In the 19th century, the Queensland Houses of Parliament used committees extensively to resolve many particular issues which came before them. Matters such as legislation, land transactions, sale of government assets and policy proposals were the subject of scrutiny by committees appointed by the Legislative Assembly. Frequently, Legislative Assembly Members worked jointly with Legislative Council Members to deliberate on issues of concern.
Unfortunately, the committee system in Queensland went into decline during the course of the 20th century. By the early 1980s there were only a few domestic committees (Privileges Committee, Printing Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee established in 1975). However, in the late 1980s a new invigorated committee system began to develop. Legislation was enacted in 1988 to establish the Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts. Other committees were subsequently established by legislation or appointed by resolution of the House to scrutinise various aspects of Government policy and administration.
In 1989, the Fitzgerald Report (Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct) looked at systems in place in the Federal Parliament of Australia and the House of Commons in the UK and recommended that Queensland introduce "a comprehensive system of Parliamentary Committees to enhance the ability of Parliament to monitor the efficiency of Government".
A period of review followed from the Fitzgerald Inquiry. The Fitzgerald recommendations were referred to the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC) which reported in favour of a portfolio-based system of committees. EARC’s recommendations were referred to a Parliamentary Committee the Parliamentary Committee for Electoral and Administrative Review (PCEAR). This committee did not opt for a portfolio-based system but made recommendation to enhance the current system.
Minor changes to committees occurred in 2009 with the passing of the Parliament of Queensland Amendment Act 2009. The Act established the Law, Justice and Safety Committee as a standing committee replacing the Legal Constitutional and Administrative Review Committee. In addition, the Act merged the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee into a single committee entitled the Public Accounts and Public Works Committee. On 23 April 2009 the Legislative Assembly established by resolution three new committees, the Economic Development Committee, the Environment and Resources Committee and the Social Development Committee. These reforms saw a shift towards a subject based committee system.
The years 2010 and 2011 were a significant time of reform for the Queensland Parliamentary Committee system.
In February 2010, the Parliament established a committee, the Committee System Review Committee, to conduct an inquiry and report on how the parliamentary oversight of legislation could be enhanced and how the existing parliamentary committee system could be strengthened to enhance accountability. The Committee tabled its report containing 55 recommendations on 15 December 2010. This committee recommended a system of portfolio committees which mirrored the various portfolio areas of government.
The Government supported the majority of the committee recommendations. In February 2011, the Parliament established a select committee, the Committee of the Legislative Assembly, to consider the details of the new committee system.
The Parliament of Queensland (Reform and Modernisation) Amendment Act 2011 was introduced on 5 April 2011 and received Royal Assent on 19 May 2011.
The Act implemented a number of key reforms to the committee system including the establishment of a number of portfolio committees under Standing Orders to cover all areas of government activity, examine Appropriation Bills, other legislation and public accounts and public works.
Membership of committees
Members of committees are appointed by the Legislative Assembly at the commencement of each Parliament. The membership of each committee may change by resolution of the Legislative Assembly. Changes in membership are recorded in the Record of Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly. At present, each portfolio committee is made up of five government and two non-government Members. The chair of each portfolio committee is a government Member.
The Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee has four Government Members and three non-Government Members.
Just as Parliament is open to the public, so also (with a few exceptions) are parliamentary committee proceedings. When committees conduct inquiries and call for public submissions, notices of inquiry and times and dates of hearings appear in the local press.
Public servants are frequently called to appear before parliamentary committees. This allows open review of the Government decision making process and provides departmental officers with an opportunity to explain activities and programs. This process also gives the committee valuable information in response to their questioning.
Committee staff are available to assist witnesses, clarify issues of concern and assist with any inquiries regarding the work of a committee.
After the second reading debate concludes, the bill is referred to committees for examination. From 1994 to 2010, there were six estimates committees, titled A to F, holding hearings over six days. From 2011, as part of reforms to the committee system, budget estimates are referred to the relevant portfolio committee for examination.
Ministers and senior departmental staff, are required to answer questions from committee members during public hearings regarding their portfolio's proposed expenditures. Other Members, with the leave of the committee, are also allowed to seek information.
When the committee's hearings are completed the Members meet, discuss the information gained and compile a final report. A committee Member can provide a statement of reservation or a dissenting report. The final report is tabled in Parliament and debated by the whole House prior to being adopted.
On budget day, the Treasurer tables the Budget documents. The Appropriation Bill is introduced and the Treasurer's second reading speech (also known as the Budget Speech) is made outlining the government's policy, proposals and estimated receipts and expenditures for the forthcoming financial year.
The debate is then adjourned to allow government members, the opposition and the public a period of time to consider the bill and the accompanying budget documents in detail.
On resumption of the Second reading debate, the Leader of the opposition replies to the Treasurer's budget speech and for the next two days, the debate on the bill ranges between government and opposition members.