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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 2019–20, the Committee Office comprised 10 secretariats that supported 13 House committees and 11 joint committees (see Table 5).

In 2019–20, the budget allocation for this activity was $9.879 million and expenditure was $8.433 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 18); staff levels are shown in Table 12.

Table 5: Committees of the Forty-sixth 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 Implementation of the National Redress Scheme (established 11 September 2019)

Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue

Select Committee on Regional Australia (established 25 July 2019)

a. Joint statutory committee.

Note: Five House internal committees (Appropriations and Administration, Procedure, Publications, Selection, and Privileges and Members’ Interests) and the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings are supported by other areas of the department, and are discussed in Parliamentary committees (see pages 41–42).

Committee Office activity

In 2019–20, 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.


During the year, the Committee Office experienced the immense challenges brought by the bushfires of the 2019–20 summer and the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, and resulting restrictions on movement and activity, severely curtailed the ability of committees to undertake their scheduled program of work and travel. In March, the Presiding Officers recommended that committees transition to a virtual setting for all public hearings. Public hearings held in Parliament House operated where essential, and were closed to members of the public. These measures continued throughout the financial year.

Public hearings continued to be broadcast on the Parliament of Australia website, as is the usual practice.

Some committees suspended inquiries during this time, some took steps such as extending submission closing deadlines, and some continued to take evidence and operate in a near-normal fashion.

Despite the year’s logistical challenges, the Committee Office was able to successfully support all committees within its remit, and it supported a number of teleconference and videoconference public hearings, and the presentation of a number of committee reports. Tabling speeches of members reflected the professionalism of Committee Office staff, and informal positive feedback received from members throughout the year expressed their satisfaction with the level of support provided.

Committees conducted inquiries on a diverse range of topics, including the following:

  • Public works: the Public Works Committee scrutinised and recommended parliamentary approval of more than $4.8 billion in expenditure on major public works. This is one of the largest amounts that the committee has scrutinised in a 12-month period and included the pandemic period where the committee continued its work without interruption.
  • Life in regional Australia: the Regional Australia Select Committee had commenced an extensive program of travel to gather views on life in regional communities and towns when travel restrictions were announced. The committee pivoted to holding virtual hearings to continue to take evidence on changing priorities and new challenges faced by those living in the regions, and held 14 virtual hearings.
  • Nuclear energy: the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy conducted an inquiry into the conditions in which nuclear energy could be introduced in future.
  • COVID-19: the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is undertaking an inquiry on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade. The inquiry is ongoing at the end of the period.
  • Waste and recycling: travel restrictions prevented the Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources Committee from travelling for hearings and site visits for its inquiry into innovative solutions for Australia’s waste and recycling industries. Before the restrictions came in, the committee was able to conduct a site visit to the Woodlawn Bioreactor near Tarago in New South Wales. The Woodlawn Bioreactor receives approximate 20 per cent of Sydney’s putrescible waste and from that produces enough power to supply over 30,000 homes.
  • Other topics: these include the Australian timber industry, 5G mobile technology, feral and domestic cats, allergies and anaphylaxis, and migration into regional Australia.

Photo of committee members at Woodlawn Bioreactor.
Members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources alongside representatives of Veolia and the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council at the Woodlawn Bioreactor near Tarago in New South Wales. Image: Department of the House of Representatives.

Appendix 3 lists all reports tabled over 2019–20, and current inquiries.

The sustained workload of committees can be seen in Figures 4 and 5, which highlight the number of committee meetings and reports tabled in the year.

Committees within the remit of the Committee Office held 571 meetings, listed in Appendix 2. Figure 4 shows the number of meetings held by committees supported by the Committee Office over the past five years.

Figure 4: Number of committee meetings supported by the Committee Office, 2015–16 to 2019–20  571.

  • 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.

Figure 5: Number of reports tabled by committees supported by the Committee Office, 2015–16 to 2019–20  55.

  • 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.

Petitions Committee

The Standing Committee on Petitions facilitates the receipt and progression of petitions through the House. The committee can also conduct inquiries and undertake activities on any matter relating to petitions and the petitions system. During this reporting period the committee commenced a project to enhance the information available on the House’s petitions webpages to make the process more accessible and easier to understand.

The committee also experienced a marked increase in the number of petitions received. Table 6 shows the number of in-order petitions presented to the House, and the number of signatories, for the past five years. In 2019–20, a total of 498 petitions were presented, compared with 190 in the previous year. The number of signatures increased from 199,084 in the previous year to 804,854 in 2019–20. The committee also presented 13 reports summarising the petitions and ministerial responses being presented.

During 2019–20, the Petitions Committee received an e-petition concerning climate change that collected 404,538 signatures. This e-petition has the largest number of signatures collected since the introduction of e-petitioning in 2016.

Table 6: Petitions and signatories to petitions, 2015–16 to 2019–20






Number of petitions presented






Number of signatories






a. Election year.

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 2019–20, 16 reports presented by committees supported by the Committee Office contained recommendations that required a government response. Of these 16 reports:

  • government responses to three reports were received within the six-month timeframe
  • three reports have not received a response within the six-month timeframe
  • the six-month timeframe has not elapsed for the 10 remaining reports awaiting a response.

A total of 17 responses to reports presented in previous financial years were also received.

Information and communications technology

During 2019–20, the Committee Office worked with DPS on preparations for a transition to Office 365 and Windows 10. To support and understand the implications of this transition, the Committee Office Future Systems Working Group was established, and has focused on a refresh of committee information and communications technology (ICT) systems.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, secretariats transitioned to working remotely, and parliamentary committees adapted to the use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing facilities when conducting proceedings. Over the next reporting period, the Committee Office will continue to work closely with DPS on the expected deployment of Office 365 and Windows 10 for committee secretariats.

15th Biennial Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees Conference

From 6 to 8 November 2019, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit hosted the thirtieth anniversary conference of the Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees (ACPAC) — ‘Changes and challenges over the last 30 years’. The conference brought together 75 delegates from across Australia, the Asia–Pacific and Africa to discuss emerging issues in public scrutiny and the changing role of parliamentary and public institutions.

Delegates included representatives and staff from parliamentary public accounts committees, other similar parliamentary scrutiny bodies, Auditors-General, Parliamentary Budget Officers and associated private sector organisations.

The conference presented the opportunity to welcome new parliamentary dialogue as well as sustain and strengthen existing inter-parliamentary dialogue about the challenges and work of respective parliaments and legislatures, with a focus on the work and workings of public accounts committees and their counterpart committees.

ACPAC delegates at Parliament House.
Delegates attending the Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees Conference at Parliament House. Image: Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.

Facilitating international visits

Before COVID-19-related international and domestic travel restrictions, committees undertook international visits as part of inquiries.

Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters visited Dublin, Ireland, from 5 to 8 November 2019, to participate in a meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and ‘Fake News’ as part of its inquiry into all aspects of the conduct of the 2019 federal election. Attendance was at the invitation of Ireland’s Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment of the Houses of the Oireachtas, who invited Australia and several other international parliaments to participate in the third meeting of the International Grand Committee as ex officio members.

The meeting examined the theme ‘How to advance international collaboration in the regulation of harmful content, hate speech and electoral interference online’, and took into account evidence of interference, hate and harmful content, the structural problems involved, and evolving regulatory structures. While in Dublin, the delegation also met with members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, representatives from government departments, the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce, representatives from the media and academics.

Four members of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy travelled to India from 3 to 7 November 2019. Having commenced an inquiry into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia, the committee used the visit to gather background information on India’s energy profile and future energy needs, and peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Two members of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories travelled to the United Kingdom to attend the Antarctic Parliamentarians Assembly conference and related events in London from 1 to 4 December 2019. During the Forty-fifth Parliament, the committee had inquired into Antarctica, and its representation at the conference built upon the committee’s work in relation to the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Participants standing before the flags of their countries.
Participants at the third International Grand Committee meeting in Dublin, Ireland. Image: Houses of the Oireachtas, Ireland.

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 mobility between secretariats and increased recruitment activity.

Informal training programs for new staff will continue, with an emphasis on developing knowledge of committee procedure. The Committee Office will seek to explore videoconferencing and teleconferencing facilities in the event that remote meetings continue.


The Committee Office continues to support the many ongoing inquiries currently being undertaken by committees, and expects that committee activity will resume to its previously high levels as restrictions on movement are eased.

A key priority for the Committee Office continues to be investing in the professional development of its staff — including in important areas such as procedural knowledge and leadership skills — to ensure members of parliament continue to be well supported.

Economics committee hearing from the Reserve Bank.
Members of the Standing Committee on Economics hearing from the Reserve Bank of Australia. Image: David Foote, Auspic/DPS.