Last week we discussed how you can participate in committee inquiries and the importance of gathering evidence. So now you know that submissions are one of the most important ways that Parliamentary committees receive evidence, the big question is…

What makes an effective submission and how do I write one?

An effective submission captures the committee’s attention, influences the inquiry’s direction and findings and contributes to the recommendations. Below are some key tips on how your submission can have an impact.

Tip 1: Use structure well

When writing your submission, remember – it doesn’t need to be long. The length of your submission will depend on the inquiry and if it is a personal view or an organisation’s view. We would suggest between 5-10 pages for an organisation. A good rule of thumb is to think about what would be the easiest for committee members and the secretariat to read (yes, every single one of them is read!). Consider formatting techniques such as an introduction, table of contents and clear headings with white space.

Tip 2: Provide introductory information

Introducing your organisation helps the committee understand who you are and why you’re interested in the inquiry – if you are a peak organisation or if you solely work in the area of interest then say this! It’s also a good idea to explicitly state if you’d be willing to appear at a public hearing – some submissions end simply with ‘I would be happy to appear as a witness to discuss this submission in more detail’.

Tip 3: Address the terms of reference

Every inquiry has terms of reference – they define the scope of an inquiry and set out the matters that are being inquired into. You may wish to use the terms of reference as headings to provide a clear structure to your submission. You don’t have to comment on every term of reference – you may only be interested in one of the terms of reference and it’s fine to write extensively about one. If your submission does not address any of the terms of reference the committee may not accept it as evidence.

Tip 4: Write to persuade

When drafting your submission,  state your position – what are your views and why? Present the committee members with an argument, not just the facts. Back up your points by referring to research or anecdotal evidence. Give real life examples or case studies – this is a good way to illustrate experiences and personal stories can often have the greatest impact. However, remember to respect an individual’s privacy by changing any identifying information such as their name.

Tip 5: Write responsibly

In most cases your submission will be published online and will remain online forever, submissions do not get removed when the inquiry ends. Make sure to give credit where it’s due and footnote all citations and use clear and easy to find footnotes.

Tip 6: Make recommendations

Recommendations are important as they help the Committee identify problems – but also how to solve those problems. Recommendations in submissions can directly influence the outcomes of an inquiry. It is helpful if recommendations in a submission are clearly highlighted (e.g. bolded) so they stand out. Remember to be imaginative – it’s your chance to say what really should happen but it is also important to be realistic.

Tip 7: Practicalities and procedural points

  • Remember to proofread not just spell check – does your argument flow well and work?
  • Have you included page numbers? This makes it easy to refer to specific paragraphs at public hearings and makes it easier for the secretariat to draft the report!
  • Submit via the inquiry website
  • Don’t re-publish your submission once you send it to the committee – it won’t be covered by parliamentary privilege
  • Have you indicated to the secretariat what the publication status is for your submission? Confidential submissions can’t be cited in the report and it is ultimately up to the committee to decide on publication status.

Some final words

Remember – parliamentary committees can receive a huge number of submissions to an inquiry depending on the subject matter. Not every author of a submission will be invited to give evidence or be cited in the final report – but your submission can still be influential.

If you are invited to give oral evidence before the committee – what makes an effective witness? Find out in next week’s blog!