The term is used in a mildly derogatory sense. Often, the question has been written by the Minister or his/her staff rather than by the questioner, and is used to give the Minister a chance to promote themselves or the work of the Government, or to criticise the opposition party’s policies, to raise the profile of the backbench Member asking the question, or to consume the time available for questioning and thereby avoid tougher questions. It is a common and widely-accepted tactic during Question Time in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
While it is not very common in the Australian context, it would be possible for a backbencher on the Government side of the house to ask a member of the Government a question without it being regarded as a Dorothy Dixer. Such a question would be one that the Minister was not aware of in advance, or that the Minister had not planted, or both.
It is common for
Dorothy Dixers to end in the question:
Is the Minister aware of any alternative policies? This enables the responding Minister to launch into extended criticism of the Opposition and its policy on the question’s subject matter, while still remaining technically relevant to the question as asked, as Standing orders require.
The term references American advice columnist Dorothy Dix‘s reputed practice of making up her own questions to allow her to publish more interesting answers.
Dorothy Dixer has been used in Australian politics since the 1950s, and has become increasingly common in everyday usage, although the term is now frequently shortened to
Dixer. However, its origin is unclear; the term is virtually unknown in other countries where Dix’s column was equally popular — via Wikipedia