Run a parliamentary committee

Investigate the work of parliamentary committees in this classroom activity. Use this activity to further your study of civics and citizenship or as a framework for an inquiry study into any topic.

Students
Years 7 to 12
Duration
1 to 2 lessons

Role-play the Parliament: Committee 

This video demonstrates a committee role-play, where students can learn how the Australian Parliament investigates bills and issues. It outlines what content is covered in the lesson, and what preparation is required to use this immersive learning strategy in a classroom.

Duration: 12 min 16 sec

Read the transcript.

Preparing for the committee

Topic for investigation

  1. Choose a topic relevant to your students and to the curriculum, such as health. If you'd like to see the kinds of issues the Parliament has been discussing recently, look at News from our Parliament. If you're stuck for ideas, use the Voting Age Bill script in the toolkit.
  2. Decide which aspect of this topic will be investigated, such as a shortage of doctors in rural communities.
  3. Prepare terms of reference—a set of 3 to 4 guidelines—which explain the exact areas that the committee will investigate. Ensure your terms of reference specify exactly what the committee wants to learn about this topic. For example, to determine: how many doctors there are per capita in rural areas; what incentives exist for rural doctors.

Choosing witness groups

  1. As a class, discuss who might wish to provide relevant information or express an opinion to the committee—such as doctor's association, rural healthcare workers, Indigenous communities, rural elderly citizens. These groups are called witness groups.
  2. Identify which witness groups your committee will question in order to receive a range of perspectives about the issue.

Establishing committee and witness groups

  1. Choose 5 or 6 students to be committee members. One of these students will be the committee chair, who will run the hearing.
  2. Divide the rest of the students into witness groups, with 3 to 5 students per group. They will answer questions from the committee. One student from each group will be the spokesperson, who will read a short prepared statement when their group gives evidence.
  3. Encourage students to understand that:
    • members of Parliament are there to ask questions and to investigate. They do not argue with witness groups, they just want information
    • witness groups may want to persuade the committee to support their position. They should support their viewpoint with quality information and research.

Research

  1. The activity works best when students have enough time to research the topic of investigation in some detail. Give your students sufficient time to research.
  2. Ask each witness group to research and prepare evidence that supports their point of view, and to write a short opening statement.
  3. Ask the committee to do broad research into the topic and to prepare questions to ask the witness groups. The questions for each witness group should be relevant to that group and should aim to gain information described in the terms of reference.

Set up room

  1. Turn the classroom into a committee room by arranging chairs and tables as shown in the seating plan in the toolkit.

Running the committee inquiry

You can follow this process in the master script.

  1. The committee chair starts the hearing by introducing the committee, outlining the terms of reference and listing the witness groups.
  2. The committee chair invites the first witness group to the table, and to state their names for the Hansard record.
  3. The committee chair invites the first witness group to make its opening statement.
  4. The spokesperson of the witness group makes a brief opening statement outlining the group's position, and what it hopes the Parliament will do regarding the issue.
  5. The committee chair invites all committee members to ask the witness group questions (5 to 8 minutes per group).
  6. The committee chair thanks the witness group for attending and invites the next witness group to the table.
  7. Repeat steps 15 to 18 until all witness groups have given evidence.

The committee report

  1. The committee session finishes when the committee chair reads the closing statement.
  2. Ask the committee to prepare a report on the hearing. The report should outline what the committee thinks the Parliament should do about the issue they have investigated. Ask the committee to present their report to the class.

What happened?

  1. Discuss with the class what happened in your committee inquiry.
    • Did the committee's recommendations reflect the information they were given by the witness groups.
    • Was the committee's report unanimous or was there disagreement amongst the committee?
    • What happens with the report in the Parliament. For example, the report is tabled in the Parliament and may inform law-making decisions.

Reflection

  1. After the committee hearing, explore the following question with your students:
    • The committee process allows the Parliament to investigate issues and bills in detail, so that the Parliament can be well-informed before making decisions of national significance. How else might the Parliament find information? For example, members may talk to the people they represent, community groups, they may gain information from experts in government departments.