Federal Government, parliamentary committees investigate specific matters of policy or government administration or performance. They provide an opportunity for organisations and individuals to participate in policy making by having their views placed on the public record and considered as part of the government decision-making process. These committees are often the ‘unsung heroes’ of our Government as they provide a forum for genuine, bipartisan discussion, negotiation and agreement on important issues before they go before Parliament.
During the term of the 44th Parliament under Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, a Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia was established in 2014. This Committee completed four inquiries and reports listed as follows:
- Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia – Interim Report;
- Pivot North: Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia – Final Report;
- Scaling Up: Inquiry into Opportunities for Expanding Aquaculture in Northern Australia; and
- Advisory Report on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Bill 2016.
With the dissolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives on 9 May 2016 this committee ceased to exist. The current Government has moved quickly to fill this gap with a new committee, providing it with the scope and longevity to effectively facilitate the long-term development of northern Australia.
The important contribution made by parliamentary committees is often unsung and unappreciated by the community. They facilitate a better-informed policy making and legislative processes. They help Members to access a wide range of community and expert views so that through the committee process, the Parliament can be better informed of community issues and attitudes. Committees also provide a public forum for the presentation of the various views of individual citizens and interest groups. Parliamentary committee inquiries provide an opportunity for organisations and individuals to participate in policy making and have their views placed on the public record and considered as part of the decision-making process.
Committees have the capacity do things which it would not be possible to undertake in the large, formal environment of the House of Representatives or the Senate. They can find out the facts of a case or issue, gathering evidence from expert groups or individuals, sifting evidence and drawing up reasoned conclusions. This kind of work is more effectively carried out by small groups of Members.
In 2016, following the double dissolution election in July, the 45th Parliament under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, reinstate a Committee on Northern Australia. The new committee was changed from a select committee, one that is created for a specific purpose for a limited period, to a standing committee, which is appointed for the life of the Parliament and will usually be re-established in successive Parliaments.
The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia has been appointed under a resolution of appointment which was passed by the House of Representatives on 1 September 2016 and the Senate on 12 September 2016. It will conduct inquiries into matters relating to the development of northern Australia that have been referred to it by either House of the Parliament or by a Minister. Annual reports from other government departments and Auditor-General reports will be referred to it for inquiry and comment on matters pertaining to northern Australia.
Over 1.3 million people live in northern Australia. This provides for an electoral representation which is relatively small compared to its geographic size and economic importance. Importantly, the Committee provides excellent representation from electorates geographically positioned in the north. It consists of 10 members with representation from major and minor political parties. The Committee Chair is the Hon Warren Entsch, Liberal Party of Australia and the Member for Leichhardt in Queensland which encompasses much of Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. The Deputy Chair is the Hon Warren Snowdon MP, Australian Labor Party and the Member for Lingiari in the Northern Territory. Lingiari electorate encompasses all the Northern Territory apart from Darwin. The remaining Committee Members comprise three Liberal Party, three Labor Party, one from The Nationals and one from the Australian Greens. All members are directly associated with northern Australia. The membership includes Senator Patrick Dodson, Labor Senator for Western Australia. Senator Dodson is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and provides direct representation to Indigenous groups integral to northern Australian development.
The Federal Government released Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia in June 2015. This document provided a policy framework to achieve a vision of a robust northern Australian region with a population of four to five million people by 2060. The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia will be instrumental in providing the essential, bipartisan support to policy and legislative decision making necessary for the realisation of this vision.