The Scrutiny of Bills Committee assesses bills against a set of accountability standards that focus on the effect of proposed legislation on individual rights, liberties and obligations, and on parliamentary scrutiny.
The scope of the committee's scrutiny function is formally defined by Senate standing order 24, which requires the committee to scrutinise each bill introduced into the Parliament in relation to:
- whether the bill unduly trespasses on personal rights and liberties;
- whether administrative powers are defined with sufficient precision;
- whether appropriate review of decisions is available;
- whether any delegation of legislative powers is appropriate; and
- whether the exercise of legislative powers is subject to sufficient parliamentary scrutiny.
The committee's long-standing approach is that it operates on a non partisan, apolitical and consensual basis to consider whether a bill complies with the five scrutiny principles. In cases where the committee has scrutiny concerns in relation to a bill the committee will often correspond with the responsible minister or sponsor seeking further explanation or clarification of the matter.
It is the committee's usual practice to table a Scrutiny Digest each sitting week of the Senate. The Digest contains the committee's scrutiny comments in relation to bills introduced in the previous sitting week as well as commentary on amendments to bills and certain explanatory material. The Digest also contains responses received in relation to matters that the committee has previously considered, as well as the committee's comments on these responses. The Digest is generally tabled in the Senate on the Wednesday afternoon of each sitting week and is available online after tabling.
The committee also produces occasional reports on matters specifically referred by the Senate, as well as an annual report summarising its work.