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How committees work

What is a parliamentary committee?

A parliamentary committee is a small group of members of parliament from different political parties. The committee members are appointed by the house in which they sit (or both houses in the case of a joint committee) to undertake detailed work on its behalf and report back to the house(s) on the completion of its investigations.

Both houses use committees as a tool to assist them to legislate; monitor and review legislation (including delegated legislation); review government administration and expenditure; gather information; and publicise issues.

A committee can consider in detail matters that are not suitable for consideration in the environment of the houses of Parliament. A committee can review a complex or contentious matter and assist parliamentary debate by clarifying issues and establishing common ground between members of different parties.

Committees are able to carry out investigations, hear evidence from witnesses, travel for inquiries, seek advice from experts and deliberate on matters under inquiry before reporting their findings to the house(s).

Committees are an invaluable communication forum between Parliament and the Western Australian community, affording members of the public and organisations the opportunity to participate in lawmaking and policy review and to have their views reported to the Parliament.

Types of committees

There are three types of committees: standing committees, joint committees and select committees.

Standing committees generally have terms of reference that set parameters for the matters they consider. These committees last for the life of the Parliament or longer in some cases.

Select committees are appointed to conduct an inquiry into a particular issue. They usually dissolve once they report to the house(s).

Standing and select committees will report to either the Legislative Council or the Legislative Assembly, or both.

Joint committees consist of members from, and report to, both houses of Parliament.

Inquiries

Committees undertake most of their work through a process of investigation. Input from government departments, other organisations and members of the public is integral to a committee’s findings and recommendations. While a committee is largely free to decide how to go about an inquiry, the following is a brief summary of the steps an inquiry generally takes:

  • a reference is either received by the committee from the house, or is initiated by the committee (where it is empowered to do so);
  • background briefings and seminars (where appropriate) are prepared by committee staff and government departments to inform the committee;
  • terms of reference are established (if not already adopted);
  • advertisements are placed in relevant media calling for submissions;
  • submissions are received and analysed;
  • the committee selects individuals and organisations to give evidence, with hearings generally being public;
  • the committee undertakes briefings and hearings outside the jurisdiction and conducts relevant site visits;
  • the committee considers evidence, prepares a draft report, and then deliberates on, and adopts, the report;
  • the report is tabled in Parliament and published along with transcripts of public evidence and submissions;
  • in the Legislative Assembly, the members of the committee speak to the report on tabling, and in the Legislative Council, the report may be debated at a later stage;
  • those providing submissions to the inquiry and witnesses are advised of the report’s tabling; and
  • the government considers and responds to the report within three (3) months.

Powers of committees

Committees have all the powers and privileges of the Parliament. This includes the power to summon any person within the state to appear before a committee and/or produce documents.

It is an offence to mislead a committee, prevent a witness from giving evidence or prosecute them for doing so. These actions may also be a contempt of Parliament.

Parliamentary privilege

The 'Proceedings of Parliament', which include committee proceedings, are subject to parliamentary privilege. This provides protection for information provided by a witness, whether verbally or in writing, against use of that information in court proceedings or tribunals. This means that a witness can speak candidly without fear of legal repercussions within the confines of the parliamentary proceedings.

Get involved

Having a say on issues that impact you or the Western Australian community is very important, and our committees want to hear from you. For further information on committees, making a submission or giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, please read our Frequently Asked Questions.