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Committee support

The Committee Office supports parliamentary committees in their work of examining policy and legislation, and of scrutinising the executive government. In 2018–19, the Committee Office comprised 10 secretariats that supported 13 House committees and 11 joint committees (see Table 6).

In 2018–19 the budget allocation for this activity was $9.449 million and expenditure was $8.764 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 19); staff levels are shown in Table 11.

Table 6: Committees of the Forty-fifth Parliament supported by the Committee Office

House committees

Joint committees

Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources

Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audita

Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

Standing Committee on Economics

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy

Joint Standing Committee on Migration

Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training

Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories

Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport

Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia

Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs

Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth

Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources

Joint Standing Committee on Treaties

Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Securitya

Standing Committee on Petitions

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Worksa

Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs

Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2018

(19 March–29 November 2018)

Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue

Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence (24 May 2018–2 April 2019)

a. Joint statutory committee.

Note: Five House internal committees (Appropriations and Administration, Procedure, Publications, Selection, and Privileges and Members’ Interests), the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings and Joint Committee on Publications are supported by other areas of the department, and are discussed in Parliamentary committees (pages 41–43 print version).

Committee Office activity

In 2018–19, the Committee Office’s support for the diverse work of committees involved:

  • facilitating committees’ private meetings, public hearings and site inspections
  • providing procedural and inquiry-related advice to committees and stakeholders
  • fielding inquiries from interested stakeholders about the purpose and progress of inquiries
  • promoting committee inquiries and reports
  • conducting research and analysing evidence received by committees
  • drafting chairs’ reports
  • facilitating the adoption and tabling of committee reports.

Overview

During the year, the Committee Office experienced a consistently high workload, with a large number of inquiries supported, meetings held and reports tabled. Several committees undertook simultaneous inquiries and, in addition, the department supported one House select committee and one joint select committee. Despite this heavy workload, the Committee Office was successful in supporting all the committees within its remit. This was evidenced in the tabling speeches of many members in the Chamber, in which the contributions and professionalism of committee staff were acknowledged. The Committee Office has received positive informal feedback throughout the year from members satisfied with the level of support provided by the Committee Office.

As in each reporting period, committees inquired into and reported on a diverse range of topics. In 2018–19, inquiry topics included the management of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in and around Defence bases, the future of petitioning, and a bill proposing to lower the voting age to 16 years. Appendix 3 lists all reports tabled over 2018–19 and current inquiries.

The sustained workload of committees is evidenced in Figures 4 and 5, which highlight the number of committee meetings supported and reports tabled in the year.

Committees supported by the Committee Office held 524 meetings in 2018–19. Appendix 2 provides a breakdown of that activity by committee. Figure 4 shows the number of meetings held by committees over the past five years.

Figure 4: Number of committee meetings supported by the Committee Office, 2014–15 to 2018–19Graph showing the number of meetings supported by the Committee Office.

a. The Forty-fourth Parliament ended with the dissolution of both Houses on 9 May 2016.
b. The Forty-fifth Parliament opened on 30 August 2016.
c. The Forty-fifth Parliament ended with the dissolution of the House on 11 April 2019.

Committees supported by the Committee Office tabled 85 reports in 2018–19. Appendix 3 provides a breakdown of that activity by committee. Figure 5 shows the number of reports tabled by committees over the past five years.

Figure 5: Number of reports tabled by committees supported by the Committee Office, 2014–15 to 2018–19Graph showing the increase in the number of reports tabled by committees that are supported by the Committee Office

a. The Forty-fourth Parliament ended with the dissolution of both Houses on 9 May 2016.
b. The Forty-fifth Parliament opened on 30 August 2016.
c. Figures have been updated to incorporate reports of the Petitions Committee when this committee was supported by the Committee Office. These reports were omitted from this chart in earlier annual reports.
d. The Forty-fifth Parliament ended with the dissolution of the House on 11 April 2019.

Government responses to committee reports

The government is required by resolution of the House to respond to recommendations contained in a report by a House or joint committee within six months of the report’s tabling. This resolution was adopted by the House on 29 September 2010.

During 2018–19, 52 of the 85 reports presented by committees supported by the Committee Office contained recommendations that required a government response. Government responses to six reports were received within the six-month timeframe; two reports received partial government responses in the required timeframe, four responses were received outside the required timeframe and the remaining 40 reports are awaiting responses. Nineteen responses were also received for reports presented in previous financial years.

Information and communications technology

The Committee Office continued to make use of ICT to increase the efficiency of work and to provide greater access for stakeholders interested in engaging with committees. Updates to the document templates used by secretariats are expected to be rolled out in 2019–20, and preliminary work to refresh committee ICT systems such as CommDocs will commence following the expected deployment of Office 365.

Shared Committee Information Database and Report Builder

The Committee Office continued to collaborate with the Department of the Senate and DPS on the Shared Committee Information Database (SCID), an important data management and publishing tool for the office. Report Builder, a template for drafting committee reports, is closely integrated with SCID. Through SCID, Report Builder links committee and inquiry information, and enables web publishing of reports in PDF, HTML and e-book formats.

Some Report Builder defects have been resolved throughout 2018–19, and other defects are expected to be resolved in the coming year.

Facilitating international visits

The Committee Office facilitated several overseas visits that related to particular inquiries. A delegation from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities visited the People’s Republic of China from 2 to 6 July 2018. The delegation visited Beijing, Tianjin, Chengdu and Hong Kong. The program was intensive, productive and highly interesting, involving meetings with government officials and private sector organisations and site inspections in each location. The committee visited major infrastructure development sites such as the new Beijing airport site at Daxing, the port development in Tianjin, the rail port in Chengdu, and the metro system in Chengdu.

The delegation’s aims and objectives were to gain insight into the development of cities and infrastructure in China, and lessons that could be applied in Australia. The delegation was impressed with the scale and speed of development in China’s cities and the high level of coordination and integration of urban planning and infrastructure development at the national, regional and local levels, and is of the view that there is much to be learned from China’s approach to urban planning and development.

In August 2018, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) travelled to India and Indonesia as part of its ongoing oversight of trade treaties. Both countries are currently negotiating trade agreements with Australia. The delegation’s objectives were to inquire into how Australian businesses can best operate in each of the two markets, examine the broader economic context, and obtain more information on the perspectives of both governments towards trade with Australia.

The JSCOT delegation learned a great deal about the complex and multifaceted economic environment in both India and Indonesia. The delegation was able to see firsthand the many opportunities for Australian businesses under any future trade agreement. Equally importantly, the delegation gained insight into the many challenges to overcome to take full advantage of those opportunities.

Joint Select Committee meet with stakeholders.
Members of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, meeting with stakeholders during the course of the committee’s inquiry. Image: secretariat

Improving performance

The Committee Office will continue to seek to find ways to improve the services provided to committees. This includes adapting more effectively to changes in secretariat workload through the continued use of paired secretariats and increased recruitment activity.

Informal training programs for new staff will continue, with an emphasis on developing knowledge of committee procedure.

Outlook

The Committee Office prepared for the commencement of the Forty-sixth Parliament and the establishment of committees. The level of committee activity is expected to increase during 2019–20.

In the coming year, members of parliament will continue to be professionally supported by the Committee Office. Continuing to invest in our staff—in important areas such as procedural knowledge and leadership skills—will remain a key priority.

Committee members meeting with students at Glenala High School.
Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters hearing from students at Glenala State High School in Brisbane. Image: secretariat