Federal politicians may be forced to put down their smartphones and listen more attentively in question time if a proposal made by a parliamentary committee is accepted.
The committee has recommended running a “short-term trial of very limited use of mobile phones by members during question time.”
“On completion of the trial, the House would decide whether to restrict their use during question time on an ongoing basis,” the report recommends. [pdf]
But the committee was unsure if a smartphone ban of sorts would stick, because the devices were often used to relay information between parties inside and outside of the chamber.
“The committee considers that limiting mobile phone use by members has the potential to improve members’ engagement and the perception of question time,” it said.
“However, phones and other devices are used by members to communicate time-critical information - for example, ministers may be sent additional information from advisers to assist them to respond to a question in more detail.
“A trial in which the use of mobile phones by members in the chamber was severely limited would identify whether limiting their use in the longer term would be workable.
“The limits would apply only to members, and advisers would still be able to receive information electronically.”
Mobile phone use by members is permitted under a resolution adopted in March 2015, providing that the usage doesn’t interfere with proceedings or distract other members.
However, the committee heard evidence that tuning into question time to see parliamentarians glued to their phones gave the appearance they were bored, disengaged or not paying attention to proceedings.
“Trialling a mobile phone ban would lift standards of behaviour and could, along with highlighting other work of the House, improve how not only question time but the House more generally is viewed,” committee chair Ross Vasta wrote.
The committee also recommended, among other things, reducing the time limit provided for responses, and disallowing questions about “alternative approaches” to policy, a tactic favoured in government dixers to criticise the opposition.