ALRC recommends two-tier public inquiry system

By Angela Dorizas

The Government should establish a second tier of public inquiry as an alternative to expensive Royal Commissions, Australia’s law reform agency has said.

Following a review into Royal Commissions and other federal inquiries, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) tabled its report, Making Inquiries: A New Statutory Framework, in Parliament on Thursday.

Among the 82 recommendations in the report, the ALRC has advised that the Royal Commissions Act be amended to provide the establishment of two tiers of public inquiries – Royal Commissions and Official Inquiries – each with defined coercive and investigatory powers. The legislation would be renamed the Inquiries Act.

ALRC President Professor Rosalind Croucher said not all issues to be dealt with outside of the courts or political process warrant an elaborate and expensive Royal Commission.

“Royal Commissions should be reserved for the highest form of inquiry dealing with matters of substantial public importance, which may warrant the abrogation of certain privileges and protections, such as the right against self-incrimination,” Professor Croucher said.

“Official Inquiries would provide a more streamlined, cost-effective and flexible alternative to resolve matters of public importance, but which do not require extraordinary powers, such as those abrogating fundamental protections available to inquiry participants.”

The ALRC also recommended the new legislation include requirements for the tabling of Royal commission and Official Inquiry reports in Parliament without delay; publishing a summary of the cost of each Royal Commission and Official Inquiry; and a framework for the protection of national security information utilised in proceedings.

Professor Croucher said the recommendations promoted openness and accountability within government.

“While accepting or rejecting recommendations made by an inquiry will always be a matter for the Australian Government, it should be required to publish an update on the implementation of recommendations of an inquiry that it accepts,” she said.

“This should happen one year after the tabling of a final report of a Royal Commission or Official Inquiry, and periodically thereafter, to reflect any ongoing implementation activity.”


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