Role of the Committee
Standing order 18 provides:
- A Committee of Privileges, consisting of 8 senators, shall be appointed at the commencement of each Parliament to inquire into and report upon matters of privilege referred to it by the Senate.
- The committee shall have power to send for persons and documents, to move from place to place and to sit during recess.
- The committee shall consist of 8 senators, 4 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, 3 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and 1 nominated by a minority party and independent senators.
- The committee shall elect as its chair a member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
The committee's main function is to investigate conduct which is apprehended to obstruct the work of the Senate. The committee does so only when it receives a reference from the Senate. This may involve allegations of interference with the functions of the Senate or its committees, or with senators undertaking their duties. The committee undertakes this work in accordance with the Senate’s Privilege Resolutions.
The committee has often cited the protection of the Senate's sources of information – particularly of witnesses before committees – as its highest duty, and this will commonly involve protecting witnesses interference or penalty.
The committee also administers the ‘right of reply’ procedure, provided in Privilege Resolution 5, when such matters are referred to the committee by the President.
On 19 October 2021, the Senate resolved that the committee should perform additional functions in relation to the Independent Parliamentary Workplace Complaints Mechanism.
For a list of Committee of Privileges references and report since 1966, including details of findings and recommendations see Appendix 3 of Odgers' Australian Senate Practice.
Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987