Chapter 5 - Standing and Select Committees

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General committee provisions

27    Membership

  1. Except as otherwise provided, the senators to serve on a committee shall be nominated by the mover, and if one senator so requires, they shall be selected by ballot.

  2. A senator may be discharged from attending a committee and another senator appointed, either by nomination or ballot, after notice.

  3. The President shall not be elected to any committee other than one of which the President is an ex officio member.

  4. If the Deputy President is elected to serve on a committee and declines to do so, another senator shall be elected.

  5. A senator shall not sit on a committee if the senator has a conflict of interest in relation to the inquiry of the committee.

  6. Where a committee is empowered to appoint sub-committees, each sub-committee shall have at least one member appointed to the committee on the nomination of the Leader of the Government in the Senate and at least one member appointed to the committee on the nomination of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 282 to 285 (corresponding to paragraphs (1) to (5)) but renumbered as SOs 278 to 281 for the first printed edition

Amended:

  • 1 September 1937, J.44 (to take effect 1 October 1937) (minor amendment to paragraph (3), which originally named the committees to which the President was appointed, and to update one of the committee names – “House or Refreshment Department Committee” became “House Committee”)
  • 22 October 1981, J.589–90 (change of title of the office of Deputy President)
  • 13 February 1997, J.1447 (to take effect 24 February 1997) (incorporation of changes relating to the 1994 restructuring of committees in relation to the membership of subcommittees – new paragraph (6))

1989 revision: Old SOs 290 to 293 combined into one, restructured as five paragraphs, repositioned from old chapter XXII on select committees and renumbered as SO 27; some updating and clarification of expression

Commentary

While most of the elements of SO 27 were adopted without debate in 1903 (paragraphs (2) to (5)), the first paragraph, as proposed SO 282, was extensively debated.[1] Originally expressed to apply to select committees, it was always intended to apply to the standing committees as well. As President Baker pointed out, all committees that were not committees of the whole were, by definition, select committees because they comprised a selection of senators.[2] President Baker also argued to keep the standing order as simple as possible, without superfluous detail. It was understood that the mover of a committee would always submit a list of names to the Senate but an amendment clarified the situation by making this mandatory rather than discretionary. At this point, a ballot could be required to propose alternative members. The Standing Orders Committee had proposed that such a ballot be requested by three senators but another amendment reduced the requirement to one senator.[3]

Amendments in 1937 and 1981 were of incidental significance only and simply altered terminology to bring the standing order up to date.

The 1989 revision brought four old standing orders together and further updated their expression. Instead of listing the committees of which the President was a member, for example, the revised version referred generically to committees of which the President was an ex officio member, providing flexibility for the future. The Deputy President continued to have the option of serving as an appointed member of a committee, or declining if he or she chose. The phrase at the beginning of paragraph (1), “except as otherwise provided”, was added to take account of the advent of the membership formulae that existed for many committees. These formulae, which prescribed the party composition of committees and provided for members to be nominated by the Leaders of the Government or Opposition in the Senate, or minority groups or independent senators, had effectively superseded the nomination of members by the mover of a committee. Currently, in most cases, the nomination process is “as otherwise provided”. Nominations are made in writing to the President who reports them to the Senate. A minister then moves a motion – by leave, because notice would otherwise be required – to appoint the nominated members. Where there is more than one nomination for a committee position, a ballot is held automatically. Subsequent changes to committee membership are made in accordance with paragraph (2), subject to the membership formulae for specific committees. As noted, motions to discharge members and appoint new ones in their place are moved by leave, usually as part of the daily procedural motions, to avoid the delay that would be caused by giving notice.

Paragraph (6) of the current formulation was incorporated into the standing orders on the recommendation of the Procedure Committee in its First Report of 1996.[4] It had been recommended by the committee in its First Report of 1995 as a follow-up change to the 1994 restructuring of the committee system, but the report had not been formally adopted. Like the 1994 changes to the quorum provisions, the stipulation that subcommittees include at least one government and one opposition member was designed to ensure cross-chamber balance at all committee meetings, whether of the principal committee or of a subcommittee.

Paragraph (5) is intended to address potential conflict between senators’ private interests and their public duty. See Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edition, pp.376–7.

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