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Fact sheet

Fact Check: Helen Haines says the current government has gagged debate in parliament more than any government in history. Is that correct?

Parliamentary scrutiny Parliament of Australia Australia

Independent member for Indi Helen Haines says the current government has gagged debate in parliament more than any government in history. 

The only readily accessible information on gag motions in parliament is available by calendar year, which is an imperfect measure for Ms Haines's claim as it doesn't line up neatly with governments. Furthermore, this measure only counts successful gag motions, excluding those that failed, though experts argued this was a reasonable basis upon which to assess the claim.

Fact Check has analysed the calendar year data since 1901, attributing each year to the parliament or government that accounted for the majority of that year. This measure shows the Coalition has used formal "closure motions" 627 times since it was elected in 2013, including 332 times since Mr Morrison's 2019 election victory. Mr Morrison's parliament comes out ahead of all other parliaments on this cumulative measure.

However, this approach fails to account for the fact that some parliaments lasted less than a year while others stretched into four calendar years. Similarly, the Coalition government that began with the December 1949 election of Robert Menzies lasted 23 years while Gough Whitlam's Labor government lasted just three years from December 1972. Hence the only fair way to compare parliaments and full terms of governments is to use averages.

This analysis shows that since 1901 the highest (imperfect) average for a parliament and the highest (imperfect) average for a government's term in office were both recorded by Labor under Mr Whitlam. The second highest average for a parliament was the 46th parliament under Mr Morrison.

Looking at averages for a government's term in office, the second highest was the Coalition led by Malcolm Fraser from 1976 to 1983 and the third highest was the Coalition led by Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Morrison since 2013. Looking at these measures combined, Mr Morrison has certainly been an enthusiastic gagger of debate, but Mr Whitlam outranks him.

Verdict: Ms Haines's claim is exaggerated.

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