House select committees

Select committees are appointed, as the need arises, by a resolution of the House.[16] Select committees, in Australian practice, have a limited life which should be defined in the resolution of appointment. The creation of a select committee is seen as a measure to meet a particular and perhaps short-term need. After the establishment of the general purpose standing committees in 1987 the House has not established select committees on a regular basis. Since then there have been only four House select committees—Print Media (1991), Televising of the House of Representatives (1991), Recent Australian Bushfires (2003), and Regional Development and Decentralisation (2017).

The House appoints select committees by motion, and must set a day for the reporting of the proceedings of a committee to the House. A member of the committee must present a report of the committee on or before the set day, unless the House grants an extension of time.[17] However, practice has not always accorded with this provision as select committees have been appointed with the provision to report ‘as soon as possible’.[18] This occurs when a committee undertakes an inquiry which can be seen to be longer-term, perhaps even extending over the life of more than one Parliament. When a select committee is directed to report by a specific date or as soon as possible, its corporate existence comes to an end as soon as it does so.

The standing orders also give committees leave to report from time to time.[19] This authorisation means that a committee is at liberty to make progress reports during the course of the consideration of the matter referred to it.[20] The following provision, or a similar one, has been included in the resolution of appointment of some select committees:

That the committee have leave to report from time to time but that it present its final report no later than [date].[21]

On presenting its final report the committee ceases to exist.

If a select committee finds it difficult or impossible to present a satisfactory final report by the specified date, it may be given an extension of time by the House, prior to, or on, the specified reporting date, by amendment of its resolution of appointment.[22]

The terms of reference of select committees tend to be narrow and specific and have traditionally been based on the assumption of a single inquiry and report. Nevertheless, the resolutions of appointment of some select committees have given the relevant Minister power to refer additional matters to them—that is, before they report and cease to exist.[23] A select committee with an unqualified power to report from time to time could elect to present a series of reports on particular aspects of its terms of reference.