Senate committees

The principle means whereby the Senate obtains information bearing on the accountability of the executive are committee inquiries

– Harry Evans, former Clerk of the Senate

  • May only inquire into matters referred to them by a Chamber, invariably by the Senate, since the Gov’t does not have a majority there. Sometimes, during hung parliament, HoR may refer.
  • Hence, the majority decides on the subject and scope of the inquiry
  • However, government has no obligation to act upon the report/recommendations


  • Very powerful
  • Ask for submissions from the public
  • Hold hearings, where people on interest are asked questions
  • Able to call for witnesses from government departments
  • Able to ask for documents
  • Compiles a report and recommendations, which is tabled in Parl


  • In one sense, useless and ineffective since gov’t does not have to act upon it
  • Not effective if gov’t holds a majority in the Senate
  • Like Royal Commissions, serves only to confirm what is already known, delay decisions being made, and sweep embarrassments under the carpet

Select committee on a certain maritime incident (children overboard)

Feb 2002

  • Found that there was no real evidence that Howard, Reith and Ruddock knew about the falsification of evidence
  • Nothing came of the committee


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