Distribution and printing of documents

After documents have been presented, copies are available to Members from the Table Office. Members can order their requirements on the intranet-based Daily Documents Ordering System.

Custody and availability of original documents

Under the direction of the Speaker, the Clerk has custody of all documents presented to the House.[99] All documents presented to the House are considered to be public and, by arrangement, may be inspected at the offices of the House.

Although documents held by the House are Commonwealth records for the purposes of the Archives Act, the requirements of the Act relating to the disposal of and access to such records do not apply unless provided for by regulation.[100] The relevant regulations acknowledge the position of the Parliament within the Commonwealth, the special recognition and treatment that should be given to particular parliamentary records, and the different powers and functions of the Parliament and the Executive Government.[101] The regulations recognise Parliament’s control over the records of proceedings of the Houses, presented documents and certain committee documents (‘class A records’). Other records, for example, administrative records of the parliamentary departments (‘class B records’) are subject to the provisions of the Archives Act applying to similar records of executive departments.

In 1980 the House agreed to a resolution delegating to the Speaker the authority to release for public scrutiny committee records (other than in camera or confidential evidence) which have been in the custody of the House for at least 10 years. Similar authority was given to the Speaker and the President in respect of joint committee records.[102] A further resolution in 1984 permits in camera evidence to be disclosed after 30 years, if in the Speaker’s opinion, disclosure is appropriate.[103]

See also ‘Publication of evidence’ in the Chapter on ‘Committee inquiries’.

Release prior to presentation

It has always been considered a matter of impropriety to make documents publicly available before they are presented to the Parliament. Guidelines for government departments and agencies issued by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet advise that every effort should be made to ensure a document is tabled in Parliament prior to, or to coincide with, its public release.[104]

Presentation when Parliament not sitting

The House has no provision for documents to be presented when the House is not sitting. However, if the House is not sitting when a committee has completed a report of an inquiry, the report may be sent to the Speaker prior to presentation to the House. When the Speaker receives the report, it may be published and he or she may give directions for printing and circulation. The committee must then present the report to the House as soon as possible.[105]

In 1984 the House agreed to a motion authorising the Speaker, notwithstanding the pending dissolution of the House, to provide to all Members copies of the final report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers’ Union. The Speaker stated that he had received an assurance of indemnity from the Government if the motion was carried and he acted in accordance with it.[106]

The Senate has provision for documents to be presented when the Senate is not sitting. Under Senate standing order 166(2), if the President of the Senate certifies that a document is to be presented to the Senate, or a Minister or the Auditor-General provides a document to the President to be presented, the document is deemed to be presented and its publication is authorised. The President must then present the document at the next sitting of the Senate. The Prime Minister and Cabinet guidelines referred to above advise departments to consider this option if there is a statutory or urgent and compelling need to have documents presented at a time when Parliament is not sitting.

Senate standing order 38(7) provides for the deemed presentation of a committee report when the Senate is not sitting, on the provision of the report to the President.

Parliamentary Papers Series

Historically all documents and petitions ordered to be printed or made a parliamentary paper[107] by either House of the Parliament have formed part of the Parliamentary Papers Series. The series was designed to be a comprehensive collection of the documents of a substantial nature presented to the Parliament,[108] and since Federation these documents have served as a useful reference source for information on and research into the role and activities of the Parliament and of the Government for Members and the general public.[109]

The ultimate responsibility for deciding whether documents are of a substantial nature or important enough to form part of the series resides with both or either House of the Parliament. This responsibility has been delegated, by way of the standing orders,[110] to the Publications Committee of each House acting independently or jointly.

The Parliamentary Papers Series consists of reports, returns and statements from departments, authorities, parliamentary and ad hoc committees of inquiry and royal commissions and the like which have been presented to the Parliament and considered appropriate for inclusion. Also included in the series have been other documents of an ad hoc nature, including ministerial statements and petitions, which either House has ordered to be printed or made a parliamentary paper, either through its own action or through the recommendation of the Publications Committee of either House acting independently or jointly. Documents becoming parliamentary papers have been labelled accordingly.

Prior to 1963 certain documents, including committee reports, relating solely to either the House or the Senate were issued in a separate series, designated H of R or S, and (prior to 1961) published in bound form only in the Votes and Proceedings or Journals volumes respectively.

In 1997 the Joint Committee on Publications reported on the future of the Parliamentary Papers Series, in response to a request for advice by the Presiding Officers on a proposal to discontinue it. The committee recommended that the Parliamentary Papers Series should continue in its present form until there was a viable replacement either in electronic or printed form (or both), but that proposals for the replacement of the series should be explored further.[111] In its 2006 report into the distribution of the Parliamentary Papers Series the committee recommended, inter alia, that any digital versions of the series augment the hard copy series, and that the development of an online digital repository for the series be investigated.[112] In 2010 the committee recommended that the parliamentary departments develop a digital repository for the Parliamentary Papers Series, and that author departments and agencies be required to provide electronic copies of documents at the same time that print copies are provided for tabling in the Parliament.[113] These recommendations have been progressively implemented and it is now a government requirement that documents tabled in Parliament must also be available electronically.[114] Parliamentary papers from 2013 are available through a digital repository that can be accessed from the Parliament of Australia website.

Printed as well as electronic copies are still required for the Parliamentary Papers Series. However, in 2016 the Presiding Officers agreed to a recommendation[115] by the Joint Committee on Publications that the distribution of printed parliamentary papers cease after 2016.

Role of the Publications Committee

The Publications Committee consists of seven members and has the power to confer with a similar committee of the Senate.[116] Apart from initial meetings, the committees usually meet as a joint committee. The Publications Committee has two functions, namely, a parliamentary paper function and an investigatory function.

The parliamentary paper function

In performing its parliamentary paper function the committee considers all documents presented to the Parliament and not ordered to be printed or made a parliamentary paper by either House. The committee may report when it sees fit, and may recommend a document be made a parliamentary paper, in whole or in part.[117] Since March 2018 the number of documents in this category that the committee needs to consider has been minimal—see below.

It is open to any Member to seek in the House to move that a document be made a parliamentary paper even though the Publications Committee has not recommended it. If such a motion is before either House, the document is not considered by the Publications Committee, but would be considered later if the motion were subsequently withdrawn or if it lapsed.

Pursuant to the resolution of the House of 28 March 2018,[118] unless otherwise ordered, and provided that they conform to the printing standards, the following documents are automatically made parliamentary papers upon their presentation to the House:

  1. substantive reports of parliamentary committees;
  2. annual reports of Commonwealth entities;
  3. a report of a royal commission;
  4. a report of the Productivity Commission;
  5. a report of the Auditor-General;
  6. a report of the Australian Human Rights Commission;
  7. a report of the Australia Law Reform Commission;
  8. a report of the Australian Electoral Commission on the redistribution of electoral division boundaries;
  9. Australian Government white papers;
  10. a report in a series that has previously been included in the Parliamentary Papers Series on the recommendation of a Publications Committee; and
  11. budget papers and ministerial statements presented following the presentation of the appropriation bills.

The investigatory function

The committee, when conferring with a similar committee of the Senate (as the Joint Committee on Publications), has the power to inquire into and report on the publication and distribution of parliamentary and government publications and on matters referred to it by a Minister.[119] The joint committee has completed 14 inquiries, of which two were matters referred by a Minister.


In undertaking its parliamentary paper function the House Publications Committee reports (normally stating that it has met in conference with the Senate Publications Committee) that the committee, having considered documents presented to the Parliament since a certain date, recommends that specified documents be made parliamentary papers. The report is presented to the House by the House committee (and to the Senate by its committee) and reproduced in full in the Votes and Proceedings (and the Senate Journals).[120] The chair, by leave, moves that the report be agreed to.[121] Reports of the Joint Committee on Publications on inquiries are dealt with in the same manner as reports from other joint select and standing committees.