The political junkies among us will know that during the October Parliamentary Sitting Fortnight comes another round of Senate Estimates. Although some people may be unfamiliar with Senate Estimates, in recent times it has risen to prominence, with the media covering the many sessions extensively.
In light of this, Nexus is here to give you an overview of Senate Estimates as well as relay our favourite Senate Estimates moments.
WHAT ARE SENATE ESTIMATES?
Senate Estimates are a key function of the Parliament which builds upon the Senate’s ‘House of Review’ status and allows the Senate Legislation Committees to scrutinise the expenditure outlined in appropriation bills (bills that dictate how public funds are allocated). This allows the Parliament to hold the Government and bureaucracy to account.
In a typical Parliamentary sitting calendar, there are three sessions of Senate Estimates, Budget Estimates which is typically held in May or June, Additional Estimates, which is held in February and Supplementary Budget Estimates which is held in October or November.
When appearing in front of a Senate Estimates session, the relevant minister will be accompanied by senior public servants from the corresponding department, and will answer questions from the Committee members on a range of topics relating to the Department’s or contracted organisation’s operations and expenditure.
However, like with many of the political processes in Australia, Senate Estimates has undergone somewhat of an evolution.
Senate Estimates sessions are now no longer merely serving as a function to hold the bureaucracy to account like in the days of former ALP Senators John Faulkner and Robert Ray, with Estimates now used as a way for the Government to show how it is implementing its agenda.
Opposition and Crossbench senators have also switched up their approach to Senate Estimates with the process now being used as a ‘litmus test’ of sorts for potential policy initiatives.
This evolution has resulted in a change in the nature of Senate Estimates, with sessions in recent times known for being feisty and fiery. Despite this, there have still been moments of that have made even the most serious amongst us chuckle.
Therefore, to celebrate the start of another round of Senate Estimates, here are Nexus’ favourite Senate Estimates moments:
SENATORS LEARN THE INS AND OUTS OF BEE REPRODUCTION
A moment to live long in the memory, with Senators on the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee learning the reproductive process for bees. An innocuous question asked by former NSW Senator Bill Heffernan filled the room with laughter. Watch the moment here.
THE CORMANN AND WONG SHOW
We are fairly sure that no network is going to be picking up this show anytime soon, but it didn’t stop two political rivals giving Australia an insight into what we could expect should the Cormann and Wong Show come to fruition. Watch the moment here.
CONFUSION REIGNS IN THE SENATE
In what must be a Senate Estimates record, in May 2018, Western Sydney Airport’s appearance at Budget Estimates lasted for all of 23 seconds after none of the Senators with questions to ask turned up. With no other option, then Chair of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee, former Senator Barry O’Sullivan had no choice but to close the session. Watch the moment here.
PIPEBOMB IN PARLIAMENT
In another classic Senate Estimates moment from former Senator Bill Heffernan, the Senator demonstrated the ease in which MPs and Senators could pass through security by pulling out a replica pipebomb from an inconspicuous shopping bag. Watch the moment here.