Opinion Number. 744

Subject

PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE WHETHER PARLIAMENTARY STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS HAS POWER TO REQUIRE EVIDENCE IN WRITTEN FORM: WHETHER POWER OF COMMITTEE TO OBTAIN EVIDENCE IS AFFECTED BY GIVING OF EVIDENCE BEFORE ROYAL COMMISSION

Key Legislation

COMMONWEALTH PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE ACT 1913, s. 17

Date
Client
The Minister for Home Affairs

The Minister for Home Affairs has forwarded for advice the following memorandum received by him from the Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction:

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works is requesting from me in prescribed written form statements traversing evidence already given by me to the Royal Commission on Federal Capital Administration, and to which the rebutting evidence has not yet been submitted.

A question arises as to the respective precedence of these inquiries on which I ask your instructions.

Section 17 of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act provides that:

  1. The Committee or a Sectional Committee may summon witnesses to appear before it to give evidence and produce documents.
  2. A summons to a witness may be in accordance with Form B in the Schedule, and shall be signed by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman.
  3. A summons to a witness may be served upon the witness either personally or by being left at or sent by post to his usual place of business or of abode.

The form of summons is as follows:

FORM B
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

The Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913 SUMMONS TO A WITNESS

To [here insert name, address, and occupation of witness]

You are hereby summoned to appear before the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Public Works [or before a Sectional Committee of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, as the case may be] on the day of 19 , at o'clock in the noon, at [here insert place], then and there to give evidence and then and there to produce [here specify the documents required}: and you are required to continue in attendance as directed by the said Committee or the Chairman thereof, until your attendance is no longer required. Dated the day of 19

[Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Committee, or Chairman of the Sectional Committee]

In my opinion the Act contemplated that the witness should appear before the Committee and should give evidence then and there. It did not I think contemplate, and does not authorise, the forwarding to the Committee of evidence in written form.

I do not think, however, that the mere fact that a Royal Commission has been appointed to inquire into the question of Federal Capital Administration, and that evidence has been given before that Commission, legally affects the power of the Standing Committe on Public Works to summon witnesses to appear before them and give evidence on any question relevant to a public work which has been referred to them under the Act.

[Vol. 14, p. 442]