Chapter 16 - Committees

Publications Committee

The Publications Committee, established by standing order 22, also normally sits as a joint committee with its House of Representatives counterpart. The committee has seven members but there are no formal conditions attaching to the representation of government and non-government senators.

The committee makes recommendations to the Senate on the printing of documents presented to the Senate and which have not already been ordered to be printed. An order to print a document ensures its inclusion in the series of parliamentary papers; all documents presented to the Senate are ordered to be published (SO 167). It is usual upon the presentation of committee reports to the Senate for a motion to be moved that the report be printed. The motion is not commonly moved when other documents such as petitions, government documents, delegation reports or reports of the Auditor-General are presented, and it is these which are considered by the Publications Committee at regular meetings in accordance with guidelines determined by the committee. When the Publications Committee reports to the Senate, recommending the printing of certain documents, a motion is moved, by leave, that the report be adopted (leave is required for a motion that would otherwise require notice to be given). The motion may be amended; for example, to provide for the printing of a document not recommended for printing by the committee.

When sitting as a joint committee with the Publications Committee of the House of Representatives, the committee has the following additional powers:

  1. to inquire into and report on the printing, publication and distribution of parliamentary and government publications and on such related matters as are referred to it by the relevant Minister; and

  2. to send for persons and documents. (SO 22(3))

This additional role of the joint committee arose from recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary and Government Publications (PP 32/1964-6) which were adopted in 1970. The investigatory function is invoked when the committee considers matters relating to Commonwealth publishing. The committee has undertaken inquiries under this function and presented several reports.

In 1993 the committee criticised the presentation of large numbers of annual reports of departments and agencies in the last sitting week before the end of the year. The basis for this criticism was that:

[t]he Committee believes that this situation diminishes Parliament’s role in ensuring the accountability of these organisations through their annual reports to Parliament by reducing the opportunity for Members and Senators to critically review and debate matters contained in the reports. (27th report, 4/5/1993, J.36)

Requirements for annual reports stipulate 31 October as the deadline for tabling. The requirements were part of the revision of accountability documentation stemming from the altered Budget timetable introduced in 1994 and provided under the Public Service Act 1999 (see below, Conduct of inquiries, Referral of matters to committees, Estimates).

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