Chapter 18 | Parliamentary committees

The principal purpose of parliamentary committees is to conduct inquiries, performing functions which the Houses themselves are not well fitted to perform. They find out the facts of a case or issue, examine witnesses, sift evidence, and draw up reasoned conclusions. Because of their composition and method of procedure, which is structured but relatively informal compared with that of the Houses, committees are well suited to the gathering of evidence from expert groups or individuals. In a sense they ‘take Parliament to the people’ and allow direct contact between members of the public and representative groups of Members of the House. Not only do committee inquiries enable Members to be better informed about community views but, by simply undertaking an inquiry, committees may promote public debate on the subject at issue. The all-party composition of most committees and their propensity to operate across party lines are important features. This bipartisan approach generally manifests itself throughout the conduct of inquiries and the drawing up of conclusions. Committees oversee and scrutinise the Executive and are able to contribute towards better government. They also assist in ensuring a more informed administration and policy-making process, in working with the Executive on proposed legislation and other government initiatives. In respect of their formal proceedings committees are microcosms and extensions of the Houses themselves, limited in their power of inquiry by the extent of the authority delegated to them and governed for the most part in their proceedings by procedures and practice which reflect those which prevail in the House by which they were appointed.[1]

Authority for the appointment of committees

Types of committees and terminology

Parliamentary committees

Different definitions of standing and select committees

Unofficial committees

House standing committees

General purpose standing committees

Committees concerned with the operations of the House

Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests (S.O. 216)

House Committee (S.O. 218)

Publications Committee (S.O. 219)

Petitions Committee (S.O. 220)

Procedure Committee (S.O. 221)

Selection Committee (S.O. 222)

House Appropriations and Administration Committee (S.O. 222A)

House select committees

Conferral with committees of the Senate

Joint committees

Joint committees appointed by resolution

Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library

Joint statutory committees

Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings

Other statutory committees

Appointment and duration

Committees of the House

Joint committees appointed by resolution

Joint committees established by legislation

Effects of dissolution and prorogation on committees

Dissolution

Prorogation

Different positions taken by the two Houses

Membership

Eligibility to serve on committees

Pecuniary and personal interest

Suspension from the House

Ex officio members

Number of members and party composition

Appointment of Members

Vacancies

Chair

Election or appointment

Chair elected

Chair appointed

Procedural authority

Administrative authority

Deputy chair

Powers of committees

Source of power

Derivation and extent of investigatory powers

Delegation of investigatory powers

Powers of joint committees

Statutory secrecy provisions

Subcommittees

Meeting procedures

First meeting

Time and place of meeting

Meetings during sittings of the House

Meetings of joint committees during sittings of the Senate

Meetings outside Parliament House

Meetings overseas

Meetings by means of video or teleconference

Quorum

Quorum—joint committees

Motions and voting

Voting—joint committees

Minutes of proceedings

Presence at meetings of Members who are not members of the committee

Visitors

Disorder

Confidentiality of committee records

Committee administration—staff and advisers

General principles for the administration of parliamentary committees

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