Committee Office secretariats supported the eight pairs of legislative and general purpose standing committees, 11 select committees, five joint committees and one joint select committee (see figure 9). During the year, committees continued to experience a significant workload, with high numbers of inquiries and hearings. The cost of the office in 2017–18 was $11.1m ($10.6m in 2016–17), with staff salaries comprising approximately 95 per cent of the office’s total expenses.
The remaining costs continued to be administrative (for example, transport and accommodation for secretariat staff attending hearings, printing and venue hire). These administrative costs continue to be high due to the high numbers of interstate committee hearings.
Committee secretariats provided administrative support to committees, including processing submissions, publishing material to committee websites and arranging hearings around Australia. Staff also analysed the evidence committees received, drafted briefing material and reports, arranged for the tabling and publication of reports, and assisted witnesses and others to participate in inquiries. Finally, secretariats provided advice to chairs and committee members, including in relation to matters which raised complex procedural issues.
The significant workload of committees had a number of consequences for the support provided to them, including that they were at times required to prioritise inquiries and secretariats were not always able to provide assistance with the drafting of dissenting reports and additional comments. The pressure this workload placed upon senators resulted in the rescheduling of hearings at short notice, because of competing demands to attend multiple hearings, and the number of requested extensions to reporting timeframes.
Again, comments made in the Senate when committee reports are tabled or debated provide one means of evaluating the performance of the office. Several senators highlighted the contribution of committee staff when tabling such reports. Survey feedback from senators and unsolicited feedback from witnesses also continued to indicate high levels of satisfaction with the quality of the advice and support provided by secretariats.