Giving Evidence at a Public Hearing

Parliamentary committees are made up of Members of Parliament from different political  parties. They investigate a particular issue and report their findings and recommendations to the Parliament.

Parliamentary committees collect evidence through written submissions and speaking directly to people at public hearings. This evidence adds to a committee’s knowledge and understanding of an issue and may influence the committee’s recommendations to the Parliament. By making a submission or giving evidence at a public hearing you are providing important input into the work of the Parliament of Victoria.

These notes will help you prepare for a public hearing. The following information is also pdfavailable for download in PDF format(114.40 KB).

What are public hearings?

Who can give evidence?

How can I prepare for a public hearing?

What happens at a public hearing?

How will my rights be protected?

Will my evidence be published?

Can other people attend a public hearing?

What are public hearings?

Public hearings provide an opportunity for parliamentary committees to investigate an issue by speaking directly to people who have knowledge and views on that topic.

Who can give evidence?

The committee decides who will be invited to give evidence at a public hearing. You may be asked to give evidence as an individual or as the representative of an organisation.

You can ask to be given the opportunity to speak to a committee at a public hearing but the committee may not agree to your request as it is not always possible to speak to all interested people.

Sometimes a committee will have a ‘community statements’ segment as part of a hearing which gives members of the public the chance to make a brief statement.

How can I prepare for a public hearing?

Look at the terms of reference. Each inquiry has terms of reference which set out the issues the committee will consider. Your evidence needs to address one or more parts of the terms of reference. You can get a copy of the terms of reference from the committee’s website or from the committee’s office.

Review your written submission. If you have made a written submission, make sure you review it prior to the hearing as the committee members may ask specific questions about issues raised in your submission. For information on written submissions please refer to the brochure Making a written submission to a parliamentary committee: Have your say.

Think about what you want to say. You only have a short time to speak to the committee so think carefully about what you want to say. You may find it useful to prepare some written notes to ensure you can present your information and arguments clearly and concisely.

Provide any documents to the committee in advance. If you wish to provide a document to the committee at the hearing, please give this to the committee well before the hearing date. If it is not possible to provide this material in advance, please make sure you bring enough copies for everyone (one for each committee member, one for committee records, and one for Hansard).

Let the committee know in advance if you want to use special equipment. If you wish to use equipment such as a data projector, please advise the committee staff well before the hearing date.

Let the committee know in advance if you have special needs. Committees will make every effort to accommodate witnesses with special needs. If you need special assistance, please advise the committee staff in advance.

Choose an appropriate representative of your organisation. Sometimes the committee will identify the specific representatives of your organisation it wishes to hear from. If the committee does not request the attendance of specific individuals, organisations asked to give evidence should make sure they send representatives who have a good understanding of the issues the committee is investigating. Please let the committee staff know in advance the names and titles of the people who you think are best placed to represent your organisation.

What happens at a public hearing?

Arrival. Please make sure you arrive at the hearing on time. When you arrive, introduce yourself to the committee staff.

Stating your name, address and position. At the start of the hearing the committee chair will ask you to state your name, address, and in what capacity you are appearing before the committee (for example, as an individual or as the representative of an organisation).

Swearing in. Occasionally a committee may decide to take sworn evidence. If this is the case, the chair will ask if you wish to swear an oath on the Bible or other holy book, or make an affirmation that the evidence you present is the truth. This is your choice.

Opening statement. The chair will usually invite you to make a short opening statement. This gives you an opportunity to state your key points. You should assume the committee has read your submission so you do not need to restate all the issues raised in your submission. Please keep your opening statement brief and clear. Be relevant and avoid unnecessary detail.

Questions. After your opening statement, committee members may ask questions or discuss matters raised in the statement or in your submission. If you do not understand a question ask for it to be repeated. If you are unable to answer a question you can ask to provide that information in writing after the hearing. Please send this information to the committee’s office as soon as possible after the hearing.

Transcript of evidence. Hearings are recorded word-for-word by parliamentary reporting staff (Hansard). You will be sent a draft copy of the written transcript of your evidence shortly after the hearing. You may correct any obvious errors of fact or grammar. You are not permitted to delete or add to the content. Please return the corrected transcript to the committee’s office as soon as you can.

How will my rights be protected?

In camera hearings. Committee hearings are usually held in public. However, in special circumstances, a committee may decide to hear evidence in private (in camera). If you wish to present all or part of your evidence confidentially, you must apply to the committee in advance or, if necessary, during the hearing. The committee will then consider your request. If the committee approves the request the public gallery will be cleared.

The committee will not disclose or publish any evidence presented in camera and you should also not disclose any evidence you have given in camera. However, the transcript of your confidential evidence will be kept and, in some circumstances, may be released after 30 years.

Parliamentary privilege. Evidence given to a parliamentary committee is protected by parliamentary privilege. This means that no legal action can be taken against you in a court of law in relation to the evidence given during a hearing. However, parliamentary privilege will not apply to any comments you make outside the hearing, even if you are restating what you said during the hearing.

Parliamentary privilege also applies to written submissions, but only after they have been accepted by a committee.

With the protection of parliamentary privilege comes your responsibility to not deliberately mislead the committee, which may be punishable as a contempt of Parliament.

Witness rights and responsibilities. As a witness at a committee hearing you have special rights and responsibilities. These are set out in the brochure Guidelines for the rights and responsibilities of witnesses which is available on the committee’s website. Please review this brochure before the hearing.

Will my evidence be published?

In general, all submissions and transcripts of evidence given at public hearings are public documents. This means that the evidence may be published on the committee’s website and quoted in the committee’s report to the Parliament.

Can other people attend a public hearing?

Visitors. There is a public gallery in the hearing room where members of the public can sit and observe the hearing. The committee asks that people in the gallery keep noise and movement to a minimum. Make sure you turn off your mobile phone.

Media. Media may attend, record and report on any public hearing.

Recording. Cameras and recording devices are not permitted to be used in the hearing room without the permission of the committee. Use of cameras is usually restricted to accredited media.

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