Parliamentary committees undertake functions of the parliament that can more conveniently be performed by a small group of Members. This commonly includes inquiring and reporting on matters of public importance, such as the scrutiny of government activities, addressing a difficult issue of public policy, or evaluating the merits of a proposed law. Committees comprise a number of parliamentarians from both government and non-government parties. They are extensions of the parliament and operate according to the authority delegated to them.
Inquiries are conducted by obtaining information from individuals, organisations, government departments and experts on the matters under investigation. In reporting, committees examine evidence, draw reasoned conclusions and make recommendations to the government and the Assembly. The committee system provides a mechanism to enhance public accountability of government and contribute towards a better informed government administration and the development of public policy.
The work of committees provides opportunities for Members of the Legislative Assembly and the public to be in personal contact as they take part in committee activities such as hearings, visits and inspections. This can promote public awareness and debate of the issues being considered by parliament and allows more direct public input into parliamentary and policy processes. It also provides Members with the opportunity to exchange views across party lines and reach bipartisan conclusions and recommendations on matters of public interest.
The Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory has three types of committees: 'standing', 'select' and 'sessional'. These terms refer to the duration of the life of a committee.
Standing committees are appointed to investigate and report on specific subject areas for the life of a Parliament. A number of standing committees are established under the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly and are appointed at the commencement of each Parliament. These committees are generally re-established in successive Parliaments as they have a continuing role. Standing committees may also be established by a resolution of the Assembly.
Each Assembly has six Standing committees:
- Standing Orders Committee
- Committee of Privileges (also acts as Committee of Members' Interests)
- House Committee
- Subordinate Legislation and Publications Committee
- Public Accounts Committee
- Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Sessional committees are appointed for the duration of the session of the Assembly, after which they cease to exist. A session refers to the series of sittings from the calling together of the Assembly after a general election until the Assembly is prorogued; or from the calling together of the Assembly after a prorogation until the Assembly is next prorogued.
Sessional committees are appointed and given terms of reference by resolution of the Assembly. Terms of reference for Sessional committees tend to be reasonably broad with no specific timeframe for reporting. A recent example is the Sessional Committee on the Northern Territory's Energy Future.
Select committees are appointed to investigate or report on specific matters. Their terms of reference are generally quite narrow and must incorporate a set date for reporting. Select committees cease to exist following the tabling of their final report to the Assembly. A recent example is the Select Committee on Youth Suicides in the NT.