What happens at a public hearing?
Arriving at the hearing venue
Unless otherwise specified by the committee secretariat, please arrive at the hearing venue at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time. When you arrive, please introduce yourself to committee staff. In order to assist the parliamentary reporting staff (Hansard) you will have been asked to complete a witness details form. If you have not completed this form, please ask the committee staff for help. If the public hearing is already in progress, you are welcome to observe proceedings before being called to give evidence.
Calling of witnesses
When the committee is ready, the chair will call participants to the table to give their evidence. The chair will ask each person to state their full name and the capacity in which they are appearing before the committee (e.g. are they representing an organisation, or appearing as a private citizen).
Before taking evidence, the chair may ask witnesses to take an oath or make an affirmation. Regardless of whether this is done, any false testimony or related attempt to mislead the committee is a very serious matter and may potentially constitute a contempt of Parliament; that is, an attempt to impede the Parliament in the performance of its functions. Any such action may have legal ramifications.
Witnesses are usually given an opportunity to make a short opening statement (preferably less than five minutes). This can be used to clarify, amend or expand on points made in written submissions.
Questions will then be directed to witnesses through the chair. The questions offer committee members a chance to seek views and information on the inquiry topic and to clarify aspects of any written submissions.
What happens if you don’t know the answer?
If you are unable to answer a question or provide information at the hearing, you may seek to provide a written answer to the committee at a later date. This is known as ‘taking the question on notice’. It is important to provide this information to the secretariat as quickly as possible after the hearing.
Sometimes a committee may seek additional information on specific issues from a witness after the hearing, and thesecretariat will advise if any further information is required. Responses to questions taken on notice and questions in writing may be treated by committees in the same way as written submissions; that is, accepted as evidence to the inquiry and published on the inquiry web page.
Recording what is said
Public hearings are recorded in their entirety by parliamentary recording and reporting staff. After you have given evidence, parliamentary staff may approach you to check the spelling of any acronyms or technical language used. As soon as possible after the hearing, the committee secretariat will send you a proof transcript (Hansard). You will have the opportunity to request changes to correct any transcription errors, but not the content or style. Corrected transcripts should be returned to the secretariat within the time period specified. Both proof and final transcripts for public hearings are published on the Australian Parliament website www.aph.gov.au.
Do you have other documents for the committee?
If you wish to present additional documents relevant to the inquiry, these should be provided in time for the committee secretariat to distribute to committee members prior to the hearing. Alternatively, sufficient copies should be brought to the hearing for all committee members. Depending on the nature of the documents, they may be accepted either as a submission to the inquiry or as an exhibit to the inquiry. Please get advice from the committee secretariat if you are unsure of how your additional documents might be treated
The House of Representatives has resolved that departmental officers shall not be asked to give their opinions on policy, reasons for policy decisions or advice which staff may have tendered in policy formulation. Officers will be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions to their department or the appropriate Minister (see also the document Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters available from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website)..