Chapter 2 - The committee's mode of operation

Chapter 2The committee's mode of operation

2.1The committee examines all bills that come before the Parliament against the five principles set out in Senate standing order 24(1)(a), and usually meets each sitting week to consider them. On occasion, the committee will also meet between sittings.

2.2The committee's long-standing approach is that it operates on a nonpartisan, apolitical and consensual basis to consider whether a bill complies with the five scrutiny principles. In addition, while the committee provides its views on a bill's level of compliance with the principles outlined in standing order 24(1)(a), it is ultimately a matter for the Senate itself to decide whether a bill should be passed or amended.

2.3Some of the long-standing matters of concern identified by the committee are included in the diagram below.

Figure 2.1Summary of standing order 24 and examples of issues considered under each principle

2.4The committee's usual process for undertaking its work is shaped by the process for the passage of bills through the Parliament. The committee aims to report to the Senate prior to the Senate's detailed consideration of bills so that its views can be taken into account before passage.

2.5Figure 2.2 outlines the main steps in the committee's work.

Figure 2.2Committee's Work Flow

2.6More information about the committee's practices can be found on the committee's website and in the Consolidated Guidelines, 2nd edition.

Interaction with other legislative scrutiny committees

2.7The Scrutiny of Bills Committee is one of three legislative scrutiny committees in the Commonwealth Parliament. The work of the three committees is complementary in many respects. The committee therefore monitors the work of the two other legislative scrutiny committees—the Senate Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights—and, where appropriate, considers relevant matters raised by these committees or refers matters to them.

2.8The committee regularly draws certain matters to the attention of the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee, including provisions of bills which authorise a significant delegation of legislative power or seek to modify the usual disallowance processes for legislative instruments. In 2022, the committee drew 16 bills to the attention of the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee. When the committee draws such provisions to the attention of the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee, that committee will consider the Scrutiny of Bills Committee's comments as part of their examination of any legislative instruments made under the relevant authorising provision.

2.9For example, in December 2020 the committee drew to the attention of the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee its scrutiny concerns about provisions in the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 which would allow the minister to, by legislative instrument, exempt state and territory arrangements from the application of the legislative scheme established by the bill.[1] In 2021 the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee set out its own scrutiny concerns in relation to rules made under these provisions,[2] noting that the specification of exempt arrangements is a significant matter that goes to the scope of the scheme as a whole.[3] In response to the committees' scrutiny concerns, the Minister for Foreign Affairs amended the rules on 10 August 2021 to provide that they sunset after five years.[4]

2.10The committee will continue to work closely with the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights where appropriate in the future.

Committee publications and resources

Scrutiny Digest

2.11Since 2017, the committee has published its scrutiny comments in a document known as the Scrutiny Digest.

2.12Chapter 1 of the Scrutiny Digest comprises the committee's initial comments on bills and amendments, identified by reference to the committee's scrutiny principles. Chapter 2 comprises the committee's comments on responses received from ministers. Chapter 3 draws attention to bills that establish or amend standing appropriations or establish, amend or continue in existence special accounts.

2.13The Scrutiny Digest is generally published on the Wednesday of each sitting week, although on occasion the committee will also report between sittings.

Scrutiny News

2.14The committee secretariat prepares a brief Scrutiny News publication each sitting week which highlights comments drawn from material in the committee's Scrutiny Digest, with a particular focus on information that may be useful when bills are debated and to raise awareness about the committee's scrutiny principles.

2.15Highlights from the Senate Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee's Delegated Legislation Monitor are also included in Scrutiny News.


2.16In July 2022 the committee published a second edition of guidelines setting out the committee's expectations in relation to its technical scrutiny principles. The committee's guidelines are regularly reviewed by the committee's secretariat and will be updated as appropriate.

Index of bills

2.17The Index of Bills is an alphabetical list of all bills that the committee has considered during a calendar year.[5]


2.18The committee wishes to acknowledge the work and assistance of the secretariat, and the external legal adviser Professor Leighton McDonald.

2.19The committee also wishes to acknowledge the assistance of ministers and other proposers of bills, and departments and agencies during the reporting period. Their responsiveness to the committee is critical to the legislative process as it ensures that the committee can perform its scrutiny function effectively.


[1]Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, Scrutiny Digest 18 of 2020, pp. 41–42.

[2]Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Rules 2020 [F2020L01569].

[4]Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Amendment (Repeal) Rules 2021 [F2021L01125]

[5]For more information see Appendix 1, pp. 13–31.