This lesson investigates parliamentary scrutiny (careful examination) through a committee role-play. Other means of scrutinising government actions and decisions such as Question Time, the media and Hansard are also dealt with.
For an overview of the parliamentary committee role-play see Role-play lesson plans – Committee.
- understand the nature of parliamentary scrutiny
- investigate mechanisms of parliamentary scrutiny
- distinguish between scrutiny and accountability.
- What is scrutiny and why is it necessary?
- How does the federal Parliament scrutinise government activity?
- What is a parliamentary committee?
- Question Time
- Committee of inquiry
- Witness group
- The media
- Government department annual report
- Begin by asking students to share times when they or their families have been cheated or deceived in a commercial transaction. (e.g. faulty goods, poor workmanship, overcharging etc.)
- Ask students to consider the following scenario: a family has commissioned a builder to construct a beach house. The builder has the plans, has received a 25% deposit and has started work.
- How does the family know that the building will conform to the plans and that the money will be spent accordingly? (inspections to check quality of work, materials and progress; tallying of receipts; verification of builder's credentials etc.)
- What might happen if the family did not scrutinise or review the work?
- Who and what does the federal Parliament scrutinise? (bills, expenditure, executive activity—especially that of the Prime Minister and Cabinet)
- Brainstorm ways in which the Parliament can investigate or scrutinise government activity. (committees, Question Time, Hansard, departmental reports, budget papers etc.)
- How do members of parliament scrutinise the activity of executive government? (consider Question Time, media coverage, Senate Estimate committees etc.)
Download instructions and scripts from the Role-play lesson plans: Committee page.
Background to committees
- Tell the class that the House of Representatives and the Senate often form smaller groups of members and senators known as parliamentary committees to investigate community issues or bills in detail.
- Brainstorm issues of national importance. (e.g. carbon tax, conscription, ethanol subsidy, obesity, drug use etc.) Choose an issue for the role-play.
- Write the issue as a bill using the words 'A Bill for an Act to … ' ( e.g. A Bill for an Act to establish a national carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)
- Identify which groups might have an interest in the bill. (petroleum industry, consumers, transport industry, welfare groups, tax office, environmental groups etc.)
- Out of the list of groups with an interest, select four witness groups to deliver a submission to a Senate committee.
- Create groups of 3 or more for each witness group and a committee of 5-6 senators including a committee chair.
- Committee senators discuss the topic and formulate questions to pose to each witness group, while witness groups write a statement on the bill. Do they support it or oppose it? Why?
- Set up the classroom using the committee seating plan.
- Conduct committee role-play using the committee script.
- The committee recommends to the Parliament that the bill be accepted, rejected or changed. (a report could be written)
- Ask the committee to explain its decision to the class.
- How effectively did witness groups represent their organisation's interests?
- What techniques did the committee use to scrutinise the witnesses? (asked incisive questions, asked for more evidence and details, identified inconsistencies etc.)
- What important issues were not raised?
- Why are some bills and issues referred to parliamentary committees? (provides for thorough examination of issues, relieves pressure from the chamber, accesses special interests and skills of members etc.)
- The Parliament is not bound by committee recommendations. How useful, therefore, do you think they are?
- How do the public and community groups find out about committee hearings? (advertisements in newspapers, requests from committee secretariats to make submissions, ministers, parliamentary websites)
- How else can the public and the media scrutinise government activity? (Hansard, departmental reports, media commentary, the Budget etc.)
- What is the relationship between scrutiny and accountability? (without scrutiny there can be no accountability)
- Research Question Time, parliamentary committees and the media. Compare and contrast and determine which offers the most effective form of scrutiny. Justify your answer.
- Are all the means of scrutiny sufficient to form a comprehensive inquiry into government activity? If not, what other powers might the Parliament enact to achieve this?
- 'The media provides an accurate commentary on what happens in the Parliament.' Discuss.
- Ask the parliamentary committee (from the role-play) to write a report to the Parliament explaining the committee's recommendations.
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