The thesis examines the purpose and effectiveness of committees of inquiry of the Commonwealth Parliament from 1970 to 1978, on the basis of available documentary evidence.
Introduction and Setting (Chapters 1 and 2)
Parliamentary committees assist the Parliament, the inquisitorial proceedings of committees either supplement or substitute for adversary proceedings in the chambers, and operate within the system of constitutional government, responsible government, bicameral legislature, and bi-partisan politics. Standing and select, joint and one-chamber committees have been employed with little experimentation as to form, their purpose generally to inquire and report, some more specifically to consider legislation or scrutinize administration.
Development (Chapter 3)
Committees proliferated from 1970, first in the Senate where the Opposition and minor parties were influential when the government lacked a majority, then generally during the 1972-75 Labor government, and with promotion by the Prime Minister from 1975. Ministerial responses and expanded governmental reporting from 1978 were intended to improve effectiveness.
Committees on General Inquiries (Chapters 4 to 8)
Parliamentary committees conducted general inquiries for a variety of purposes. Recommendations on policy and administration, made in most reports, were accepted on the few policy issues referred at a formative stage, but in other cases only to a limited extent, while proposals for organization expansion were most often rejected. The evidence of the parliamentary debates indicated that the committees did not effectively achieve the purpose of improving debates and' informing members, not even committees established with that primary purpose. The flow of information between government and governed appears to have been facilitated, nearly all inquiries were adequately supported by public evidence. There was little follow-up of recommendations, or use of reports in other parliamentary proceedings.
Legislation Committees (Chapters 9 to 11)
The few references of stages of legislation were on an ad hoc basis, in some cases facilitating passage, while some references for party-political motives delayed and contributed to defeat. The regular examination of details of bills commenced only in 1978.
Scrutiny Committees (Chapters 12 to 17)
Scrutiny of administration was carried out by committees on public accounts, works, and regulations, augmented from 1970 by committees on estimates, and on expenditure from 1976, while some of the other committees also commented on administration. Provided for in parliamentary proceedings, committees on works and on regulations carried out the scrutiny intended, but with criticisms of their range. The estimates committees served primarily to inform Senators on details of estimates twice a year, and were seeking improved information and an extended and continuing function. Other committees concerned with financial administration covered limited areas of compliance, not very convincingly, while examinations of efficiency and effectiveness were only developing. Reports of these committees were scarcely mentioned in the Parliament.
General purpose Committees (Chapter 18)
The general purpose standing committees of the Senate were each intended to deal with general inquiries, legislation and scrutiny of administration, but two tended to specialize on legislation and on scrutiny. Opposition and minor party references were accepted during the Government minority in the Senate, some becoming redundant on the 1972 change of government. These committees increased the number of references and reports in the Senate mainly on general inquiry topics, but with a consequent diminution in the Senate time for consideration of reports. The effectiveness of these committees was similar to that of others described above.
Organization and Government (Chapter 19)
In the creation of committees inadequate attention has been paid by the Parliament to the organization of the committee system, and the relationship of parliamentary committees to the government, with some duplication and overlapping among committees, and between parliamentary and governmental inquiries.
Summary and Conclusions (Chapter 20)
The general summary shows that parliamentary committees have been of limited effectiveness. However, in the Parliament the belief persists that parliamentary committee can aid the Parliament in its activities of debating issues, considering legislation, and scrutiny of administration, in addition to providing information. Inadequacies in results are in part attributable to the failure of the Parliament to consider and organize the system generally, and to the fact that except in the case of a few scrutiny committees the Houses of Parliament have not provided in their own proceedings for adequate consideration of the output of the committees they created.