Public Works Committee

Background

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), 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 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.

Major works

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). 

Parliamentary approval is required prior to commencing the works.

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 process in Parliament, and in reviewing draft documents. Refer to the PWC Procedure Manual for requirements on the contents of submissions.

Medium works

The Committee must be notified of all proposed public works projects with an estimated cost between $2 million and $15 million (excluding GST) for non-defence purposes, or between $2 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 to the Committee via the Public Works Secretariat at pwc@aph.gov.au. Notifications must also to be provided to Finance at publicworks@finance.gov.au.

Exemptions 

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 and expediency of entities’ projects to the Committee for inquiry, through the Finance Minister.


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