Parliamentary committees are groups of members of Parliament who have been appointed to assist the Houses in performing their functions. Either or both Houses of Parliament can appoint a committee to examine issues in more detail than is possible if the matter were considered in the House itself.

Committees increase public awareness and debate on issues the Houses are considering. They benefit the community by reviewing proposed laws, facilitating more informed policy making and ensuring greater government accountability.

Committees can call for written submissions, conduct hearings where witnesses give evidence and seek advice from experts. They provide a forum for members of the public to have their say on issues the Houses of Parliament are currently considering. Committees then report their findings to the relevant House and make recommendations for government action.

As a government sector employee, you may be required to attend a committee hearing or to produce documents or make submissions in relation to a committee inquiry. As a senior executive, you must ensure that your employees are aware of and adhere to the guidelines for appearing before committees.

The role of committees

All members of Parliament attend sittings of Parliament, consider proposed legislation, participate in debate and voting, raise issues on behalf of constituents and participate in parliamentary committees.

Parliamentary committees provide a public forum for debate on important issues facing the community, allowing members of the public to have a say on matters before Parliament. They also increase public awareness and benefit the the community by reviewing proposed laws, facilitating more informed policy making and ensuring greater government accountability.

Parliamentary committees report their findings on issues to the Parliament and provide recommendations for government action. They comprise members of several political groups but generally take a non-partisan approach in working. And as work of Parliament and government has become more complex over the years, the importance, work and number of committees have increased. 

Either House of Parliament can establish a parliamentary committee - or both can, forming a joint committee. 

Some committees exist permanently or for long periods. These include:

  • standing committees
  • statutory committees
  • sessional committees.

Other committees are created for the sole purpose of inquiring into and reporting back on a particular matter, after which the committee is disbanded. These include:

  • select committees
  • legislation committees.

The list of NSW parliamentary committees includes information about matters being examined, committee membership, terms of reference, hearings and reports. 

Guidelines for appearing before parliamentary committees

As a government sector employee, you  may be requested -  or summoned - to attend and give oral or written evidence to a committee hearing, or to produce documents or make submissions. The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) has issued several guidelines via Premier’s memoranda and circulars detailing the requirements for appearing before committees - see 'Related links' below. 

As a senior executive, you must ensure that all employees within your agency who are required to appear before a committee are made aware of and adhere to DPC's guidelines.

The primary rule is that employees may only give evidence of a factual nature; they should refer questions that seek opinions or practical judgements to the Minister (when in attendance) or take those questions on notice to obtain a written response from the Minister.

If questions on notice have been submitted to agencies prior to the committee hearing, the Minister must approve the answers before being sent to the committee. Answers that would affect the whole of government or other agencies must be referred to the Premier for approval.

Agencies must apply a systematic approach when determining the need for and nature of a submission requesting a committee inquiry, beginning with government-wide engagement.