'Does the Prime Minister stand by all her statements?'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is frequently asked if she "stands by all her statements".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is frequently asked if she "stands by all her statements". Photo credit: Getty

If you've ever watched Question Time in Parliament, chances are you've heard the Opposition ask the Prime Minister, "Does she stand by all her statements?"

Almost invariably, the answer is "yes".  

The real question is then posed in a series of follow-ups. It's a tactic designed to test the minister, to find out whether they are across their entire portfolio - in the Prime Minister's case, across all portfolios.

Question Time is an opportunity for the Opposition to ask the Government a series of questions. Democratically speaking, it's an important way for the Opposition to hold the Government to account. Fast-paced and peppered with political humour, for most observers, it's the most entertaining proceeding in the House.

Questions are sent out at 10:30am each day so ministers can prepare their answers in time for Question Time at 2pm. 

National's Chief Whip, Jami-Lee Ross, paints a picture of ministers clambering around the questions like students waiting to find out whether they got a part in the school play.

"Everyone's attention turned to, 'Do I have a question? 'Do I have a question?'" he told Newshub. 

"They knew if they have a question, that could involve a couple of hours of preparation ahead of them for the rest of the morning. They knew that when they have a question, they were in the spotlight... They put a lot of preparation into that."

So, why all the "stand by all their statements" questions?

Variations on "does she stand by all her statements" were asked three times during Question Time on Tuesday. But it's not just a National thing; Labour regularly used the same question on National when it was in Government.

Mr Ross says it's a political tactic and the real questions come in the follow-up supplementary questions.

"It means the Prime Minister has to be across everything happening in her Government, rather than just briefing one particular set of circumstances. Also so the Prime Minister is tested across her broad set of responsibilities," he said.

The drawback of this tactic is the minister - or the Prime Minister - might not be able to give a very detailed answer.

By asking a specific question then you can expect more detailed answers.

"We have to weigh up whether we want to test the minister broadly on their portfolio, in which case we get broader answers that are less detailed or test the minister really in depth on something very specific," Mr Ross said.

He says Question Time is about publicly testing whether ministers are up to the job.

"We've seen over many years that ministers who are unable to withstand the pressure of Question Time - are unable to withstand that scrutiny and testing - can often end in a situation where their job as minister becomes difficult for them."