The federal government has officially launched a new public database that brings together documents from every royal commission and public inquiry held in Australia since the mid-19th century.
The Australian Legal Information Institute (AustLii) Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries Library covers more than 4000 inquires and contains some 5,000 documents from royal commissions, executive or legislatively mandated public inquiries, select committees of parliament, and other quasi-legislative or judicial inquisitorial bodies.
“The Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries Library will contain the entire, unbroken history of public inquiries in Australia which, in turn, reveals much about our progress and our values as a nation,” Attorney general Mark Dreyfus said at the launch of the library last week.
“Perusing the list of historical royal commissions reveals not only great scandals and controversies of past eras, but also the pressing public policy questions of those times.”
The federal Act establishing royal commissions was one of the first pieces of legislation passed after Federation, he said.
Since then there have been 140 royal commissions and numerous different types of public inquiries.
Mr Dreyfus said over the past 120 years, royal commissions have been an important accountability tool and an enduring part of the public landscape.
Around 54 royal commissions were established between 1910 and 1929, with 13 called in the early 1970s. Twenty four royal commissions have been called in the last 23 years.
Mr Dreyfus said while no two royal commissions are alike, they all share common characteristics including independence from the government, wide-ranging information gathering powers and the ability to hear from ordinary Australians.
The recent Robodebt Royal Commission had led to a lasting shift in administrative practices, while the royal commission in the institutional responses to child sexual abuse “raised the collective consciousness about the issue in a way that no government report or court case could ever do”, he said.
Mr Dreyfus said the library would serve as an important public record and a useful resource for anyone who takes interest in Australian government.
The library took two years to establish and was guided by 15 chief investigators from partner universities.
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