Being a witness step-by-step
- If appearing in person, arrive at the hearing venue at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time and introduce yourself to committee staff.
- If appearing by video or teleconference, follow the instructions for joining the conference sent by the secretariat, and make sure your microphone is on mute until it is your turn to speak.
- When the committee is ready, the chair will call you to the table – or confirm your presence via video or audio – to give your evidence.
- The chair will ask you to state your full name and the capacity in which you are appearing before the committee (for example, are you representing an organisation or appearing as a private citizen).
- The chair will make a formal statement informing you of your rights and obligations and reminding you that these are parliamentary proceedings.
- You will usually have an opportunity to make a brief opening statement (less than five minutes) to give an overview of who you are and your main views on the subject.
- The committee will then ask you questions via the chair. Most committee chairs ensure that each member has an equal share of the time to ask their questions.
- You may take questions on notice and provide a written answer later if you are not able to answer the question at the time.
- If you do not want to answer a question, the committee will hear your reasons for refusing to answer, and decide on the next steps. This could include rewording the question, taking the answer in private, allowing you to provide the answer later in writing, or the committee has the power to insist on an answer.
- At the end of the time slot, the chair will end the session and call the next witness.
While committee hearings are generally conducted in public, in some cases a committee may decide to take evidence privately (in camera).
It is up to the committee to decide if evidence can be taken in private. They can decide based on the subject matter, or if a witness requests it. A witness can request privacy at any time, although the decision rests with the committee. If you think that your evidence should be given in private, please raise this with the secretariat before the hearing.
If the request is granted by the committee, the public and media will be excluded from the hearing. The committee retains the power to publish the evidence at a later date, although it will consult with the witness before deciding to publish.
All public hearings are audio broadcast live on the internet. Some hearings in Canberra are also video broadcast. The recordings (both audio and video) will be available on the website after the hearing.
Media may also be present. If you have concerns about being recorded, photographed or filmed, you should raise this with the committee secretariat before you start to give evidence. The committee can decide whether to allow the media to record.
If you wish to refer to other documents at the hearing, either send them to the secretariat at least two days beforehand or bring enough hard copies for all the committee members.
Committees do not usually allow witnesses to show videos or make presentations. If you have audio visual material you would like the committee to see, please contact the secretariat before the hearing to discuss it further.
Addressing committee members
Hearings are formal occasions, and committee members are usually addressed as ‘Senator Smith’ or ‘Mr/Ms Smith’ for MPs. The chair of the committee is usually addressed simply as ‘Chair’.
The Parliament has resolved that departmental officers shall not be asked to give their opinions on policy, reasons for policy decisions or advice which staff may have tendered in policy formulation. Officers will be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions to their department or the appropriate minister (see also the document Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters available from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website).
After the hearing
Sometimes a committee may seek additional information on specific issues from a witness after the hearing. The secretariat will also be in contact if you took any questions on notice for a later reply. Responses to questions taken on notice and further questions may be treated in the same way as written submissions; that is, accepted as evidence to the inquiry and published on the inquiry web page.
Hansard will make a transcript of the public hearings. You will be given a proof and the chance to correct any errors of transcription. Both proof and final transcripts for public hearings are published on the Australian Parliament website.
When the inquiry is finished and the committee has published its report, the secretariat will let you know and send you a link to the final report. You can also track the inquiry via the website.