Indigenous Law Bulletin
Committees within parliament call for submissions to assist them as they investigate matters and then report on these findings to parliament. These matters include changes to legislation, policies that may need to be reformed or issues that have been prominent and which it is believed parliament needs to address. These committees use ‘terms of reference’ to guide what they will investigate; the kind of questions they want to answer. Parliamentary committees are made up of members of parliament selected to undertake the committee member role.
Submissions provide committee members with information as to the opinions or special knowledge of different sections of society. Submissions can be made up of facts about an issue, they can argue a side to a matter or they can make suggestions as to alternative courses of action.
Anyone who ‘has something to say’ on a matter being investigated or inquired into can make a submission. Submissions need to relate to the inquiry’s terms of reference. This doesn’t mean that you have to address all the terms of reference, just the ones you would like to comment on, advise on or make recommendations about. There’s no set form for a submission so this means you can write a letter to the committee, or you can write a short ‘essay’ (or even a long one). Remember, if your submission is lengthy (five pages or more) you should attach a separate ‘summary’ to the front.
You can handwrite a submission but make sure your writing is clear. If you type it, committees usually prefer you to also send your submission to them on a CD as a word document or a PDF. Pages should be numbered and the submission should be on A4 paper with double-spacing. Submissions can also be made as a video or audio recording.
Committees usually have information available on the parliament website explaining where to send your submission (either by post, fax, email or online). This is the same place you will get information on the terms of reference. Keep a copy of your submission – for your own records and in case you are asked to give evidence. Once you’ve sent your submission you should not distribute copies of your submission until you have obtained permission from the committee to do so.
If you’re making a submission on behalf of an organisation it should be clear who authorised the submission and what their role is in the organisation. A name, address and contact number should be provided.
Once a submission is lodged, permission must be obtained from the committee if it needs to be withdrawn or changed. Committees often publish submissions so if you want any part or all of your submission kept confidential, make sure you state this request very clearly.
Once a committee has received all the submissions, it then starts reviewing them as well as conducting any further research required including through on-site inspections, public hearings or seminars. Select people or organisations who made a submission may be asked to give oral evidence at a public hearing. At the conclusion of their research, the committee will prepare a final report (again based on the terms of reference) for parliament. All those who make submissions should receive a copy of the report.
If you are asked to give oral evidence to a committee after you have made your submission you can request information from the committee on how to do this.
Submissions and evidence to parliamentary committees are subject to parliamentary privilege. This means that, in respect to your submission, you can’t have any legal action taken against you for defamation. This is because a parliamentary committee is an extension of parliament itself; you can speak freely and honestly while giving evidence to the committee and in the submission you lodge.
This information is intended as a guide only. Nothing in this article is to be considered ‘legal advice’. Those wishing to obtain further information on submissions to specific committees should contact the relevant officer appointed to that committee.