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Questions on Notice: We’ll join our Houses

Wednesday, 4 December 2019 in Committee, General interest

If you have a question about the House of Representatives, you can ask us! Our research team will stop at nothing to find you an answer, no matter how obscure the topic.

This week’s question comes from reader Natalie, who asks:

The House has Committees, and the Senate has Committees, but what happens if both Houses want to investigate something? Do you just take turns?

When both the House and the Senate want to focus on a topic, they create a joint committee. Like House or Senate committees, Joint committees come in different types.

Joint standing committees exist for the life of the Parliament, and will typically run inquiries into a range of issues during that time. Some of the most high-profile examples are the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which typically holds an inquiry into the most recent federal election, and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which reviews all treaty actions proposed by the Government.

Joint select committees are “one-off” committees, created to look into a single, specific issue. These committees are established by resolutions agreed to by both Houses that set out, among other things, the committee’s terms of reference, reporting deadlines, and membership requirements. Like select committees of the House, joint select committees are appointed for a specific purpose and generally cease to exist on reporting.

Recently three new joint select committees have been established. These are the Joint Select Committee on Road Safety, the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme and the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System. Since 1901, 44 joint select committees have been established, including the three above.

Finally, there’s a third type of joint committee – a joint statutory committee is established by a piece of legislation rather than resolutions of the House and Senate. One notable example is the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is constituted under the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

In all cases, membership of joint committees consists of both Members and Senators. The Departments of the House of Representatives and the Senate both support the work of joint committees – one joint committee might be supported by a secretariat of House staff, while another will be supported by Senate staff.

A historical list of committees of the House of Representatives and joint committees can be found in House of Representatives Practice.