120 years of Senate select committees

The Senate currently has seven select committees conducting inquiries into issues including autism, COVID-19, foreign interference through social media, temporary migration and job security. Select committees are single-issue committees that cease to exist once they produce a final inquiry report.

The first ever select committee was appointed on 26 July 1901 to examine steamship services between Tasmania and mainland Australia. Tasmanian Senator John Keating proposed the inquiry, due to concerns that an infrequent steamship service had cut off Tasmanians from the benefits of federation. Most of the year the service only made a weekly trip between Launceston and Melbourne. 

The select committee travelled to Tasmania to hear evidence from steamship operators and others. Convinced of the need for an improved service to connect Tasmania with the other states, the committee recommended in its September 1902 report that the Commonwealth government invite tenders for a six day a week steamship service between Melbourne and Tasmania.

It also recommended that the Commonwealth consider a proposal to acquire its own line of steamships to connect Tasmania with the other states.

In 1904, the privately operated SS Loongana began a more frequent Bass Strait service. The first ship registered in the Southern Hemisphere with steam turbine propulsion, the SS Loongana cut travelling time almost in half, at its fastest crossing the strait in just under 13 hours.

SS Loongana on the Bass Strait run

SS Loongana on the Bass Strait run ALLAN C GREEN (PHOTOGRAPHER), STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA, H91.325/2348

Today, Commonwealth transport schemes operate with the aim of reducing the cost of sea travel between the mainland and Tasmania, for ships providing both freight and passenger services. In 2019-2020, approximately 161,474 eligible passenger vehicles were assisted under one such scheme.

Since the 1901 steamship inquiry, the Senate has appointed over 140 select committees to inquire into matters as diverse as pensions, air pollution, animal welfare, the conduct of judicial officers, superannuation, housing affordability, mental health, the Aboriginal Flag and cyber safety.

To read more about the work of past select committees, visit Navigate Senate Committees, a website documenting Senate committees and inquiries from 1901. Information on current select committees can be found under Senate committees on the Parliament of Australia website.



Search: Senate matters