A recent post explained how Legislative Council committees are established, the types of committees, their membership, and how chairs and deputy chairs are determined. This post describes how different inquiries are initiated.
Terms of reference
Every inquiry begins when a committee receives or adopts the inquiry terms of reference. These define the scope of the issues to be examined. A committee can only consider matters within the terms of reference, but the common inclusion of ‘any other related matter’ provides some flexibility.
The inquiry terms of reference can be referred to a committee in a number of ways, depending on the committee.
References from the House
The Legislative Council itself can refer an inquiry to any committee, whether a standing or a select committee. It does this via a vote and resolution.
Select committee inquiries can only be initiated by resolution of the House. The resolution establishes the committee as well as the inquiry, and the committee ceases to exist once it provides its report to the House.
Ministers can refer an inquiry to a subject standing committee, that is, the Law and Justice Committee, the State Development Committee, or the Social Issues Committee, as long as it falls within the functions of that committee.
The reference is made via a letter from the Minister to the Chair. The committee can accept or reject the terms of reference, or seek the Minister’s agreement to amend the terms of reference. The House can amend the ministerial reference, instruct the committee on how to proceed, or even direct it not to proceed.
The portfolio committees, Public Works Committee and Public Accountability Committee can all initiate their own inquiries because the House has given them a self-referencing power.
To initiate an inquiry, three committee members must make a written request for a meeting to consider whether to adopt the proposed terms of reference. The inquiry is established if the majority of members present vote to adopt the terms of reference.
Reference of a bill
The House can refer a bill to a standing or select committee for consideration and report. It sometimes does this via an amendment to the motion for the second or third reading of the bill. It may also vote to refer a bill to a standing committee on the recommendation of the Selection of Bills Committee.
How can community groups and other stakeholders get an inquiry started?
The most effective way that you can get an inquiry started is to lobby members of a committee with a self-referencing power. You could work out which committee functions include the issue you want examined, then identify a member you think will be sympathetic to your cause. You could then arrange to meet with the member to persuade him or her how an inquiry would be in the public interest.
As soon as any inquiry is established the terms of reference and other information are posted on the relevant committee’s website and on Twitter. Sign up here for our Twitter alerts if you haven’t already.