Anyone who listens to Question Time in Australia's parliament would notice the many questions from government backbenchers that invite ministers to either extoll the virtues of government policy or condemn the opposition as being dangerous for the country. However, there was a time when backbenchers would ask genuine questions regarding the impact of various bills on their electorates instead of Dorothy Dixers, which apparently only became popular in the 1950s.

Why did Dorothy Dixers displace genuine questions in Australian parliament? Did the practice receive similar uptake in state parliaments and irrespective of the party of government? What was the media's response?

  • 1
    Not coming from a parlimentary democracy myself, I'm not familiar with its social norms. But from a purely leagalistic perspective, it seems perfectly within the rules to "plant" questions you like among your supporters, and probably unreasonable to expect such a thing wouldn't happen.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:05
  • Oh, absolutely. But the fact that it was always acceptable but didn't happen previously suggests a change in circumstances that either made planted questions more popular with the electorate or genuine questions more risky.
    – lins314159
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 0:05
  • I've seen similar things in the UK Parliament when I had time to watch it on Public Broadcasting in the US, although I found the "Ask the Minister" fascinating much of it was out of context for me. Despite the atmosphere, and some of the antagonism, with the public forum it does seem an ideal way for a government to get out its version from time to time. You'd have to be a political novice to NOT want to take advantage of this especially with the advent of television.
    – MichaelF
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 12:42
  • TV is what I suspect to be the primary cause. Would like to see that referenced though, and also if there were other reasons.
    – lins314159
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 14:31

1 Answer 1


During the 1940s and 1950s the "anti-labour" (and incidentally, anti-Labor) parties finally got organised, and started whipping their backbenchers. From the 1940s Australia has had a well developed party system with fairly rigorously controlled party internals.

Part of the reason for the development of rigorously controlled parties can be seen in the central division of Australian politics over the issue of labourism. The nascent labour movement failed to gain absolute and complete control over early socialist parties, and the requirement to keep our friends in the AWU inside the tent as much as possible led to a fairly vigorous discussion on binding parliamentarians within the Labor party and the Labour movement. Movements to the left of labor within the labour movement, such as the CPA or the Greens exercise even more control over their parliamentarians than Labor has or did—in part because of the criticism of Labor's failures here.

Prior to 1940 the anti-labour parties were fairly disorganised. They usually formed as a result of a split within Labor, with right wing members of the labour movement walking outwards towards the nationalist and imperialist right wingers, taking votes straight into the hands of the Country Party or the urban bourgeois party of the day.

Menzies stopped all this. His new party was well formed and organised. Menzies modelled a fair bit of his party organisation on Labor, but not so much as to offend anyone, and only the bits that worked for an urban bourgeois party.

Dixers are a result of the well-bound and well-founded parliamentary parties, their monopoly over Australian parliament, and their division over the anti-labor issue during the 20th century.

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