What is a Royal Commission?
A Royal Commission is a formal body established by the State Government to inquire into an issue of great importance or concern to the public.
Royal Commissions usually fit into two categories:
- those that are primarily investigative, seeking to uncover the truth about controversial matters, and
- those that are advisory, seeking to assist the formulation of government policy.
These investigations are undertaken independently of the government.
Royal Commissions have powers to hold public hearings, call witnesses under oath and compel them to provide evidence.
At the end of the investigation, the Royal Commission will usually make a series of recommendations to the government about what should change to address the problems.
A prominent example of a Royal Commission is the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission which was established in 2014 to investigate the child protection system in South Australia.
Why do we need these changes?
The Royal Commissions Act 1917 (the Act) sets out:
- how a Royal Commission is established and run
- the powers that a Royal Commission can exercise
- the protections for Commissioners and witnesses appearing before Royal Commissions.
There has not been a comprehensive review of the Act or substantial amendments since 2006.
The Honourable Ann Vanstone QC was appointed in February 2020 to conduct a review of the Act. In her review, Ms Vanstone examined and compared legislative models from New South Wales, Victoria, the Commonwealth and New Zealand.
Ms Vanstone’s report recommended that the Act be replaced by an Inquiries Act providing for three tiers of inquiry, each with varying degrees of power and established in a different way.