Have you ever heard the term ‘parliamentary committee inquiry’ on the news and thought ‘What’s that’s and why does it matter?’ Then you’ve come to the right place!

This is the first in our weekly series of blog posts on the workings of Upper House committees. We will be posting new committees content every Tuesday afternoon, so subscribe to our blog to receive a notification when we post.

What are committees?

Parliamentary committees are made up of six or seven members of parliament from different political parties who work together on a diverse range of issues that affect the people of New South Wales.

Committees play a crucial role in holding the government of the day to account and by investigating important public policy issues. Committees also provide the public with the opportunity to directly engage with members of Parliament and be part of the decision-making process.

Upper House committees are special as many have a non-government majority of members. These committees often examine matters that are controversial, so a non-government majority ensures openness, accountability and transparency.

This reflects the makeup of the Upper House where no government has held a majority of members since the late 1980s and where government legislation can be amended against the government’s wishes.

Last year Upper House committees investigated over 30 matters, including:

  • The impact of the CBD and South East Light Rail Project
  • The implementation of the NDIS
  • The management of water in regional and rural areas
  • The impact of WestConnex
  • The Powerhouse Museum’s move to Parramatta

How does a committee inquiry start?

The Legislative Council has the power to send an inquiry to any Upper House committee or even establish a new committee to look into a specific issue. Depending on the committee, an inquiry can also be ‘self-referred’ or referred by a government Minister.

To start an inquiry, members need to agree on what they are actually investigating. This is called the inquiry terms of reference and is essentially the scope of an inquiry.

Public involvement

The most important element of a committee inquiry is the evidence gathering phase where committees call for written submissions, invite people to give evidence in person as a ‘witness’ and conduct site visits to areas and facilities.

Members of Parliament rely on the evidence received from interested parties including the public, community groups, organisations and academics to inform their views on issues. This allows the people of New South Wales to directly engage with their elected representatives through formal means by having their views recorded and made public.

We always advertise for written submissions and to publicise committee hearings through our Twitter and Facebook accounts, so if you are interested in an issue make sure to follow us for updates. Future blog posts will provide tips on writing an effective submission and appearing as a witness to give evidence.

Public report and recommendations to government

The end product of a committee inquiry is a public report that is tabled in Parliament and placed on the Parliament’s website. The report is based on all the evidence received throughout the inquiry and includes recommendations for the government to take action.

It is a requirement that the government respond to each report recommendation. However, as the government is independent of the Parliament, the government is under no obligation to accept or act on these recommendations.

Even with this caveat, Upper House committees have achieved some very important outcomes for New South Wales. To hear more on this, tune in to next week’s blog post where we will examine what committee inquiries can achieve.