40th Anniversary Conference

Senate Committees and Government Accountability

Senate Committees & Government Accountability - 40th anniversary conference 11-12 November 2010



A conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the Senate's legislative and general purpose standing committee system held at Parliament House, Canberra, on 11 November 2010 and at Old Parliament House, Canberra, on 12 November 2010.

This two-day conference celebrated the evolution and institutional design of the most important accountability mechanism of the federal parliament—the Senate's system of legislative and general purpose standing committees. Marking the 40th anniversary of the modern Senate committee system, the conference examined the impact of committees on the Senate and the careers of senators, and how committee work has given senators a greater stake in the institution as well as access to previously unimaginable levels of information.

The conference examined why a system of standing and estimates committees was established in June 1970 and restructured in 1994 and 2006, and again in 2009 when the pre-2006 system of references and legislation committees was restored; the historical milestones that have seen the system evolve to accommodate the changing political landscape of the Senate itself; the role of Senate committees in the legislative process, holding governments to account, and engaging with the wider community; the role of the scrutiny and privileges committees; and future challenges and opportunities.

By taking a closer look at the Senate committee system since 1970, presenters addressed a range of questions: what are the functions of Senate committees, what purpose do they serve, how have they added value to the scrutiny and consideration of legislation, can their performance be measured, are there any lessons for government accountability arising from the government-party majority in the Senate between 2005-08, and what factors are most likely to influence the role and function of Senate committees in the future?

Speakers included current and former senators, senior officers from the Senate, academics and members of community organisations.

Conference proceedings


ABC Radio National's The National Interest interviews

The Clerk of the Senate and three current senators reflect on the 40th anniversary of the Senate committee system on ABC Radio National's The National Interest. The interviews can be heard via the links: