This week we take a look at the ins and outs of committee site visits: what they are used for, where they take place and how committees decide where to go.
A committee site visit is when a committee visits a site to get more information for an inquiry. They are a great way for committees to get firsthand experience of issues and how people experience these issues on the ground.
Site visits can show a committee what a particular region or industry is doing, what kind of solutions others have come up with, and how the government can help.
All LC committees have the power to go on site visits. For most committees this power is regulated by standing order 208, varied by a sessional order, which states that committees have the power ‘to make visits of inspection’.
A committee will decide to go on a site visit based on the evidence they gather through submissions and hearings. Not all inquiries require a site visit and a committee will only arrange a site visit if the evidence indicates that a visit in person will provide new information or give the committee a special insight into particular issues.
The Select Committee on the Proposal to Raise the Warragamba Dam Wall, for example, have made a number of site visits to places that may be affected if the Warragamba Dam wall is raised. Being there and hearing from a number of experts in the area means they have a thorough understanding of the issues.
Committees may participate in a site visit anywhere in New South Wales. To go anywhere else in Australia (including Canberra), committees must get permission from the President. This doesn’t happen very often but there are times when a committee will find it useful to see how a different State has come up with an innovative solution to an issue the committee is examining.
Site visits are part of the evidence-gathering process but they are different to hearings. Site visits are not used for every inquiry and do not form part of the official evidence. However, site visits do provide vital evidence, as members use what they have learnt on a site visit to inform their views on the issues or ask further questions at hearings.
Committees may also combine a site visit with an offsite hearing. This allows a committee to get up close to an issue firsthand and gather evidence from the stakeholders in the area.
The Portfolio Committee 7 koala inquiry, for example, held a combined site visit and hearing day in Campbelltown in October. The committee visited koala habitats and a proposed development area in the morning before a hearing in the afternoon where they heard from groups working with koalas in the area and with the company tasked with the proposed development. This committee is planning another site visit and hearing day in December in Gunnedah. (For more details, see the inquiry webpage.)
Where to find more?
Committees will refer to the site visits they have participated in in their final report on the inquiry – you can find examples on our website. You will also find regular updates here in the House in Review. Stay tuned for more committee activity and site visits in the coming months!