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Monday, 18 June 2001
Page: 27687

Mr NAIRN (1:36 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report entitled Promoting community involvement in the work of committees: Conference of committee chairs, deputy chairs and secretaries 6 March 2001, together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr NAIRN —In 1999 the Procedure Committee undertook an inquiry to look at ways to improve the engagement of the community in the operations of the House. The report of the inquiry, It's your House, has proved a very useful tool in focusing our efforts to build better understanding in the community of what we do as a house of parliament. A large part of that inquiry looked at the work of committees as the main area of interaction between the House and people in the community. This report follows up on some of the developments which have taken place since the original report.

One of the first recommendations of the report was that committee chairs, deputy chairs and secretaries should get together on a regular basis to share experiences and ideas on how to promote better understanding of the work of committees. The Procedure Committee hosted the first such conference on 6 March this year. This conference heard a report of action taken across the board to help committees. For example, we heard about new advertising approaches, signs and banners, the About the House magazine, and the appointment of a specialist communications adviser. We also heard from Mr David Hawker from the Economics Committee about their work with students and their hearings with the Reserve Bank Governor in Wagga Wagga. We heard from Mr Lieberman about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Committee's approach to working with remote communities. These and other experiences of individual committees are detailed in the report.

The conference also provided an opportunity for members to put forward their comments and ideas for continuing efforts to expand the reach of committees beyond the bureaucracy and well-organised interest groups. The positive approach and sharing of ideas was very encouraging, and a number of areas were highlighted for further improvement. This report of the conference includes five recommendations. Two relate to continuing the effort through holding regular conferences each parliament and a proposal to rotate the hosting arrangements to bring a continuing freshness of ideas to the process.

Other recommendations are directed at governments now and in the future. They ask government to, firstly, strengthen its undertaking to provide responses to committee reports within three months of tabling; secondly, post responses to committee reports on departmental Internet sites so that the committees can provide links from their sites; and, thirdly, report to the House every six months on progress in implementing recommendations contained in committee reports.

There was a deep concern among all those present at the conference on 6 March that, unless there are clear and timely outcomes to committee inquiries, there cannot be adequate recognition of their contribution to policy review and administrative improvement. People who contribute to committee inquiries must be able to feel that it has been worth the effort, that their views have been taken into account and that some decisions have been made or action taken as a result of their and other evidence. The work of committees is an aspect that I always raise with schoolchildren when they come to parliament because, unfortunately, the work of committees does not often go on the headline unless it is something very controversial. The old adage `if it bleeds, it leads' seems to run. Therefore, a lot of the excellent work of committees is unheard of or unknown out there in the broader public. That is what this whole process and this report are really all about. Government as well can play their part in making the system better so that people feel it is worthwhile.

Governments can and do harness the good work of committees and use their input to improve policies and services of the government. Through publicly responding to committee reports in a timely fashion they can demonstrate their concerns about how policies affect people in practice and that they are willing to consult with and take into account the views of the community in general. Timely responses are good for government as well as the committee and the contributors to an inquiry—a win-win situation.

The report also encourages the government to take up an earlier recommendation of the committee to improve opportunities to debate committee reports in the week of their tabling. The issues and proposals raised in this report are part of an ongoing process of evaluation and improvement of the performance of our committees. I hope that we can continue to adopt a flexible and innovative approach to improving relations with the community. I thank those members of my committee and the members who came along to that conference. Unfortunately, I think that not enough came along to that conference, but I thank the ones who did for their contribution. Also, special thanks to our secretariat: Robyn Webber, Sonya Fladun and Celeste Italiano.