Royal Commissions and official inquiries

The Terms of Reference for this Inquiry directed the ALRC to consider a number of matters including whether there was any need to develop an alternative form or forms of Commonwealth executive inquiry, with statutory foundations, to provide more flexibility, less formality and greater cost-effectiveness than a Royal Commission.

Royal Commissions occupy a unique place in the Australian system of government, being the highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance. However, antiquated or inappropriate provisions of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) have caused difficulties in some inquiries. These difficulties include the power to compel the provision of information, a lack of power to investigate breaches of the Act, the adequacy of penalties for a failure to comply with the Act, and the ability of Royal Commissions to communicate information about unlawful behaviour to law enforcement bodies. Furthermore, Royal Commissions are also often expensive, running into the tens of millions of dollars.

Key recommendations

  • The Royal Commissions Act should be amended and renamed the Inquiries Act to provide for the establishment of two tiers of public inquiry—Royal Commissions and Official.
  • Royal Commissions should be the highest form of inquiry established by the Governor-General of Australia to look into matters of substantial public importance.
  • Official Inquiries should be established by a minister to look into matters of public importance.
  • Both Royal Commissions and Official Inquiries should have the power to:
    • require the production of documents and other things;
    • require the attendance or appearance to answer questions (on oath or affirmation if so directed by the inquiry); and
    • inspect, retain and copy any documents or other thing.
  • Royal Commission and Official Inquiry reports should be tabled promptly in Parliament, within 15 sitting days of receiving the inquiry’s final report.
  • A framework should be developed for the protection of national security information utilised in Inquiries.
  • Inquiries that may have a significant effect on Indigenous peoples should be required to consult with Indigenous groups, individuals and organisations to inform the development of procedures for an inquiry.
  • The Australian Government should develop and publish and Inquiries Handbook to ensure that the institutional knowledge of those that have established, conducted and administered inquiries can be captured and passed on.
  • The Australian Government should publish an update on implementation of recommendations of an inquiry that it accepts: one year after the tabling of the final report of a Royal Commission or Official Inquiry; and periodically thereafter to reflect any ongoing implementation activity.
  • A summary of the cost of each Royal Commission and Official Inquiry should be published within a reasonable time after the inquiry has concluded.

The Executive Summary in ALRC Report 111 contains a comprehensive summary of key findings and recommendations.


ALRC Report ALRC 111 was tabled in February 2010 and has not, as yet, been implemented.