Chapter 16 - Committees

Referral of matters to committees


The reference of bills to the committees may be achieved by one of several methods. Bills may be referred by ordinary resolution following the giving of a notice in the manner described above for general inquiries. An amendment may be moved to the motion that a particular bill be read a second time to refer the bill to a committee as an alternative to giving it a second reading or in consequence of it being given a second reading (SO 114(3)). Immediately after a bill has been read a second time, a motion may be moved without notice referring the bill to a committee (SO 115(2)). The most common method is for a bill to be referred to a committee as a consequence of the adoption of a report by the Selection of Bills Committee (SO 24A). This committee, comprising the whips of the major and minority parties and four other senators, meets weekly when the Senate is sitting to consider which bills introduced into the Senate or due for introduction should be referred to committees for inquiry and report. The committee decides which bills should be referred, to which committee, at what stage and on what date the committee should present its report.

This system for the referral of bills leaves it open to individual committees to determine their own procedures. Committees are able to determine the most appropriate method of dealing with particular bills. The most common approach adopted by committees is for evidence to be sought from as wide a range of witnesses as practicable in the time available, including by written submission and by oral evidence at public hearings. Although most legislation inquiries occur in Canberra, some committees travel to obtain evidence. Committees may consider in detail or in principle amendments to bills that have been circulated or foreshadowed and make recommendations to the Senate accordingly. Alternatively, it may not be until all the evidence has been gathered that unintended consequences or unforseen problems with a bill emerge. A committee may recommend that particular amendments be agreed to but the bill itself may be amended only by the Senate. (See also Chapter 12, Legislation.)

(See Supplement)

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