• Committees are where the majority of the Parliament’s work is done.
  • Small groups of members/senators meet to discuss bills, proposals, previous legislation or other events.
  • Only backbenchers/parliamentarians who are not ministers may sit on a committee.
  • Membership of committees is allocated to parties based on the number of seats they have
  • This allows the government to have a majority in most committees
  • It is also a convention that the chairperson is gov’t member, and the vice is opp’n.

Committees are valuable, therefore, because they deepen parliamentary scrutiny of legislation and increase the chances of informed and improving amendments … by virtue of being taken largely outside the glare of public spotlight, which encourages adversarial behaviour.

– David Lovell. Professor of Political science @ UNSW


  • Committees are able to do things that the Parliament cannot do due to its formalities and size
  • The duties of a committee include finding the facts, gathering evidence from experts and drawing up reports, which can be more efficiently done in small groups.
  • Because committees have a defined area to cover, e.g. Defence or Health, the members can specialise and thus gain experience, making process more efficient.
  • Also, many committees may operate at the same time, which means investigations become more efficient.
  • They contribute to better policy making, as they are able to ask experts and consult opinions.
  • It provides a public forum for the views of citizens, allowing direct contact.


  • Committees are one way that the House uses to keep a check on the activities of the government
  • The have the power to call for people, including public servants, and documents to come before them to answer the questions of government administration
  • They may oversee the expenditure of money and may ask the government departments to explain, account for and justify their expenditure and any decisions.
  • In the Senate, committees and inquiries are more aggressive and critical of the government
    • This is because the gov’t often does not have a majority in Senate committees as a result of the minor parties and independents in the Senate

There are 3 types:

  • Standing
  • Select
  • Joint (Can be standing or select)

Standing Committees

  • They stand for the life of the parliament
  • 3 roles
    1. Before legislation gets introduced
      1. Gather information through submissions, opinions, surveys, data etc.
      2. Give it to the relevant minister
    2. During the path
      1. Leads discussion
      2. Leads Consideration in Detail
      3. If not introduced by them, looks at it and researches it
      4. Consider amendments
    3. After it is passed
      1. Continually review it, its effects and its progress
  • 2014 – Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs is looking into The harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and is chaired by Sharman Stone.

Select Committees

  • Stand for the life of the issue they are discussing
  • Investigates events, e.g. how, why, and whose fault it is and how to prevent it
  • After a report is issued, the gov’t can decide what to do with it
  • Can issue a minority report, if enough members disagree with the majority
  • In the HoR, there are no select committees because they are trying to avoid scrutiny
    • If something bad happens, it is usually the gov’t’s fault, e.g. Garrett’s insulation scheme, and they want to avoid being criticised.
    • This is why most select committees are from the Senate, as the gov’t has less of a majority and the opp’n and minor parties can force an inquiry to be made.
    • The last time this happened was in
  • e.g. the Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Committee
  • Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia – chaired by Warren Entsch, holding an inquiry in to the development of Northern Australia

Joint Committees

  • Committees where both MPs and Senators may sit on.
  • Can be either standing or select
  • e.g. Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee – looking into Inquiry into Australia’s trade and investment relationships with countries of the Middle East chaired by Teresa Gambaro

Estimates Committees

These comprise members from all political parties that examine all areas of government expenditure. If necessary, the have the power to call Ministers and public servants before them to explain issues and expenditure. The Estimates Committees are very important in holding the Gov’t to account in terms of revenue and expenditure.

Legislative and References Committees

  • Standing committees are divided into Legislative and References. It is convention that a Liberal Senator chairs the Leg, whilst a ALP chairs the Ref.
  • Legislative committees look into bills referred by the Senate, e.g. constitutionality, scrutiny and implementation.
  • References committees hold inquiries into topics/areas referred by the Senate.




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