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Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 16 - Committees

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Conduct of inquiries

Referral of matters to committees

Committees may inquire into and report upon only such matters as are referred to them by the Senate. The terms of reference may be contained in the standing order or resolution establishing the committee.

Legislative and general purpose standing committees receive references from the Senate by specific resolutions referring subjects for inquiry or particular bills. Estimates of expenditure are referred to them in accordance with standing order 26. The committees have continuing references to consider annual reports and the performance of departments and agencies allocated to them.

The standing orders declare that references to legislative and general purpose standing committees should relate to subjects which can be dealt with expeditiously and committees should take care not to inquire into matters which are being examined by a Senate select committee.[161] This provision is designed to discourage duplication of inquiries.[162]

Unlike select committees (see above), there is no requirement that a reporting date be fixed when a matter is referred to a legislative and general purpose standing committee but, in practice, most motions do include a reporting date. Where a matter is referred to a committee and the resolution specifies a reporting date, a senator may, after notice or by leave, move to modify the resolution to extend or otherwise alter the reporting date.[163] The Senate seldom refuses an application for an extension of time, particularly when a reasonable explanation is given for the delay.

General references

Matters for inquiry by the legislative and general purpose standing committees are usually referred in accordance with the procedure outlined in standing order 25(11). Notice of a proposed reference may be given by a senator at the usual time for the giving of notices or at any other time, without requiring leave of the Senate, when there is no other business before the chair. Alternatively, a copy of the notice may be delivered to the Clerk, who reports it to the Senate at the first opportunity.

Motions to refer matters to standing committees are characterised as Business of the Senate[164] and therefore take precedence over Government and General Business on the day for which they are given. Motions to refer matters to select committees are characterised as General Business and do not take precedence. Motions to modify references to standing committees by altering the terms of references are treated as equivalent to references to standing committees and are therefore placed on the Notice Paper as Business of the Senate. Notice of such motions, if relating to legislative and general purpose standing committees, may be given at any time without leave in accordance with the procedure set out in standing order 25(11). Motions which merely alter the reporting dates for references, however expressed, are not regarded as modifications of references and therefore are not treated as Business of the Senate, and notice of such motions may be given only at the time provided for notices or at other times only by leave. Similarly, a motion to transfer a reference from one committee to another is treated as general business unless there is some change in the terms of the reference.

Matters may also be referred to committees by way of an amendment to a motion during the consideration of a bill. During the consideration of appropriation bills an amendment may be moved at any stage of the proceedings, other than in committee of the whole, arising from a recommendation of a committee.[165]

In many cases, notice of a motion to refer a general inquiry to a committee is given by the chair of the committee after a proposal for terms of reference has been developed at the committee's instructions by the secretariat. Such notices are usually taken as formal on the day for which they are given; that is, they are determined without debate. In a significant number of cases, however, references are developed outside the committee and may be debated extensively before being agreed to or disagreed to. The debate on a reference provides a useful guide to the reasons for and scope of the inquiry, as envisaged by the senators supporting it.

Legislation

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.[166] Immediately after a bill has been read a second time, a motion may be moved without notice referring the bill to a committee.[167] An amendment to refer a bill to a committee may also be moved to the motion to adopt the report of the committee of the whole, although such amendments are rare given the late stage in proceedings on a bill that this represents. 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.[168] 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.[169]

In 2009, the Senate tried an unusual method of referring bills before their introduction in either House to provide for adequate consideration of bills introduced in the House of Representatives during the Budget estimates hearings that were required to come into operation on or before 1 July.[170] A modified arrangement was tried in 2010 and 2011 with individual committees able to determine unanimously which bills did not warrant inquiry and to report to the Senate accordingly. While unusual, these orders allowed legislation committees to maximise the opportunities for consideration of time critical bills.

Estimates

For considering estimates, committees receive their references in accordance with standing order 26. Usually following the introduction of the relevant appropriation bills, a minister moves that the particulars of proposed expenditure be referred to the committees for inquiry and report by a nominated date. These references are usually moved twice a year in relation to the main Budget bills (Appropriation Bills Nos 1 and 2 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill) and the additional estimates contained in Appropriation Bills Nos 3 and 4 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2). Statements of expenditure from the Advance to the Minister for Finance and tax expenditure statements are also referred to the committees.

Further appropriation bills to accommodate specific additional expenditure requirements may be introduced. On occasion, the particulars of this expenditure have been referred to estimates committees. In the 1982-83 financial year there were six appropriation bills, the second pair of which were passed by the Senate on the second day of the new Parliament in order to accommodate the new government's pressing requirement for funds in advance of the usual additional estimates due for introduction later in the Autumn sittings.[171] The funds in Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1982-83, for example, were required to respond to the disastrous bushfires of that year. An amendment was moved to the motion for the second reading of both bills to provide for the schedules of expenditure in the bills to be referred to the appropriate estimates committee for examination and report at the same time as the additional estimates for the 1982-83 financial year. In other words, the estimates committees were to examine the proposed appropriations after they became law.

Estimates committees also reported on a bill after it had passed in 1991-92. A fifth appropriation bill was introduced in March 1992 before the third and fourth bills had been agreed to by both Houses. It contained provision for expenditure on three programs which had already been provided for in Appropriation Bill No. 3 but whose urgency was such that the government could not wait for Appropriation Bill No. 3 to undergo the usual lengthy scrutiny. The relevant funds were subsequently omitted from Appropriation Bill No. 3 by amendment in the House of Representatives and the particulars of the expenditure covered by the resulting Appropriation Bill No. 5 were referred to estimates committees.[172] An attempt to postpone consideration of the bill until the estimates committees had reported was unsuccessful as was an attempt to refer the bill to three standing committees for consideration.[173] The relevant estimates committees reported on the particulars after the bill became law and in conjunction with their examination of additional estimates for that year.[174]

In the 1993-94 financial year three sets of particulars were referred to estimates committees as a consequence of the bringing forward of the Budget from August to May. In 2003-04 there were two extra appropriation bills (Nos 5 and 6) which were referred to legislation committees for estimates hearings.[175] Two extra appropriation bills (Nos 5 and 6 of 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08) were also referred for estimates hearings with the annual appropriation bills of 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09.[176]

The particulars of proposed expenditure are detailed in three documents, known as Documents A, B and C, tabled by a minister. Each of the documents refers to one of the bills, with Document A, for example, giving details in relation to Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and Document C giving details in relation to the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill. With these documents, another set of documents is tabled, giving a breakdown of expenditure and proposed expenditure, with accompanying explanations, according to the output structure of agencies.

Departmental explanations of the estimates are tabled in the Senate and used by the committees. They were originally known as Explanatory Notes. The name changed briefly to Program Performance Statements (PPS) between 1991 and 1994 to reflect program budgeting, and yet another change of name occurred in 1994 when the Budget was introduced in May. The documents then became known as Portfolio Budget Statements (for the main Budget round of estimates) and Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements (for the additional estimates). These documents were significantly shorter than the former PPSs and attracted adverse comment from all estimates committees when they first appeared in relation to the 1994-95 Budget estimates considered in May-June 1994. The reason provided for the diminution in information was that in the absence of full year performance information, which would not be available before the end of the financial year, the statements focused only on new budget measures and significant variations in expenditure, the latter defined as variations in excess of $10 million and 5 percent of an agency's budget. The focus of the documents was therefore designed to be prospective. Retrospective information would be provided in the annual reports of agencies, now required to be tabled by 31 October each year and to contain information about the year's performance which had previously been provided in the PPSs.

Under previous arrangements for an August Budget, PPSs provided a comprehensive picture on a program basis of departmental expenditure from all sources including the appropriation bills and any special or standing appropriations (which now account for over 85 percent of government expenditure). The documents provided an effective agenda for the full consideration in September-October of an agency's performance over the previous year and its expenditure proposals for the current financial year. Estimates committee scrutiny of additional estimates in February-March was confined to those programs for which additional moneys were being sought[177] in light of performance information provided in annual reports at the end of October. Orders of the Senate of 24 August 1994 (now in SO 25(20)) provide explicitly for committees to examine annual reports in conjunction with their consideration of estimates, thus opening up the agenda, particularly for additional estimates.

In 1999 the government converted the Commonwealth's budget to an output-based accrual as distinct from a cash flow basis, the main change being full accounting for liabilities, assets and depreciation. This change affected the content of the appropriation bills and the documents now called Portfolio Budget Statements. It also potentially widened the scope of inquiry at estimates hearings. An inquiry by the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration in 2007 recommended more detailed reporting on numerous aspects of appropriations and expenditure, including the restoration of reporting on expenditure at the program level to enhance transparency.[178]

Annual Reports

Annual Reports of government departments and agencies are examined by committees in accordance with standing order 25(20) and an order of the Senate allocating portfolios to committees.

Under the procedure, committees are required to consider in more detail those reports which are apparently not satisfactory and may select other annual reports for more detailed consideration. In their examination of the reports, the committees are also required to note late receipt of any reports and to take into account any relevant remarks about the report made in debate in the Senate and to draw to the Senate's attention any significant matters relating to the operations and performance of bodies furnishing annual reports. As well as the 'normal' consideration of annual reports, committees may also consider the annual reports of departments and budget-related agencies in conjunction with their examination of estimates. Reports on annual reports tabled by 31 October each year are due by the tenth sitting day of the following year. Reports on annual reports tabled by 30 April each year are due by the tenth sitting day after 30 June that year. This timetable ensures regular and timely information on annual reports. Finally, committees are required to report to the Senate each year whether there are any bodies which do not present annual reports to the Senate but which should do so.

Although it is still rare for committees to hold public hearings on annual reports as such, scrutiny of annual reports is important for the assessment of an agency's performance.

The systematic evaluation of annual reports by committees has its origin in a report by the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration in 1989, entitled The Timeliness and Quality of Annual Reports.[179] The committee envisaged that examination of annual reports would go further than mere examination of style, format and compliance with guidelines. The reviews would focus on the operation and performance of executive agencies and would complement the work of estimates committees.

Before 1989, committees dealt with annual reports on an ad hoc basis in a variety of ways ranging from simple examination to the seeking of submissions and holding of hearings. From 1973, successive resolutions of the Senate had the effect of referring all annual reports of departments, authorities and statutory corporations to the relevant legislative and general purpose standing committee. Committees had a discretion to pursue or not pursue inquiries into the reports. Orders of 14 December 1989 and 13 May 1993 formalised the process, until incorporation in the standing orders in 1997.

Performance of government agencies

Another element of the committees' work is scrutiny of the performance of departments and agencies allocated to the committees.[180] There is no requirement in the standing orders for committees to report separately on this function, although they may do so. Committees may also report on performance in the context of their examination of annual reports or estimates of departments and agencies.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration had several standing references dealing with the accountability of statutory and non-statutory bodies and Commonwealth-owned companies, culminating in the completion and publication of lists of Commonwealth bodies, in effect a map of Commonwealth administration.[181] The list is now published by the Department of Finance and Deregulation.[182]

Petitions

All petitions presented to the Senate are provided to the appropriate standing committee for consideration. This practice arose in 1982 from a suggestion that there should be some mechanism for following up petitions if appropriate. Committees have occasionally reported on petitions which have relevance to their standing references, for example the performance of government agencies. If a committee wished to pursue other matters raised in a petition, it would need to seek the reference of the matter by the Senate. In its 3rd Report of 1995[183] the Procedure Committee recommended against a suggestion that the reference of petitions be formalised.

Evidence gathering

Advertising the reference

Many, but by no means all, committee inquiries are publicised in appropriate media, including through the Internet and paid advertisements in the press. Given the ubiquity of the internet, most advertising occurs through that medium but press advertisements are run on a regular basis and specialised advertising may occur in exceptional circumstances if the cost is warranted.

Inviting submissions

In addition to advertising, all committees maintain mailing lists or lists of contacts who may be a vital source of input to committee inquiries. At the beginning of each inquiry, submissions are routinely invited from the relevant government agencies and non-government organisations known to have an interest in the matter under examination. Invitations may also be issued to individuals with a special interest or expertise in the field.

In advertisements and in information supplied to assist people in making submissions, prospective witnesses are advised of their rights and obligations. For example, it is stressed that a submission made to a committee becomes a committee document, and it is for the committee to decide whether to receive it as evidence and whether to publish it. Unless there are strong reasons to withhold publication, committees normally authorise the publication of submissions received. Authors of submissions are advised that they should not publish or disclose their submissions to others until the committee has authorised publication. Notes to assist in the preparation of submissions and for the advice of witnesses appearing before committees are provided. Witnesses are informed of their rights under the Senate's Privilege Resolutions.[184]

Selecting witnesses

Committees normally select witnesses from those people and organisations who have made submissions, but they may also seek out additional witnesses, for example, if an important issue or aspect of the inquiry is not addressed by the submissions received. The analysis of submissions and the testing of such material at public hearings is the chief means by which committees conduct inquiries. Where time is too short to seek written submissions, which often is the case with inquiries into legislation, the public hearing is the main vehicle for the inquiry and the selection of witnesses is of paramount importance. While most committees attempt to hear from a cross section of witnesses in such circumstances, other approaches have also been used. The Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, for example, in its inquiry into the ATSIC Amendment (Indigenous Land Corporation and Land Fund) Bill 1994, took evidence from witnesses who had difficulties with the bill in order that those problems could be tested. Although this approach attracted some criticism in the minority report, it nonetheless enabled the committee to make effective use of limited time.[185]

Public hearings

It is usual for witnesses to be invited to attend committee hearings, in the first instance.[186] The taking of evidence at public hearings is a key element of most Senate committee inquiries and is an opportunity to test, in public, views expressed in the written submissions already received by the committee.

Many public hearings held by Senate committees are held outside Canberra. This enables committees to "take the Senate to the people" and to obtain first hand experience of the issues under consideration through inspections and briefings that are often undertaken in conjunction with public hearings.[187]

Public hearings are governed by rules relating to the conduct of proceedings (see below) and resolutions of the Senate for the protection of witnesses.[188] The examination of witnesses is conducted by the members of a committee in accordance with procedures agreed to by the committee, subject to the rules of the Senate.[189] From time to time the question has arisen whether persons other than members of the committee may question witnesses. Privilege Resolution 2(9) explicitly authorises counsel appointed to assist the committee of Privileges to examine witnesses before the committee. In all other cases only members of the committee may examine witnesses. Exceptions to this rule must be authorised by the Senate. The only explicit authorisation for this practice occurred in relation to the Select Committee on Allegations Concerning a Judge whose resolution of appointment included provision for commissioners, counsel appointed to assist the committee and counsel for witnesses to examine witnesses before the committee.[190]

In most cases the procedures for examining witnesses at public hearings are relatively informal, but relevant rules of the Senate also apply to committees to the extent that this is necessary to maintain order and expedite business.[191]

Committees may hear several witnesses together and may allow witnesses to exchange views in the course of a hearing.[192]

Briefings, inspections and seminars

Committees may choose to augment their formal evidence-taking by informal briefings and inspections which provide committee members with valuable contextual and background information. One of the more unusual site inspections to have occurred was undertaken by members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade who spent a day at sea on the HMAS Swan, which had been the setting for alleged incidents of sexual harassment into which the committee was inquiring. The committee reported that these "experiences made an invaluable contribution to the committee's understanding of the issues and circumstances surrounding the incidents on the Swan".[193] Many other site inspections have occurred in the context of committee inquiries into rural and regional issues, technology, environmental issues and transport matters, among others. Site visits to agencies being scrutinised are also relatively common.

The term briefings is used to describe two different arrangements. If a briefing takes place at a meeting of a committee, this is simply an in camera hearing in another guise. Committees are prevented from hearing evidence in camera on estimates,[194] so that kind of briefing is not available to committees in relation to estimates. If a briefing occurs at a gathering which is not a committee meeting but simply an informal gathering of senators who happen also to be members of a committee, the standing orders do not authorise any of the processes available to a committee, such as taking a transcript, receiving documents or citing the information provided in a report. This limits the utility of briefings.

Another means of information gathering is the seminar or conference, sponsored or co-sponsored by a committee, which brings together experts in a field for presentation of papers and discussions with committee members. The Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, for example, held a conference in association with the Centre for Research in Public Sector Management, University of Canberra, on public service reform. The committee had a standing reference on the central administration of the Australian Government under which it reviewed a government report. Rather than proceeding by way of public hearings, the committee decided to co-host a conference involving senior public servants, past and present, unionists, academics, consultants and journalists. The committee presented the conference papers and proceedings as a report of the committee in order to contribute to better informed debate on the subject but without drawing conclusions from the conference information or making recommendations.[195]

Such proceedings are usually not conducted as formal meetings of committees and there would be some doubt that they fall within the definition of "proceedings in parliament" which attract parliamentary privilege. A speaker presenting a paper may not have the protection afforded to a witness giving evidence before the committee. Committees have held such informal proceedings on the basis that doubt on whether the discussions would be covered by parliamentary privilege was not a significant issue in the circumstances.

Hansard

Standing order 35(2) requires that the examination of witnesses be recorded in a transcript of evidence. The standing orders relating to the Appropriations and Staffing Committee, legislative and general purpose standing committees and committees considering estimates all provide for a daily Hansard to be published of the public proceedings of a committee.[196] For committees considering estimates, the Hansard report is to be circulated in a manner similar to the daily Senate Hansards, as soon as practicable after each day's proceedings.[197]

A provision requiring the publication of a daily Hansard of a committee's public proceedings is a standard inclusion in resolutions establishing select committees. Most committees may also take evidence in camera and a Hansard record is made of this evidence but not published. Committees may, however, decide to publish such evidence at a later date and witnesses are required to be warned, before giving evidence in camera, that this may occur.[198]

Hansard is initially produced as a proof version and is supplied to members and witnesses for correction. Corrections are restricted to typographical errors and errors of transcription or fact. New material may not be introduced; nor may the sense of evidence be altered. A witness who wishes to provide additional material may do so by way of a supplementary submission, as required by Privilege Resolution 1(17). A committee may decide what wider circulation the uncorrected proof should have. Many committees prefer to have the evidence distributed as soon as possible, albeit in proof form, rather than some weeks later when the corrected transcript becomes available. Uncorrected proofs carry a warning that the document may contain errors and should not be quoted in public without acknowledging that the source is an uncorrected proof. Committees usually authorise the secretary to distribute copies of the transcript by an appropriate resolution.

Broadcasting of committee proceedings

A committee may authorise the broadcasting of its public hearings, in accordance with any rules provided by the Senate.[199] The following order governs the broadcasting of committee proceedings:

The following rules apply in relation to broadcasting, including rebroadcasting, in sound or visual images, or in combined sound and visual images, of the proceedings of a committee.

  1. (1) Recording and broadcasting of proceedings of a committee may occur only in accordance with the authorisation of the committee by a deliberate decision of the committee.
  2. (2) A committee may authorise the broadcasting of only its public proceedings.
  3. (3) A committee may determine conditions, not inconsistent with these rules, for the recording and broadcasting of its proceedings, may order that any part of its proceedings not be recorded or broadcast, and may give instructions for the observance of conditions so determined and orders so made. A committee shall report to the Senate any wilful breach of such conditions, orders or instructions.
  4. (4) Broadcasting of committee proceedings shall be for the purpose only of making fair and accurate reports of those proceedings, and, in particular:
  1. (a) shall not be the subject of commercial sponsorship or be used for commercial advertising; and
  2. (b) shall not be used for election advertising.
  1. (5) Recording and broadcasting of proceedings of a committee shall not be such as to interfere with the conduct of those proceedings.
  2. (6) Where a committee intends to permit the broadcasting of its proceedings, a witness who is to appear in those proceedings shall be given reasonable opportunity, before appearing in the proceedings, to object to the broadcasting of the proceedings and to state the ground of the objection. The committee shall consider any such objection, having regard to the proper protection of the witness and the public interest in the proceedings, and if the committee decides to permit broadcasting of the proceedings notwithstanding the witness' objection, the witness shall be so informed before appearing in the proceedings.[200]

Committees may impose conditions on the recording and broadcasting of their proceedings. Such conditions are usually designed to minimise disruption to the committee's proceedings caused by intrusive lighting, movement of equipment or an excessive number of camera operators in the hearing room. A discussion of this issue occurred at a supplementary hearing of Estimates Committee D in November 1993. The committee chair had received requests from three television networks to bring cameras into the hearing room to obtain coverage of a controversial issue, notwithstanding that the committee's proceedings were being televised by the parliamentary television system and that it was standard practice for networks to take footage from the parliamentary service. The chair suggested that the networks follow this standard practice and also advised still photographers that only one photographer would be permitted into the hearing at a time, for a maximum period of five minutes each. These proposed arrangements were discussed during the hearing and a private meeting of the committee was held in which the chair's suggestions were upheld. In conveying the committee's decision to the hearing, the chair emphasised the distractions caused by multiple television cameras as the basis for the committee's decision.[201] In making such decisions, committees have needed to balance the detrimental effects of potential distraction against the value of having the committees' proceedings disseminated as widely as possible.[202] The need for committees to make such decisions has increased with expansion in the number and range of media outlets and the common appearance of high profile or otherwise controversial witnesses.

Witnesses whose evidence is to be broadcast are given the opportunity to object. A committee considers any such objection having regard to the protection of the witness and the public interest in the proceedings. Although a committee is not required by the order of the Senate to give reasons for its decision, as a matter of practice they are given and made public. Witnesses, the vast majority of whom attend voluntarily in response to committee invitations to appear, almost never object to the televising of their evidence, but in the face of an objection, a committee must balance competing principles of open proceedings, public interest, committee effectiveness and fairness to the individual witnesses.

When considering estimates committees are covered by a provision of an order which provides:

The public proceedings of committees when considering estimates may be relayed within Parliament House and broadcast by radio and television stations in accordance with the conditions contained in paragraphs (4) and (5) of the order of the Senate relating to the broadcasting of committee proceedings, and in accordance with any further conditions, not inconsistent with the conditions contained in those paragraphs, determined by a committee in relation to the proceedings of that committee.[203]

In all other cases a deliberate committee decision is required to broadcast committee proceedings. Committees may choose, however, to pass wide-ranging resolutions covering all hearings in relation to a particular inquiry, for example. In accordance with the order of 23 August 1990, the committee must nonetheless take into account any objections to the practice by individual witnesses.

Reports

It is the chair's responsibility to prepare a draft report and submit it to the committee.[204] The usual practice is for the chair to give drafting instructions to the secretary who prepares a draft for the chair. When the chair is satisfied with the draft it is circulated to other members of the committee.

Other committee members have two options to frame their own reports. A committee member other than the chair may submit a draft report to the committee and the committee decides on which report to proceed.[205] After a report has been agreed to by the committee, a minority or dissenting report may be added to the report by any member or group of members, and any member or participating member may attach relevant conclusions and recommendations to the report. Individual members may otherwise influence the content of the report by proposing amendments to it either during the initial deliberative phase or upon reconsideration. [206]

In 1995 the Senate passed a resolution asserting the right of senators who add dissenting or minority reports to committee reports not to disclose their reports to committee majorities until the reports have been printed. This motion arose out of past difficulties with committees, particularly the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, with complaints by those submitting dissenting or minority reports that majority reports were subsequently rewritten to respond to dissenting or minority reports.[207]

In 1989, Senator Alston gave an unusual notice of motion, alleging that Opposition members of the former Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs had not been given sufficient opportunity to consider a final draft of the committee's report on the duties and responsibilities of company directors. The motion would have directed the committee to reconsider the draft report and to provide opportunity for all members of the committee to consider it fully.[208] On 1 November 1989, statements were made by the chair of the committee and Senator Alston indicating that the matter had been resolved. The notice of motion was then withdrawn.[209]

Legislative and general purpose standing committees are required to make regular reports to the Senate on the progress of their proceedings.[210] Such general progress reports are rare, as committees usually present their substantive reports in a timely manner, or in stages where appropriate, thus fulfilling their obligation to report regularly. Select committees are required to comply with the reporting dates fixed at their establishment, unless an extension is sought and granted.[211] A select committee is usually empowered on appointment to report from time to time. If it is not, it will need to seek the agreement of the Senate to make an interim report.[212]

A committee may include in camera evidence in its report after a formal decision to that effect, although before doing so it will have regard to any assurance it may have given to the witness at the time the evidence was heard.[213] Although not formally required to do so, a committee should inform the witness of its intention and provide an opportunity to respond. A possible course is to edit the evidence so as to permit the committee's objectives to be met while preserving as much as possible of what the witness considers should not be disclosed. On 13 February 1991, the Senate agreed to an order regulating the use of in camera evidence in dissenting reports.[214] If a committee cannot reach agreement on the disclosure of the evidence, the dissenting senator may refer to the evidence only to the extent necessary to support the reasoning of the dissent. If practicable, the witnesses involved should be informed in advance of the proposed disclosure and given reasonable opportunity to object to the disclosure and ask that particular parts not be disclosed. The order also obliges committees to give careful consideration to a witness's objections and to disclosing the evidence in a way that would conceal the identities of the witness or persons referred to in the evidence.

The report of a committee is a record of an inquiry but does more than merely record the evidence taken by the committee. The main purpose of a report is to make recommendations for future action. Senators may be required to make forward-looking political judgments which tend to lead rather than follow public opinion. Some committee reports may therefore break new policy ground, while others provide definitive reviews of existing policies, organisations, programs or legislation and contain recommendations for their development.

Successive governments have undertaken to respond to the recommendations of committees, and the current undertaking is for a response within three months. The Senate indicated its view that the government should provide such responses not only to recommendations in the majority report of a committee but also to any minority or dissenting report or any additional material attached by members or participating members.[215]

Uncompleted inquiries and a new Parliament

References to the legislative and general purpose standing committees lapse at the commencement of a new Parliament, apart from references which are automatically made under the standing and other orders, such as the references of annual reports and the performance of departments and agencies. The committees therefore report in a new Parliament on references which they consider should be continued, with any modifications or changes in reporting dates, and references which should not be continued, and seek the endorsement of the Senate of their proposed courses by means of motions to adopt those reports. Special references to the legislative scrutiny committees are treated in the same way.[216]


161. SO 25(12) and (13).
162. See advice attached to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee report on the budget estimates 2008-09, PP 309/2008.
163. SO 28
164. SO 58.
165. SO 115(4).
166. SO 114(3).
167. SO 115(2).
168. SO 24A.
169. See also Chapter 12, Legislation.
170. See under 'Selection of Bills Committee'.
171. 22/4/1983, J.40-42; SD, 22/4/1983, pp. 85-6.
172. 26/3/1992, J.2128.
173. 30/3/1992, J.2144-5.
174. 29/4/1992, J.2207-8; 5/5/1992, J.2255.
175. 11/5/2004, J.3382.
176. 10/5/2005, J.594; 9/5/2006, J.2133-4; 9/5/2007, J.3753-4; 13/5/2008, J.365-6.
177. See Procedure Committee, First and Third Reports of 1992, PP 527/1992 and 510/1992). Changes in timing now mean that the fuller examination of performance occurs in the context of additional estimates (now November-February.
178. Transparency and accountability of Commonwealth funding and expenditure, PP 47/2007.
179. PP 468/1989.
180. SO 25(2)(b).
181. For reports on these matters, see PP 1/1979, 285/1979, 2/1980, 107/1980, 197/1982, 198/1982, 304/1984, 313/1984, 503/1985, 441/1986, 175/1987, 110/1988, 90/1990, 460/1991, 86/1993, 151/1995, 66/1996.
182. Editions were published in 2003, 2005 and 2009.
183. PP 477/1995.
184. See Chapter 17, Witnesses.
185. SD, 17/10/1994, pp. 1817-9.
186. Privilege Resolution 1(1); see Chapter 17, Witnesses.
187. Statistics on the location of hearings are published in annual reports of the Department of the Senate.
188. See Chapter 17, Witnesses.
189. SO 35(1).
190. 6/9/1984, J.1078, J.1080.
191. See below under Role of chair in maintaining order.
192. See statement by President Reid, SD, 18/3/1997, p. 1655.
193. Sexual Harassment in the Australian Defence Force: Facing the Future Together, PP 147/1994, p. iii.
194. SO 26(2).
195. Public Service Reform, PP 149/1994, 150/1994.
196. SO 19(10), 25(16) and 26(7) respectively.
197. SO 26(7).
198. Privilege Resolution 1(8); for use of in camera evidence, see Chapter 17, Witnesses, under Publication of in camera evidence.
199. SO 25(19).
200. 23/8/1990, J.237; incorporated in consolidated order 13/2/1997, J.1447.
201. Estimates Committee D transcript, 9/11/1993, pp. D443-6.
202. Also see Committee of Privileges, 142nd report, PP No. 396/2009, pp. 29-34.
203. Consolidated order, 13/2/1997, J.1447.
204. SO 38(1).
205. SO 38(3).
206. SO 38(2), (4).
207. 22/11/1995, J.4198.
208. 25/10/1989, J.2145.
209. SD, 1/11/1989, p. 2760.
210. SO 25(18).
211. SO 28.
212. For select committees with a requirement for periodic or interim reports built into its terms of reference, see below under Presentation of reports.
213. For an example of a general report on proceedings, see Report on References Not Disposed of by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence During the 34th Parliament, November 1987, PP 218/1987, see Privilege Resolution 1(8) and Chapter 17, Witnesses.
214. Now in SO 37(2).
215. See below, under Consideration of committee reports.
216. 29/11/2004, J.123. For reports presented and adopted at the commencement of the 43rd Parliament, see 30/9/2010, J.159-62.