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This website contains names and images of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Navigate Senate Committees

The revolutionary proposals of 1970 transformed the work of the Senate. The resulting committees would harness expertise in the community, inform senators on complex matters, improve laws and increase scrutiny of the government.

Senators who took part in the five hours of debate believed that they were witnessing something momentous. Senator Ian Wood (Qld, LIB) was moved to exclaim:

'I believe that whatever proposition is accepted ultimately, the Parliament and the people will say when they look back on this occasion that this has been the greatest event and the greatest day in any parliamentary history.'

The main players

While senators agreed that there should be a committee system, there were differing views on what form it should take. Four individuals in particular influenced the proposals before the Senate.

Portrait of Senator Lionel K Murphy, National Archives of Australia, A6135, K8/5/72/2

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Senator Lionel Murphy (NSW, ALP) had long supported the introduction of standing committees covering all areas of government activity. His motion for the establishment of seven committees ‘to inquire into and report upon such matters as are referred to it by the Senate, including any Bills, Estimates or Statements of Expenditure, messages, petitions, inquiries or papers’ was carried 27 votes to 26.

Portrait of Senator K Anderson, ca. 1951, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-136556214

Leader of the Government in the Senate Senator Kenneth Anderson (NSW, LIB) was concerned by the ‘tremendous strain’ the workload of the standing committees would place on senators and moved a second proposal for five estimates committees. His motion was carried 27 votes to 26 by the Senate, in addition to the Murphy proposal.

Portrait of Senator Vincent Clair Gair, 1946, National Archives of Australia, A1200, L8058

A third option by Democratic Labor Party Senator Vince Gair (Qld, DLP) supported six standing committees and a committee on statutory corporations. He proposed establishing two committees initially, with four other committees to be added over a period of not less than 12 months. His proposal was lost when the vote was tied 26 to 26 (section 23 of the Constitution requires questions supported by a majority of senators to pass).

Portrait of Senator Ian Alexander Christie Wood, September 1959, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-137356905

Senator Ian Wood (Qld, LIB) was a key figure in determining the shape of the committee system. He crossed the floor to support Senator Murphy’s proposal for the establishment of standing committees and crossed the floor a second time to vote against the proposal by Senator Gair. As the long-serving chair of the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee, Senator Wood was keenly aware of the valuable work that could be achieved by committees.

Find out more

James Rowland Odgers (Clerk of the Senate 1965-1975), Interview with Robert Linford on Senator Ken Anderson's views on a Senate committee system, 1985

National Library of Australia, TRC 4900/105, session 1, 00:49:13-00:50:47.
Full interview available at

James Rowland Odgers, Clerk of the Senate 1965-75, Interview with Robert Linford on addressing the Democratic Labor Party on the proposed Senate committee system, 1985

National Library of Australia, TRC 4900/105, session 1, 00:53:24-00:56:33.
Full interview available at