A Parliamentary Committee is a group of members of parliament established by Parliament, to investigate policy issues, proposed legislation or government activities. Committees allow parliamentarians to examine an issue in greater detail and with greater public input. Membership tends to reflect the diversity of the parliament. One senator or member becomes the chairperson who runs the proceedings and each committee is supported by a secretariat to assist with the running of hearings and the writing of reports.
In most cases, one of the Houses or a Minister refers the inquiry to the Committee. The committee then invites written submissions from the public. Before preparing its report, the committee may invite selected people or groups to appear before committee hearings, which are formal public meetings of Parliament published in Hansard or on the Parliament House website. Parliamentary inquiries provide good opportunities for parliamentarians to learn about specific policy issues in less politically-oriented ways.
There are a number of types of committees. Most committees consist of senators only or members only, while others are joint committees. Some committees are standing committees that concentrate on examining bills and issues relating to particular subjects, others are select committees are set up by the Parliament to examine a specific issue. Estimates committees meet to scrutinise how the government has spent the budget. The only witnesses who appear before an estimates committee are ministers and senior public servants in government departments.
After considering all the submissions, evidence and its own research, the committee produces a report. Committee reports are public documents and are also tabled in the House that initiated the inquiry. Tabling of a report provides an opportunity for members of that House to debate the findings. After a report is tabled, the Government must respond to the referring house, outlining its recommendations for action. The Government is not obliged to implement the committee's recommendations but must explain why it has decided not to carry out some or all of them.
Key Parliamentary Committees - Federal
- Standing Committee on Education and Training
- Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
- Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation
- Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
- Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
- Standing Committee on Petitions
- Senate estimates
Key Parliamentary Committees - State