nowhere to do it; there was no room in which you could turn a tape recorder on and speak. That’s not the case now. From the point of view of the operation of the Minister’s office the new facilities are outstanding, a lot better than they were. We’re a little bit different in this office to others for example because we’ve kept our policy advising group together in one main office like we had in the old place and in effect it’s freed up other rooms to have meetings and things like this, and that’s been quite useful. But I suppose the disadvantage from someone like Kim Beazley is that as leader of the House where he has to spend an enormous amount of time going backwards and forwards to the Chamber sort of managing his parliamentary responsibilities and leader of the House responsibilities and his Defence responsibilities, and it’s posed some new challenges. But — he and I disagree with this — but my judgment is that it’s probably made him a more effective operator because it’s meant that he’s had to give a lot more thought to putting his program together each day. We’ve got to have — to give a lot more thought to that as well, and I think we’re going to have more — our programs now each day for him are a lot more disciplined, utilise the time a lot better and…

G McIntosh: So because of the geographic size it’s forced you to become…?

J O’Callaghan: Yeah, in effect, it’s in effect a force that’s become more efficient, more — we have to spend a lot more time thinking about the nature of him going backwards and forwards to the Chamber before allocating time for industry representatives coming in or even the chiefs of the Defence Force coming in. So we have to think about all of those sorts of, you know, permutations, and by having to go through that process a little more now than ever before I think we’re actually utilising his time and I think he’s probably utilising some time better. The down side of it is that he gets less time to himself perhaps than he had in the other place, and the down side of that is that he — and he would this acknowledge this further — in the old place he could weekly go up and have breakfast in the Dining Room and meet a large number of your backbench colleagues from both sides of the House. Now that happens a lot less frequently because for a start he doesn’t go up to the Dining Room as much, it’s a lot further to go.

G McIntosh: There is definitely less contact between the Minister and Reps…

J O’Callaghan: There is, and I think that’s — I think that’s the challenge for the new House and I’m not sure that we’ve actually solved that yet. The challenge for the new House has been to enable the sort of contact which backbenchers generally had and regularly had with the Executive, both informal and formal, to keep that at a sensible level. Now I think generally it’s not too bad but it could be a bit better, and I think the challenge in the next twelve months is to get a little better. One of the things about the old house which is not germane to the new place is that there was a lot more informal contact. If you walk out of your office in the old place chances are where you bump into two or three Caucus colleagues or ministerial colleagues; in this place you might be lucky to bump into Keating or Bowen or whatever, and very rarely would you bump into a backbencher. So there’s a responsibility on both sides of the building, backbenchers particularly, to make the effort to come to a minister’s office and vice versa, more responsibility on the part of the Minister’s Office and their staff to make sure that there is that there is that contact, and that in fact is the challenge which hasn’t really been met but which needs to be met.

G McIntosh: If that informal contact does drop off simply as a result of the size do you think that’ll have any bad effects on how the place works?

J O’Callaghan: I don’t think bad effects, I mean it’s some marginal things; you’d be amazed how often you can do business just by bumping into people, and you know, someone says, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you for a while, I’ve been meaning to come and talk to you about such and such, do you think you can solve this?’ And that used to happen frequently. It still happens fairly regularly but it probably would have happened a little more under the old arrangement. I think though there’s a responsibility on both sides, I mean I haven’t — one of the backbenchers recently came to me and say, ‘We don’t get together with Kim or a few of the other ministers as much as we used to,’ and so as a result f that we’re going to make sure that happens a bit more. But Kim’s a bit of an exception because he does have a lot more contact generally I think with the backbench and others because of his role as Leader of the House; he’s free to negotiate some of our tactics in the Chamber or whatever, but there is a bit of a challenge there.

G McIntosh: What about relations between members and senators? Do you — you got a view on that? I mean a lot of people have said they didn’t see much of the senators before but now they just don’t even now where the hell the Senate is even.

J O’Callaghan: Well again, in some sense, those for example now in our neck of the woods who have an interest in Defence matters like Senator Schott and Maguire and McMullan people like that we’ll see fairly regularly, well we’ll be talking to them regularly on the phone. I think in the case of others that probably is the case, we may not see them as much; whether that’s good or bad, sometimes it could be a problem but not necessarily be a problem overall. I mean if you really need to talk to someone about it, you know, a particular problem of the day you’re going to get them on the telephone or they’re going to get you. And that’s not going to change, most of them haven’t changed since the old place either. No I think — I think the other way of looking at the problem is that in the Old Parliament House for example ministers were a lot more spread around the place; for example if you wanted to — if you wanted to talk to ministers in the old place about a sitting day and what may or may not come up on a sitting day you would have to cover a lot more kilometres in effect. Here where the ministry is in fact located a lot more centrally in the Executive Wing it’s a lot easier to get around and so for example on any sitting day I would be talking to nearly every minister on the Reps and one or two others on the Senate side, whereas in the old place it would have been a lot more difficult.

G McIntosh: Well just briefly on the last area then, are there any areas where you think there could or should be changes to make the place work better? I have spoken to you before about that, the one with the, you know, the bunching up of bills, we know that the problem with the Senate with that Macklin resolution. Is there any sort of way of overcoming that?

J O’Callaghan: I think there is up to a point; there’s a responsibility on the part of the Executive and particularly individual ministers to one, give a lot more early guidance to parliamentary drafting people so that they’ve got guidance early in the piece to get on drafting the various legislation but I mean this is what it was like, and that doesn’t happen perhaps as well as it should but I mean that’s a perennial problem, that’s not a problem that’s just, you know, germane to this place, that’s been around for as long as I can even remember.

So there’s a responsibility on the part of the members just to do that. The drafting people themselves probably would claim that they don’t have sufficient resources and I’m sure there’s something in that, and it’s a bit difficult and I think when all ministers say that their legislation is urgent. I don’t know a minister who would claim any of his legislation wasn’t urgent, perhaps by degree I think. So there is a problem in terms of resources available to the parliamentary draft people and Ii think there would be occasions for example where they could probably have their resources boosted quite substantially to make the passage, the element passage of legislation a bit smoother. I think too there’s probably a responsibility on the Executive and ministers also to give a lot more thought to whether in fact legislation is actually required. I mean I’m not convinced for example you actually need to bring as much legislation in as we have deal with at times. And this is an interesting example, if we’re dealing with about I think 110 to 120 pieces of legislation, now if you look for example in the area of responsibility for say the Minister for Primary Industry you will have a whole raft of oddball…

G McIntosh: Chicken levy…

J O’Callaghan: Yeah, chicken levy, you know, pigs law amendment and everything else. Now he and his colleagues in his portfolio would probably say that’s absolutely essential, but part of the answer, you know, shackling of the Executive by the Country Party go back many years, but frankly if you look at it fairly pragmatically you’d have to ask yourself you know, why is it necessary to have this raft of legislation? All of which seem to be essential. And I think there’s probably a bit of a responsibility to give a bit more careful thought to whether in fact we can reduce that volume.

G McIntosh: Who would — where would you see the pivot for that? I mean who would be responsible for doing that? Does that have to go to Cabinet or…?

J O’Callaghan: Oh well I think it’s probably a combination of things. It may be a recognition on the part of Cabinet that they’ve got to, you know, take a bit more stick to the packages. There is already a fair amount of stick I have to say; the Legislation Committee of Cabinet already does a pretty good job in refining the package that’s proposed but it could probably go a bit further. But I think overall the responsibility rests with ministers themselves, and it probably rests with ministers saying to the bureaucrats, ‘For goodness’ sake, you know, you’ve been doing this to us for the last five years, isn’t there a better way of doing it?’ And you know, you might be able to get a slightly leaner process out; you may not in some areas, it’s more — I mean in the taxation area you probably wouldn’t for example, but in other areas you might not. I think it’s worth sort of thinking a little more laterally about how we might get around that problem. Obviously we’d be much happier if we could get a lot more legislation in earlier. We usually for example find that in the Autumn sitting, that ministers Beazley and one or two of his colleagues, the Foreign Minister might get up and get a few statements out because there’s not a lot of business, and I think it’d be a lot better if we had business — you know, a lot more business earlier in the Autumn period. It doesn’t seem to be such a problem with the budget sitting because we’re dealing mainly with the appropriation bills really and there’s not really a lot of scope to be bringing other legislation in for debate at that period of time, but that’s not the case in off term.

G McIntosh: Do you think there’s enough sort of understanding and negotiation and so on between the House and the Senate on the whole legislation process? I mean it appears you know, towards the end of each session you get people stand up in both chambers, the Opposition would make their normal statements, Minister Beazley will say his bit and then the Senate, and everyone blames everyone else for problems; is there enough talking and stuff there?

J O’Callaghan: There’s certainly enough — I believe there’s certainly enough consultation between the relevant ministers and the Senate and their colleagues and the Reps. So for example, Kim’s the leader of the House counterpart and in the Senator Robert Ray is — we’re talking frequently, you know, about how we’re going to manage particular packages and legislation. But whether there is sufficient consultation say with the Democrats or members of the Opposition it would depend very much on an individual piece of legislation. I think some ministers are much better than others at talking with their colleagues in the Senate from both sides in a completely bipartisan arrangement.

G McIntosh: I mean the class would obviously be involved in a lot of this too, I mean is there a good relationship there between the House and the Senate?

J O’Callaghan: Oh well I’m assuming there probably is a pretty good relationship, I mean the only time we get a bit uptight about the relationship is when we’re waiting for legislation to come back from the damn Senate and we can’t get it, and the process seems to be absolutely laborious, but our experience in us getting irritated about that normally occurs on those one off sitting days when the House has been recalled to deal with essential legislation which has been blocked. But no I think generally overall it’s not too bad, but I think — I’d have to say all this with the process of the relationship between the parliamentary liaison officers, Barbara Belcher for example and the Reps, her counterpart in the Senate, is very good, very close, and also too that both those people, those who’ve got good links with say the Prime Minister’s office and their own and one or two other key ministers offices, and I think overall because of that relationship the process works pretty well, but I mean there is room for improvement. A lot of it I think relates to ministers themselves probably saying, ‘Okay, let’s put the politics of this issue to one side for a moment and let’s just think through how we might procedurally get things working a little better.’ It wouldn’t be the case you could always put politics to one side but I think — again, thinking a bit laterally about it, you’re not going to town with everyone. I think you know, you could probably pick and choose a little more carefully what you really need to ram through with or without support of the Opposition or otherwise of the Senate, and that which you, you know, quite happy to negotiate it with them. I mean I’m sure guys like Kerin were only too happy to negotiate with their counterparts in the Senate and do it very well. My experience with Kerin is that he’s an outstanding member of parliament and even though he might hit a brick, you know, one or two pieces of legislation like Wheat Marketing and that’s the exception rather than the norm.

G McIntosh: I think also Kim made the point I recall in the interview with him that sort of 90 per cent of legislation works — is dealt with reasonably smoothly; that’s probably true but you get this sort of ten per cent category where there are problems, and I think that’s probably right, although the 90 per cent might be changing somewhat because of the more effort the Senators are putting into, you know, minutely examining legislation, whether that’s necessary or not I’m not sure either, I don’t think so.

J O’Callaghan: But I think — I think there is some progress being made in the Senate in my view in handling legislation a lot better via for example this proposal to send some of the legislation straight onto committees, because I think that’s going to reduce the amount of wasted time.

G McIntosh: Well they’re going to cut back on — if they accept that — cut back on speaking time on it too.

J O’Callaghan: Yep exactly, and I think that’s — that’s a good development. I mean it is the case that the Senate, the way — the way the numbers run they’re always going to get down into the detail of controversial or near controversial legislation, and if it can go straight off to committee that’s probably a good thing, but provided the committee understands that it’s not going to be there just to, you know, thwart what the government has to do. But I think — I think in that regard that’s a good development.

G McIntosh: Well just finally John are there any other areas where, you know, that immediately spring to mind that you think are crying out for reform or change or whatever that might make the parliament work better?

J O’Callaghan: Well I think the subject that takes most time and interest is subject to Question Time and how we might better manage Question Time, but I don’t think there are any simple solutions to that. It partly rests on the responsibility of members to behave themselves a little more, and I mean that responsibility rests with ministers as much as it does with members of the Opposition and whatever. Obviously some ministers are bad in the sense that they don’t — they don’t answer questions as well as perhaps they should or could, so there’s a responsibility on them to refine them, you know, reduce the length of their answers. On the other hand, do we need to have a look at a slightly different arrangement for Question Time? Kim is of the view that we should, but I think there’s probably something in that. But I’m not convinced for example that if you have a Westminster system that you’re going to get the most robust, democratic form of Question Time. I mean I think one of the good things about our Question Time is that despite the fact that we’ll get points of order taken and people complaining about the length of answers you’re really exposing ministers every day, and it’s a question tactics then about how well you do that of course, I mean if you looked on either side of the front bench there’d be certain people you’d be asking questions of day in day out if you really wanted to put your mind to it, but whether that would fit into the overall scheme of the tactics for you know, whatever you think you’re going to get out of Question Time, I’m not sure. I mean you could line up three or four of the weaker ministers perhaps and really go to town with them but whether in the long run achieve a better Question Time and I’m sure you might achieve a few more scalps.

G McIntosh: The thing is they can do that now though can’t they? I mean I’m surprised that the Opposition hasn’t done that a few times when it’s been so obvious, you know?

J O’Callaghan: Exactly, exactly.

G McIntosh: They can do that now.

J O’Callaghan: I mean the advantage of the Westminster system if you take that line is that every few months you’re going to expose a wicked minister that way, and that would have a disadvantage, but on the other hand…

G McIntosh: But if you roster them on and they answer to that day, yeah.

J O’Callaghan: That’s right, but on the other hand if you look at the Westminster system they’re given advanced notice of the sorts of questions they’re going to get and any minister worth his salt is going to make sure that he has an answer, irrespective of how good it is, against each of those questions, and I mean anyone worth his salt’s going to be in a position where he’s not going to trip himself up too easily, he’ll just have a, you know, a standard response which will make sure that the politics have been thought through. So in that sense whilst the system has some merit I think if you look at it in that way it probably has some disadvantage. I think our Question Time it’s a robust Question Time; the performance there most days, I think despite the noise and that sort of thing, is that it’s a pretty good way of example.

G McIntosh: Well ironically a lot of the public criticise Question Time and say it’s too rowdy, but that’s probably a very good indication because if you’re in parliament where there’s no noise or one Opposition member, i.e. in Singapore, then democracy’s unhealthy.

J O’Callaghan: Exactly. I mean it depends very much too on the teams, you know, if you’ve got a capable performers in Question Time you know, obviously it’s going to be rowdy and obviously it’s going to be harder for an Opposition to score points. On the other hand, you know, any opposition worth their salt, if they’re smart because of their tactics they’re going to score some points, it’s just a question of how they go about it. I mean I wouldn’t be there asking Keating questions every day if I was there unless I had something against them because you’d know that you’ll get the sort of response with interest. It’s a bit like watching a girl kick a football and they’re gaining metres once you, you know, once you’ve given a bit of space, it’s just, it’s not the way to go, but I think overall our system works pretty well despite the limitations it has. And I’m not sure for example that there too many mechanisms to improve it other than some thought might be given to extending it slightly so that rather than just 45 minutes it could be say an hour, and perhaps you could think about having say a minimum number of questions so that if you didn’t get that minimum number you could then extend it slightly, you know that’d be obviously a matter for a prime minister of the day. I think most prime ministers would be reasonably robust to think about that, I mean obviously if they were political difficulties they’d want to cut things off but I think overall it wouldn’t be too bad, in fact if people have been carefully been watching Question Time in the last 12 months they would have found occasions where the PM has let things run on a bit purely for that reason.

G McIntosh: Well a few times it’s gone through at least til five to three or three o’clock hasn’t it, yeah?

J O’Callaghan: Yeah that’s right, there was an example last week, and I think too the—you don’t remember we were talking about a responsibility of ministers to make their answers shorter; well a bus fire in 1989, the length of time taken to answer questions was bouncing.

G McIntosh: I think too there’d be people who have got to sort of put it in the cycle of—when you get into sort of pre-election mode too—the game gets a bit tougher then and the governments don’t give things away quite as easily. I mean I think, you know, in effect you’ve got to go through this cycle, but early in your period of government you can probably make some changes and adjustments or propose some changes on a trial basis, but when the game gets a bit towards the election period governments are going to be a bit less reluctant to do things which are a bit different, you know, they want to go and keep things manageable, and so I think you know maybe for the next parliament you know, stuff that could be given to say slightly extending Question Time, having a minimum number…

J O’Callaghan: Well I think from memory, from the surveys I’ve looked at, from the MPs anyway; I think it’d be a majority who would agree with that and would like to see some changes there, but…