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Types of Committees in Parliament

Discuss about the Public Policy for Role of Committees in Parliament.

The aim of this essay is to determine the role of committees in the Parliamentary system. A Parliamentary committee can be described as a group of members or Senators that are appointed to undertake particular tasks. The committees are appointed by either one or both houses of the Parliament (Aph.gov.au 2017). The Parliament plays the role of forming the basis of responsible government. It also includes the sub functions of providing finances or legislating. There is accountability where the people are accountable through the legislature. The facilitating members of the Parliament discuss the issues of national concern (Hickman 2015). This essay also analyses the level of contribution of committee in policy making.

There are several types of committees- standing committee, estimate committees and select committees. The standing committee continuously focuses on assessing bills and specific issues such as education, employment and others (Aph.gov.au 2017).  Further, the select committees are established to investigate policy issues related to agriculture, manufacturing or any other relevant businesses. The estimate committees meet up thrice a year and scrutinize allocation of budget funds. In the recent times, committees have gained importance in the Parliament as it is complex to make laws (Reynolds and Williams 2016).

The committees are meant to perform functions that are not performed by the houses themselves such as discussing detailed matters, conducting inquiries, sifting evidence, hearing witnesses and concluding after evaluation. Such tasks are more effectively conducted by a small group of Senators or/and members. The parliamentary committees look into specific government administration or policy matters. Other committees look after the internal administration of the Parliament. It is not possible to look after all the things in the Parliament. The committees play a crucial role in investigating the case, sifting evidence and drawing logical conclusions. Such work is more suitable for a small group of members rather than the entire House. These are the general functions performed by the parliamentary committees (Rogers and Walters 2015).

Further, the committees are frequently adopted to provide summary of works and accountability of government agencies within specific portfolios. The accountability functions of the committees include jobs such as compelling the attendance of people, conducting inquiries, presenting documents, preparing reports and providing recommendations to parliament. Further, the committees are also an important part of legislative process where public can give their input. The committees play a role of enabling direct contact between the common people and representative groups of Parliament for smooth flow of information. The committees facilitate the level of collegiality between political parties and members who otherwise do not have the opportunity to work with one another (Giddings 2014).

Functions of Committees

The committee contributes to the policy process. There are different phases in the policy cycle- strategic investigation, appraisal of legislation, scrutiny and review. In the first phase, strategic investigation, the policy options and ideas are presented. The parliamentary committees can contribute independently for several policy options. In the second phase, appraisal of legislation that is another prospective phase of policy development, the scope of policy preferences is addressed (Aph.gov.au 2017). In the third phase scrutiny, the phase of policy development is backward looking. The established programs and policies are evaluated so that necessary changes in the department can be made. This stage is more prospective as it is done with an anticipation of future changes. The last stage is review in which only the broad and retrospective issues are covered. The policy gaps and expansive inquiries related to policy are reviewed. The sub-national or organizational issues are also considered that involve neither security nor legislative appraisal (Huber and Shackleton 2013).

The committees are considered as a substantial element in the organizational structure in the Australian Parliament. The members spend much time in the committee meetings and establishing the public expectations regarding the changes in policy process. The committees affect policies significantly. This can be justified by examining the two ways in which committees affect policies (Directory.gov.au 2017). Firstly, the impact on public policies can be considered by reviewing the reports and recommendations. The acceptance and implementation of recommendations by government is a measure, but it is difficult to do so in a limited scenario. The interpretation of statistical data becomes difficult at the bureaucratic level. It is important to differentiate broader processes based on the type of impact on government as well as public policy debate (Webster et al. 2012).

The Australian parliament committees engage in the policy process with bureaucracy, government and policy communities. The policy decision making stage is undertaken by the cabinet where an executive-centric process is applied. The committees play a significant role and the legislative stage where scrutiny of administration, policymaking and appraisal of legislation is made. In the first stage, agenda setting, the role played by the committees is investigative where there are committee reviews and inquiries that influence policy agenda (Aph.gov.au 2017). The committee plays a role beyond agenda setting by pursuing a consensus builder, honest broker, technical expert and educator as required. Further, in the second stage of policy development, the contribution is made on behalf of the executive for exposure of draft bills. However, no formalised role is played. For example, when a new policy proposal needs to be promoted, the committee arranges a reference with the minister for investigation (Birkland 2016).

Contribution of Committees to Policy Making

In the next stage, during decision making, no direct role is played by the committee. However, in the fourth stage of implementation of decisions, the Senators of members examine the bills. In the fifth stage where policy implementation is evaluated, a significant role is played by conducting investigation and scrutiny. The committee contributes to reviewing performance of public agencies and administering policy (Aph.gov.au 2017). In the last stage consultation, the committee plays a role of public communication where it majorly contributes. The link between committee communication and policy making is well established. The committee leaders are highly conscious of communication as there are close connections between consultation and legislation (Thissen and Walker 2013).

Despite significant role played by the committee in the Parliament, there are certain limitations on the powers. The committee needs to have an agreed budget for operations and they need to maintain it. A committee may negotiate to receive the information in private or it is open in principle for the committee to challenge the Minister’s claim in the House by raising the matter as a possible contempt of the House. Further, the witness my declare information to be in confidence where the above conditions shall reapply. Also, there are limitations on federal legislative power relating to limited capacity and binding laws (Peo.gov.au 2017). However, the High Court in Australia has not identified the control in exercising implied limitations. Also, there is limited power of inquiry as the authority delegates to them for proceedings in the House for which they are appointed. Such legal limitations of the inquiry power enforces by compelling law officers to attend the committee (Aph.gov.au 2017).

Conclusively, the Parliament plays the role of forming the basis of responsible government. The committees are meant to perform functions that are not performed by the houses themselves such as discussing detailed matters, conducting inquiries, sifting evidence, hearing witnesses and concluding after evaluation. The committees affect policies significantly. The committees play a significant role and the legislative stage where scrutiny of administration, policymaking and appraisal of legislation is made.

References

Aph.gov.au, 2017. Chapter 18 – Parliament of Australia. [online] Aph.gov.au. Available at: <https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/House_of_Representatives/Powers_practice_and_procedure/practice/chapter18> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Aph.gov.au, 2017. Committees – Parliament of Australia. [online] Aph.gov.au. Available at: <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees#fndtn-tabSenate_Committees> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Aph.gov.au, 2017. Infosheet 4 - Committees – Parliament of Australia. [online] Aph.gov.au. Available at: <https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/House_of_Representatives/Powers_practice_and_procedure/00_-_Infosheets/Infosheet_4_-_Committees> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Aph.gov.au, 2017. Parliamentary Privileges – Parliament of Australia. [online] Aph.gov.au. Available at: <https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp0001/01RP01> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Aph.gov.au, 2017. Role of the Committee – Parliament of Australia. [online] Aph.gov.au. Available at: <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/Role_of_the_Committee> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Birkland, T., 2016. An introduction to the policy process. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Directory.gov.au, 2017. Parliamentary Committees | Australian Government Directory. [online] Directory.gov.au. Available at: <https://www.directory.gov.au/directory?ea0_lf99_120.&organizationalUnit&86da2719-ee93-4621-b71a-926e66ac32ad> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Giddings, P., 2014. Parliamentary accountability. 1st ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.

Hickman, A., 2015. The Issuing Summonses by Parliamentary Committees-Procedural Issues and Risks: A Case Study from Western Australia. UW Austl. L. Rev., 39, p.319.

Huber, K. and Shackleton, M., 2013. Codecision: a practitioner's view from inside the Parliament. Journal of European Public Policy, 20(7), pp.1040-1055.

Peo.gov.au, 2017. Parliamentary Committees | Learning | Parliamentary Education Office (committe,parliament,member,issu,parliamentari). [online] Peo.gov.au. Available at: <https://www.peo.gov.au/learning/fact-sheets/parliamentary-committees.html> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2017].

Reynolds, D. and Williams, G., 2016. Petitioning the Australian parliament: Reviving a dying democratic tradition. Australasian Parliamentary Review, 31(1), p.60.

Rogers, R. and Walters, R., 2015. How Parliament works. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Thissen, W. and Walker, W., 2013. Public policy analysis. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Springer US.

Webster, J., Dunford, E., Kennington, S., Neal, B. and Chapman, S., 2012. Drop the Salt! Assessing the impact of a public health advocacy strategy on Australian government policy on salt. Public Health Nutrition, 17(01), pp.212-218.

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