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Department of the Senate dealing with too many inquiries

Senate inquiries are multiplying like rabbits. 

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As inquiries explode in number one senator and a senior public servant are not happy about it.

Already almost a dozen new senate inquiries have been put on the books just a handful of sitting days into the parliamentary calendar.

And it has senior public servant Rosemary Laing, the clerk of the senate, worried. 

"Frankly, senators, I wonder where all this is heading," she told an Estimates hearing on Monday. 

Last week the senate agreed to 11 new inquiries with a 12th pending the outcome of a division.


A new select committee on school funding investment will also add to the workload. 

The senate committees office was now supporting 83 separate inquiries, which Dr Laing said was "either a record or pretty near it". 

This number did not include the work of legislative scrutiny committees or joint committees whose secretariats were provided by the Department of the House of Representatives. 

"There's been an average of three new references inquiries for each sitting week for the whole of the Parliament," Dr Laing said. 

"And two bills on average per sitting day."

The senate's two economics committees  now have 17 inquiries followed by the two legal and constitutional affairs committees which have 10.

"While the number of staff has increased because of temporary funding in the last budget for one year, the ultimate capacity of committees measured by the number of senators available to serve on them hasn't increased for over three decades and is not likely to for the forseeable future," Dr Laing said. 

"I sincerely hope the thoroughness and credibility of senate committee inquiries, willingness of witnesses to make submissions and keep coming back to give evidence and the value of what is unique about senate committee inquiries will survive the demands currently being placed on the system."

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi asked the Department of the Senate for a list of politicians who initiate inquiries but did take part in them when they were held. 

"It is extraordinary because we have to pick up the load and you guys have to pick up the load," Senator Bernardi said. 

"It's been my experience a number of people who've initiated the reference don't even turn up." 

The senate votes on whether an inquiry should happen.