Decipher: Parliamentary Committees

One of the best ways for the community to have input in political discussion is through submissions to parliamentary committees. Organisations and individuals can submit letters and reports to groups of backbenchers investigating specific topics, or considering the future of bills in parliament.

In order to find out what a committee is and what their function is, let’s return to our fictional politician, Reginald Personson MP, Member for Houghnice.

The Australian Regulator of Niceness and Interpersonal Etiquette

2-MovetoCommitteeThe Generally Pleasant Party, which forms the Government of the day, wishes to review the government body known as the Australian Regulator of Niceness and Interpersonal Etiquette. ARNIE is the Australian body regulating niceness, making sure that Australian citizens are generally polite.

The Generally Pleasant Party is proposing a bill to refine the regulation of niceness, and reduce the regulatory power of ARNIE.

The bill, named “the Rewarding Niceness Bill (Bill to Repeal the Etiquette Regulation Act 2001)”, has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The Members of Parliament have decided, before they vote on the bill or change it, to put it to a committee. (To find out about how bills are passed, click here to read our Decipher blog post on the subject.)

There is currently no committee suitable to investigate the Rewarding Niceness Bill, so a new committee is formed, the Joint Select Committee on Niceness Regulation.

Reginald Joins the Committee

3-WhipReginald is especially interested in niceness policy, and as such is interested in joining the committee. He talks to the Generally Pleasant Party’s Chief Whip.

A Whip is a Member of Parliament who ensures party discipline, and carries out a variety of other functions on behalf of the party leadership. This includes managing the process for deciding which members of the GPP will be put forward for membership of committees.

The Generally Pleasant Party’s Chief Whip tells him that there is only space for three representatives from the governing party, and since he has only been in parliament a short time, he might not be chosen in favour of more senior members of the party, if they should want to join.

Fortunately for Reginald, not many others in his party wish to join the committee, so his name is put forward. (Also the Whip puts some extra effort into getting Reginald into the committee because Reginald is so nice.)

The Joint Select Committee 

Parliament gives the committee terms of reference, indicating it wants to hear views about how best to ensure sufficient civility in the community and whether this could be best achieved by removing ARNIE’s regulatory function.

4-RadioadThe committee runs advertisements through various media outlets (newspapers, websites etcetera) that the committee is seeking submissions from individuals and organisations.

Submissions are accepted from various sources. They include a submission from the Australian Good-Natured Equestrian Society, who suggest that Nicety ought to be regulated more, and that such regulation, particularly amongst horse-owners, makes Australia better.

The University of Amicaville submits a report of their own in which they perform studies and surveys, finding that 63% of those asked claim they would still behave courteously without heavy regulation.

Aged Carers R Us, an established aged care provider, submits a report that identifies some of the costs of regulation and acknowledges some of the benefits, but suggests a commission would be better.

Another submission comes from Mrs Theresa Pobble of Civilton in the electorate of Houghnice, who has submitted a hand-written note detailing her experiences with niceness, and stating that she thinks niceness should be rewarded, rather than enforced.

After all of the submissions have been received, Reginald Personson reads through them thoroughly. He finds that there is dissatisfaction with ARNIE but that many of the submissions still display the desire for some form of government body to remain in the area, rather than the simple dismissal of the regulator.

This coincides with Reginald’s research and views. Reginald suggests to the rest of the committee that some of the people who made submissions should be called to discuss their ideas at a public hearing.

Public Hearings

The Joint Select Committee on Niceness Regulation invites a number of the organisations and individuals who submitted to attend a public hearing, where the committee will ask them questions, based on their submissions.

5-PublicHearingReginald asks the representative of Aged Carers R Us to explain what sorts of activities a commission would perform.

After the public hearing, the committee puts together a report summarising the submissions received, as well as the inquiries and research that has been done.

The report recommends that the government should consider dismantling the Australian Regulator of Niceness and Interpersonal Etiquette, and set up a Federal Manners Commission in its place.

The House of Representatives takes this advice, and amends the repeal bill to adopt the suggestions of the committee.

Its work concluded, the committee is disbanded, but Reginald Personson has gained favour with his fellow Generally Pleasant Party members, and has done work to better represent the wants and needs of the Australian people.

Where You Can Make Submissions

UnitingCare Australia regularly makes submissions to committees, presenting the views of Uniting Church agencies on important policy issues. You can read some of the latest submissions made by UnitingCare Australia on this website.

Do you know what committees are active now, either in the House of Representatives or the Senate?

You can read through previous submissions made by individuals and organisations at the Parliament House website, sorted by inquiry.

Follow the link to read our previous political Decipher blog post, Decipher: Who is Your Member of Parliament?

Or read the next political Decipher blog post, Decipher: The Australian Federal Budget, Part 1

Written for Uniting for Change by Lachlan Macleod
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