90 years of Senate Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation


This month marks 90 years of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation, previously called the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

The committee is one of the Senate’s oldest standing committees and was once described by former Clerk JR Odgers as ‘the most successful committee of the Commonwealth Parliament’. It reviews laws made by ministers and government officials, ‘delegated legislation’, against principles which promote the rule of law and parliamentary oversight.

From L to R front row: Deputy Chair Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Chair Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator Raff Ciccone. Back row: Senators Perin Davey, Paul Scarr, and former committee member Senator Nita Green

From L to R front row: Deputy Chair Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Chair Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator Raff Ciccone. Back row: Senators Perin Davey, Paul Scarr, and former committee member Senator Nita Green. Photo courtesy of AUSPIC.

The committee was set up in 1932 on the recommendation of the Senate Select Committee on the Standing Committee System in response to concerns that delegated legislation was becoming so ‘technical’ and ‘voluminous’ that it was ‘practically impossible’ for senators to study it in any detail or properly understand its purpose or effect.

Since then, the amount of delegated legislation made by the government each year has increased tenfold from approximately 130 regulations in 1933 to 1715 legislative instruments in 2020, making the committee’s role more important than ever.

The Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee operates on a non-partisan basis, focusing on technical scrutiny issues rather than policy matters. Where the committee identifies a scrutiny concern and can’t resolve it after speaking to ministers and government officials, it may recommend that the Senate disallow (veto) the law.

Recently, when the outbreak of COVID-19 prevented the Parliament from meeting for a period of time, the committee’s scrutiny work, which continued throughout the pandemic, came to the fore. Over the past two years, the committee has considered over 680 legislative instruments made by the government in response to the pandemic.

The committee’s scrutiny of these instruments is just one example of how it promotes the rule of law and parliamentary oversight across significant areas of government law making. Its ongoing impact can be seen in both amendments to existing laws and explanatory materials and in improvements to drafting practices.

In marking the committee’s 90th anniversary, current Chair, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, remarked:

Since its establishment 90 years ago, the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee has, in a diligent and bipartisan manner, scrutinised the law‑making power that the Parliament has delegated to the executive. In recent years, the committee, supported by the Senate, has taken significant steps to ensure that the committee can continue this important work in an even stronger position into the future. I thank the Senate and my committee colleagues for their steadfast commitment to the committee’s vital work.

Further information about the committee can be found on the committee’s homepage.

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