1 May 2024

The view from the other side: When MPs submit on bills

From The House , 6:30 pm on 1 May 2024

MPs listen to hundreds, even thousands of submissions from the public on bills and petitions, even on Parliament’s own rules. It would not be surprising if backbench MPs’ dreams featured an endless parade of proffered opinions.

Very occasionally a backbench MP finds themselves on the other side of the table, getting to bend the ears of their colleagues.

This Wednesday morning for example, in the Education and Workforce Committee, Labour Whip Camilla Belich got to be a submitter, the first to speak on a Member’s Bill she adopted from former MP Ibrahim Omer. 

Labour MP Camilla Belich gives evidence to the Education and Workforce Select Committee about her own member's bill.

Labour MP Camilla Belich gives evidence to the Education and Workforce Select Committee about her own member's bill. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Crimes (Theft by Employer) Amendment Bill seeks to add a new criminal offence for employers who intentionally fail to pay owed wages to employees.   

After her 15 minute submission I asked Camilla Belich how it was to be on the other side of the table. 

“It is a different experience. I think one thing I would note is that it's quite hard to know how much time you've used. And so I would be probably be a bit kinder now to submitters when they go over because it's really hard to tell - it goes really quickly. 

What is an MP’s objective in submitting on a bill they are sponsoring?

“I have to convince them to allow the Bill to go forward and convince them that it's a worthy bill to have their support. and also the officials, to try and make sure that they understand the policy intent of the bill.”

Camilla Belich is also a member of this committee, and gets to keep on offering advice, staying in the room when they close the door and go into private session. Consideration is when the committee decides whether a bill needs amendments, and if so what.

Ministers sponsor many government bills but never get a view behind the Select Committee curtain on their own work.

“Ministers don't get the opportunity to sit in select committees and be part of the determinations because we do have that separation. So it is a unique experience that a backbench Member of Parliament gets to do when they do have a member's bill.

And often we'll sub someone on to the committee to be on there for the consideration of the bill. So even if it's not your committee, it's usually something that you get to do as part of that process.”

Ministers appear before committees to answer questions in Annual Review and Estimates hearings related to their plans and performance. They could also appear before committee to submit on all their own bills.  

“We usually do invite ministers to attend. And they usually hopefully will, because it's important that we hear that policy intent from them as well. But I guess the difference would be that they wouldn't stay for the deliberations. And they wouldn't be part of authoring the report in any type of form.”