So you’ve told your story to a committee by making a submission and giving evidence at a hearing, what can you expect from the committee at this stage?

As we’ve mentioned before, the committee’s role is to investigate broad systemic issues. This means that committees generally do not investigate or resolve individual matters. This week’s committees post will explain why this is the case and where individual stories fit into the picture in an inquiry.

Government Parliament

The first thing to keep in mind is that committees, as part of the Parliament, are independent from the government. In fact, committees are made up of seven to eight members from across the political spectrum.

Composition of committees
Composition of Legislative Council committees

It is the role of committees to investigate public policy issues and hold the government of the day to account. As the committee system is independent of the government, committees do not have the power to change policies or government decisions – rather their role is to gather evidence and make recommendations to the government to implement change.

While the government generally has six months to respond to a committee’s recommendations, it is under no obligation to accept all or any of the recommendations. For example, in the government response to the child protection report, the government supported, noted and supported in principle a number of recommendations.

Can a committee investigate an individual issue?

Overwhelmingly, inquiries seek to investigate systemic issues rather than individual cases. This means that they focus on the procedures, practices and systems that operate within a particular government project or policy area. If you’ve ever contributed to an inquiry before, you’ll have noticed that committees sometimes state on their webpages  that they cannot investigate individual cases or personal grievances.

But are individual stories are useful to committees?

What committees can_can't do 3

The answer is yes!

Committees welcome submissions from individuals highlighting their experiences. Committees will also hear evidence from individuals in public or private hearings, and at public forums. These stories help committees understand the size of a problem and who is most affected and hear the community’s thoughts on potential recommendations.

This evidence is used in the report and provide useful case studies. If you flick through reports on the music industry in New South Wales, and the impact of the WestConnex Project, you’ll find plenty of case studies that tell individual stories.

It’s important to remember that committees cannot accept evidence after a report has been tabled so if you’d like the committee to hear your story, then you should make a submission by the submission deadline.

Where can you go to address a personal grievance or individual case?

If you’d like to have your particular issue addressed, there are other avenues you could try. For example, you could contact:

  • The relevant Minister
  • The relevant government department
  • A relevant oversight agency such as the Ombudsman.

While committees don’t have the power to directly change government policies, they are frequently a catalyst for real change. Check out our previous post on what inquiries can achieve, where we delve into two significant inquiries that led to government reform.