Senate Estimates this week has been looking at how much the GG’s Rolls is being taken out – and if some of our tanks
are missing. In between those pressing issues, we asked Democrat Whip
Andrew Bartlett what he thinks will happen to the Senate Committees
after July 1.

“Given that the Government has the numbers, no one can be sure what the
structure of the Senate Committees will be or how they will be able to
operate,” he says. “What happens here will be an early sign of how keen
the Government is to grab the extra Senate power (and take it off
others) while they have the chance.”

has some ideas. “Things that may change include merging the separate
References and Legislation” Standing Committees (as was the case prior
to 1994), or changing the composition of the Committees, including the
Chairs.” There are eight Legislation and eight References Committees,
he explains, and all Legislation Committees have Government Chairs and
a Government majority, all References Committee have a non-Government
Chair (six Labor and two Democrat) and a non-Government majority).

also considers another the possibility of another option: “The
Committee structure may stay the same, but the nature and length of
references may change. Controversial references, such as Children
Overboard will almost certainly no longer be agreed to. The Government
will probably still acquiesce to Legislation being referred to
Committee, but may restrict the length of time of inquires – this is
already widely used as a tactic to prevent proper scrutiny of many

But it’s not all bad. “At least some Committee inquiries
will still go ahead after June 30,” Bartlett says. “There is already
occasional cross-party agreement for an inquiry, such as the current
Mental Health inquiry which the Democrats proposed and are chairing,
and was supported by both the Government and Opposition.”

And he
still sees a vital role for the Senate: “Committee inquiries (assuming
the Government allows them to happen) may become the most crucial
mechanism for keeping the heat on Govt Senators – the pressure on all
Liberal backbench Senators not to cross the floor on Senate votes will
be enormous and no doubt the usual threats to pre-selections, future
Ministerial prospects, etc will be deployed.”

The checks and
balances that have evolved in our parliamentary system to restrain the
power of the executive will still function: “The Committee environment
will provide a safer place for Coalition Senators to highlight areas of
concern and support pressure for change to bad laws or policy.
Coalition MPs have encouraged and relied on the Democrats for years to
make sure things they don’t like are fixed up or at least ameliorated
in the Senate – this may need to happen in reverse over the next few
years. The Democrats will aim to ensure that Committees can be used to
put this pressure on all Coalition Senators.”

The end of the world isn’t nigh. “The Democrats still see opportunities in Committees after June.”