Public Works Committee

Summary

The role of the Public Works Committee is provided in the following legislation:

The PWC Act provides that (with certain limited exceptions) a public work with an estimated cost exceeding $15 million shall not be commenced unless:

  • It has been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (PWC); and
  • The House of Representatives has resolved, following examination and report by the PWC, that it is expedient to proceed with the work.

Proposed public works are normally referred to the PWC by resolution of either House on the motion of (or on behalf of) the Minister for Finance. The PWC usually takes sworn evidence at public hearings from the proponent of the work and other interested parties and produces a report of its findings. The report is then presented to both Houses of Parliament and, if appropriate, the work is authorised by resolution of the House of Representatives on the motion of (or on behalf of) the Minister for Finance that it is expedient to proceed with it. The department produces all the necessary documentation in connection with the initial referral and, if appropriate, the subsequent expediency motion, based on information provided by entities proposing public works.

Background

The PWC was established in 1913 and is one of the oldest investigative committees of the Parliament. The Committee is constituted by the PWC Act [External Site] .

The Act empowers the PWC to inquire into and report to the Parliament on each public work referred to it. The Act requires that all public works for the Commonwealth, which are estimated to cost more than $15 million, must be referred to the Committee by either House of the Parliament or by the Governor General. There are some exceptions to this rule, but essentially all public works sponsored by Commonwealth departments and major statutory authorities with large building programs come within the ambit of the PWC's investigatory powers.

The Committee is bipartisan and consists of six Members of the House of Representatives and three Senators.

The objectives of the PWC Act are:

  • Better decisions on major projects;
  • Objective external scrutiny of options;
  • Examination of the entire project, irrespective of stages/phases; and
  • Scrutiny by Parliament and thus the public before a proposal is commenced.

Essentially, the Committee is required to report as expeditiously as practicable on:

  • The stated purpose of the proposed work and its suitability of the purpose;
  • The need for the work;
  • The cost effectiveness of the proposal;
  • The amount of revenue it will produce if the work is revenue producing; and
  • The current and prospective value of the work.

All large projects have financial, social and environmental impacts on local areas and on the community at large.

For this reason, the PWC requires that sponsoring departments and entities consult local groups, organisations and authorities, unions and environmental groups during the development of the proposal. When a proposal is referred to the Committee, these bodies are encouraged to make submissions and for office bearers to appear as witnesses. Matters raised in submissions and by witnesses are taken up with departmental officials at the public hearing.

Matters which need to be further addressed during detailed design, may be highlighted as recommendations in the Committee's report to Parliament.

The Government's response to these recommendations is given when the House of Representatives debates the expediency motion which, when passed, constitutes parliamentary approval for a proposed work. In most instances the Government has accepted the Committee's recommendations.

Each year the Committee presents a General Report to Parliament. The General Report highlights the operations of the Committee during the previous calendar year and addresses issues relevant to the Act, and of concern to the Committee. Entities who are proposing public works proposals should familiarise themselves with these issues. The latest General Report can be accessed from Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works [External Site].

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Contact for information on this page: Public Works Policy