State and Federal parliamentary inquiries have extensive powers and play a critical role in investigating alleged wrong doing and in influencing policy. It is regularly the case that private sector organisations are called on to participate in, or are otherwise affected by, parliamentary inquiries.
In that context, the affected organisation will have to decide whether it’s in their interests to file a written submission with the inquiry.
There is a natural concern about the time and effort involved in preparing a submission, and whether the possible benefits justify the organisation’s cost and investment.
However, making a submission is smart risk management
You should strongly consider making a submission wherever there is potential for the outcomes of the parliamentary inquiry to impact your business. Submission documents have three central benefits:
1. IT’S ALL ABOUT FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Initial impressions can be very influential in shaping the approach of committee members to a particular organisation, and the organisation’s executives and staff who may be called to appear before the inquiry.
First impressions, via a submission, are particularly important if it is likely your executives and staff will be requested to give evidence at the inquiry. The inquiry may also demand that your organisation produce documents and information to it.
In our experience, providing a written submission that is thorough, informative, and conveys the organisation’s willingness to assist the inquiry reduces requests for documents and information and ensures that a party’s witnesses are generally treated respectfully and are asked fewer questions.
The approach that an inquiry will take to the formulation of questions to witnesses and any requests for information and documents will depend in part on whether a party is perceived as defensive and uncooperative or transparent and willing to cooperate.
2. A SUBMISSION HELPS WITNESSES PREPARE
In the event that management and staff are called to give evidence to the inquiry it is valuable for witnesses to have a submission they can refer to while giving evidence.
The submission is also useful in helping witnesses prepare for their appearance at the inquiry.
The presence of a written submission generally promotes consistency in evidence (in an appropriate way), allows answers to be given by witnesses that are based on careful and considered analysis, shortens the time witnesses have to appear and provides a tool to assist witnesses navigate difficult lines of questioning.
3. A SUBMISSION KEEPS YOUR MESSAGE CONSISTENT
There is value in having a document that centralises the key messages your organisation wishes to convey to stakeholders, the media and the public.
A written submission (which is almost always a public document) forms the basis of all media and other communications and engagement in relation to an inquiry.
This means that there is consistency on key messages and that the various teams within your organisation who are working on the inquiry (management, legal team, media/communications team etc) have a common source for the key details in relation to the inquiry.
RISKS OF NOT FILING A WRITTEN SUBMISSION
Where committee members have an expectation that a party will (and should) make a submission, the absence of a submission often is raised as an issue by the committee. Witnesses from that party are then asked questions about the reasons for not filing a submission.
It is better not to give the inquiry a reason for forming an adverse view of your organisation and its willingness to be cooperative and transparent.
While your organisation’s leadership may have concerns about the time and cost of preparing a submission or that a submission can be misinterpreted and misused, ultimately a submission is usually smart risk management.
WHAT SHOULD BE ADDRESSED IN A SUBMISSION?
The content of every submission will be unique according to the scope and objectives of the parliamentary inquiry.
However, in general terms every submission is an opportunity to explain:
- your corporate structure, corporate values and day-to-day business;
- your commitment to stakeholders – clients, staff and suppliers – and the wider principles of corporate governance;
- your willingness to cooperate with the inquiry;
- your response to the issues that are being examined by the inquiry, and which are relevant to your organisation.