The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (the Committee) is a joint committee, meaning that its membership comprises both Members of the House of Representatives and Senators. It is constituted by the Public Works Committee Act 1969 (the Act), and the objectives of the 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 to both Houses of Parliament, as expeditiously as practicable, on the:
- stated purpose of the proposed work and its suitability of the purpose;
- need for the work;
- cost effectiveness of the proposal;
- amount of revenue it will produce if the work is revenue producing; and
- current and prospective value of the work.
Public works undertaken for the Commonwealth that are estimated to cost more than $15 million (excluding GST) for non-defence purposes, or $75 million (excluding GST) for defence purposes, must be referred to the Committee for inquiry by one of the two Houses of the Parliament (or the Governor-General in certain circumstances).
Entities should engage early with the Department of Finance (Finance) and the Committee Secretariat in developing their submissions. Finance can assist by providing advice, including in relation to referral and expediency processes in Parliament, and in reviewing draft documents. Refer to the Committee’s Procedure Manual for requirements on the contents of submissions.
Entities must ensure that they have obtained relevant approvals or are in the final stages of obtaining these approvals prior to engaging with Finance to refer the proposals to the PWC. This may include but not be limited to:
- Budget (funding and policy) approval,
- legislative approvals and processes, such as the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) approvals or confirmation that the proposed works will not have EPBC Act impacts and further assessment is not required.
The Committee must be notified of all proposed public works projects with an estimated cost between $5 million and $15 million (excluding GST) for non-defence purposes, or between $5 million and $75 million (excluding GST) for defence purposes. These are referred to as ‘medium works’.
Construction of a medium work project must not proceed until the Committee has examined it and given approval for the project to proceed.
Entities are responsible for providing medium work notifications (using the template in the Committee’s Procedure Manual) to the Committee via the Public Works Secretariat at email@example.com. Notifications must also to be copied to Finance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Entities must also ensure they have relevant approvals prior to submitting medium work notification to the Committee.
The Act provides that, under certain circumstances, a major work may be exempted from Committee scrutiny. Exemption may occur on the grounds that a work is urgent; for defence purposes and that scrutiny could be contrary to the public interest; or of a repetitive nature.
Role of Minister for Finance and Finance
The Minister for Finance has portfolio responsibility for the Act. Finance provides policy advice on the Act and manages the referral of entities’ projects to the Committee for inquiry through the Minister for Finance as well as manages requests for exemptions.