The ALRC's key recommendation involves the establishment of
two tiers of public inquiry. Royal Commissions would continue as
the highest form of inquiry, to look into matters of substantial
public importance. In addition, there would be introduced a second
tier of inquiry, to be called "Official Inquiries",
established by Ministers to look into matters of lesser public
importance. The amended Royal Commissions Act would be renamed the
InquiriesAct, to reflect the (new) multi-layered nature of
Specific recommendations were made to distinguish between the
two tiers of inquiry, while ensuring that each tier has the
necessary means to conduct investigations, without unnecessarily
infringing on the rights of a person affected by the inquiry
For example, Royal Commissions, as the highest form of inquiry,
would still be able to abrogate the privilege against
self-incrimination and would be able to apply for a warrant for
search and seizure. Official Inquiries - which the ALRC envisages
will need less intrusive investigative powers - may not. Royal
Commissions would also be able to abrogate client legal privilege
if stipulated in the Letters Patent. Official Inquiries could
Currently, there is no statutory requirement for the tabling in
the Parliament of Royal Commission reports. The ALRC recommends
that the current practice of Governments tabling reports be
formalised by a statutory requirement in the Inquiries Act. That
requirement would apply to both forms of inquiry. If for any reason
a report was not to be tabled, the Government would have to publish
a statement of reasons as to why that was the case.
Another key recommendation is the development of an Inquiries
Handbook, aimed at preserving institutional knowledge gained from
previous inquiries. That Handbook would contain information on a
range of topics, including the establishment and administration of
inquiries, records management, and the use and protection of
national security information by inquiries.
An underlying focus of the ALRC's review was the escalating
costs of Royal Commissions and inquiries in recent years, and the
difficulty in accessing accurate information about those costs. The
ALRC consequently recommends that the Inquiries Act require the
Government to publish summary information about the costs of
individual inquiries, within a reasonable time of their
The ALRC's report and recommendations also address a range
of other matters, including the use and protection of national
security information by inquiries, and inquiries affecting
The Government is now considering the issues raised in the
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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