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Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 16 - Committees

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Staff of committees

Standing orders require each legislative and general purpose standing committee to be provided with "all necessary staff, facilities and resources".[249] As a matter of practice, each committee is supported by a full-time committee secretary and a number of research and clerical staff. The secretary is the committee's principal adviser on committee procedures and manages all aspects of the committee's research and operations. The secretary prepares an initial draft of the chair's report.[250] At the first meeting of the committee the secretary takes the chair, calls for nominations for the chair, conducts any subsequent ballot and declares the outcome. The successful candidate for chair then assumes control of the proceedings.

The secretary is responsible for preparation of the committee's minutes. The secretary records members' attendances and absences, motions and amendments moved and the name of the senator proposing them, resolutions agreed to and the names and votes of senators in the event of any division to determine the matter.[251]The draft record of meetings, votes and resolutions is subject to the endorsement, amendment or rejection of the whole committee, not only the chair.

The secretary also assists the chair in maintaining a quorum by ensuring that the attendance and presence of members furnishes a quorum at all times. A committee cannot commence formal business in the absence of a quorum. It is a secretary's role to monitor this requirement to ensure that no doubt can arise about the validity and hence the privileged status of the proceedings. The secretary records the names of senators present and constituting a quorum. Where no quorum is formed within 15 minutes of the appointed meeting time, the senators attending may depart after the secretary has recorded their names in the minutes. In these circumstances, the secretary fixes another time for the meeting.[252]

Where a committee or subcommittee has resolved to invite witnesses to assist it, or has ordered the attendance of a witness or the production of documents, the chair directs the secretary to carry out the committee's wishes by signing the invitation or order to attend and produce documents.[253] As a courtesy to particular witnesses, such as ministers, members of the judiciary or ambassadors, the chair signs the invitation to attend before the committee.

Committees other than the legislative and general purpose standing committees have designated secretaries, who may be senior officers of the Senate Department performing other duties in the department.

With the approval of the President, a committee may agree to engage the services of a consultant to advise on matters of technical complexity associated with or arising from an inquiry.[254] A contract of engagement is drawn up by the secretary who is responsible for managing the quality, timeliness and cost effectiveness of the consultant's contribution.


249. SO 25(17).
250. SO 38(1).
251. SO 32(2).
252. SO 29.
253. SO 176.
254. SO 25(17).