About Parliament – Parliamentary Committees

Video duration: 3 min 10


Narrator: Committees can be set up by the Senate or the House of Representatives—or by both houses together—to investigate issues in detail.

The Hon Peter Slipper MP tables the Legal & Constitutional Affairs Committee Report in the House of Representatives Main Committee.

Narrator: They help senators and members make informed decisions about law-making and policy and provide the Parliament with a range of community views.

Members of the public express their views at a public hearing.

Narrator: They also help to keep an important check on the work of the government.

Narrator: A committee usually involves a small group of senators or members who focus on a proposed law or issue. Through its committees, the Parliament can carry out tasks not suitable for the large, formal chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Examples of committee public hearings: Senator Mary Jo Fisher, Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network. Ms Jennie George MP, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, Inquiry into Resale Royalty Right for Visual Artists Bill 2008. Senator Rachel Siewert and witnesses, Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, Inquiry into Aged Care Amendment (2008 Measures No. 2) Bill 2008.

Narrator: The Parliament gives its committees considerable powers of investigation including the ability to question witnesses and collect evidence.

Senator Barnett and witnesses at a public hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, Inquiry into the Social Security and Other legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009.

Narrator: Committees hear people's views in many ways.

A witness provides evidence at a public hearing of the Senate's Inquiry on Men's Health.

Narrator: They can receive written submissions, take evidence by phone or video, and travel across Australia to speak to individuals, organisations, experts and interest groups.

Examples of public submissions to various committees including the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Inquiry into the Anti-Terrorism Laws Reform Bill 2009 and the House of Representatives Inquiry into Cyber Crime.

Witnesses provide evidence over the phone and at various public hearings across Australia.

Narrator: Anyone who takes part in a committee is protected by parliamentary privilege, which means they can speak freely without any action being taken against them.

Ms Sharon Bird MP and witnesses at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training, Inquiry into combining school and work: supporting successful youth transitions.

Narrator: There are many different kinds of committees in the Parliament. Some focus on important public issues, like climate change or the cost of living, while others look at proposed laws in detail. Committees are also used to examine the work of the government and other organisations.

Narrator: In Senate Estimates hearings, ministers and senior public servants are questioned about government actions and their spending of public money.

Senator the Hon Eric Abetz questions Senator the Hon Penny Wong at estimates hearings of the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration.

Narrator: Here, a House of Representatives Committee questions the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia.    

Mr Craig Thomson MP at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics.

Narrator: After a committee has examined all evidence on an issue or proposed law, it prepares a report and presents its findings and recommendations to the Parliament.

Examples of committee reports: Senate Select Committee on Men's Health. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development & Local Government Inquiry into coastal shipping policy and regulation. Senate Economics Legislation Committee Inquiry into the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills [Provisions]. Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into RAAF-111 Deseal/Reseal workers and their families.

Narrator: This process can result in changes to proposed laws or government policy. It encourages debate and helps members and senators make better-informed decisions.

Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens speaking in the Senate chamber about the Federal Court of Australia Amendment (Criminal Jurisdiction) Bill 2008.

Mr Kelvin Thomson MP in the House of Representatives chamber speaking about the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.