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ACM Home arrow Royal Commissions

Royal Commissions
Royal Commissions


Republicans tried to get rid of Royal Commissions, or at least change their name.  But Royal Commissions have long enjoyed an important place in Australia, casting light into issues shrouded in darkness.

The link to the Crown stresses the Royal Commission is above politics and independent. The Australian Law Reform Commission in its 2010 report,
Royal Commissions and Official Inquiries,  recommended that Royal Commissions be retained, and their name not be changed

The Law Reform Commission gave two reasons for retaining Royal Commissions. First, the term ‘Royal Commission’ is very well-known, which means that it is a clear way to communicate to the public the extraordinary nature of such an inquiry.

 Secondly, the title ‘Royal Commission’ is helpful in that it indicates how the highest form of public inquiry is established—namely by the Governor-General of Australia. The Law Reform Commission says that it  is appropriate that "the Australian head of state should continue to be responsible for establishing the highest form of public inquiry in Australia".

Similar principles apply in the states and territories.


Royal Commissions - an Australian tradition Print E-mail
Royal Commissions
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Royal Commissions are an Australian tradition, the latest examples being into the bushfires in Victoria and the floods in Brisbane. In many ways a Royal Commission is vastly superior to lesser inquiries, such as the recent Corgill Inquiry into the Building the Education Revolution.

In my youth every so often a Royal Commission would inform, educate and entertain the country about some recent scandal, crime, or example of government mismanagement.

Image


 

...the census...


  


 Henry Ergas is one of the nation’s leading commentators on matters economic. His column appears regularly in The Australian.

In one on the census (5/8), he says that “the race issue, on which Labor campaigned strongly, framed the debates leading to the first commonwealth census in 1911. The first commonwealth statistician was an ardent eugenicist...”

“When Griffith Taylor, the explorer and eminent geographer, questioned the claimed mental inferiority of Asians, he was hounded out of the country for denying the "science" of racial eugenics.

The then consensus  expressed by the nation's leading scientists, was that Australia was falling behind Germany, which since 1933 had ‘introduced measures to improve the eugenic quality of the nation’"





...tradition of Royal Commissions...





 
In the same piece Professor Ergas says that although freedom of information laws were unheard of then, there was an “Australian tradition of delegating fact-finding to royal commissions and statutory bodies that comprehensively disclosed their reasons...”

“That governments could hide from independent scrutiny the evidentiary basis for the National Broadband Network, or the modelling for the carbon tax, would have seemed profoundly offensive.”



....Queensland, Victorian Royal Commissions,  but not in Canberra...



 


( Continued below)

Read more...
 
The resignation of the Victorian Police Commissioner Print E-mail
Royal Commissions
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Monday, 20 June 2011

Image  This is the latest report in our section, Royal Commissions. This can be seen by clicking on the icon on the left on the frontpage, Royal Commissions. The section, Nile Electricity Inquiry Relevations is also relevant.




The resignation of the Victorian police commissioner is not one on which it would be appropriate for this column to comment.

Rather it is the reaction of the National newspaper, The Australian , which attracts our attention.  In its editorial " Overland exit shows case for royal commission " (17/1), the newspaper says that there is a need for Victorians to be given the more detailed answers than that which was given by former police commissioner Overland.

Image
[ Attempt to force Mme Petrova to return to Moscow: just prior to the Petrov Royal Commission]

The editorial  ends with a call to the Premier to choose the next police Commissioner carefully and to  call immediately a Royal Commission to clear the air.



...not surprising...



 

The reaction of The Australian is not at all surprising.

 

(Continued below)

Read more...
 
Queensland acts promptly on floods: Royal Commission Print E-mail
Royal Commissions
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Monday, 17 January 2011
Governor of Queensland, Her Excellency Penelope Wensley AO,  appointed an independent Commission of Inquiry into Queensland’s flood disaster.

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[Her Excellency The Governor ]


This had been approved by the Cabinet beforehand, and the Governor  acting on the advice of the Premier, the Hon. Anna Bligh. The Commission will have the powers of a Royal Commission, and be chaired by Her Honour Justice Catherine Holmes of the Supreme Court.

It is unusual in Queensland to appoint a sitting Supreme Court Judge to head a Commission, but this was done in consultation with and the support of the Chief Justice of Queensland, His Honour Mr.Justice Paul De Jersey AC.

There will be two assistant commissioners, Jim O’Sullivan, a former Commissioner of Police and  Phil Cummins, an international dams expert and currently chair of the International Commission on Large Dams.

Image
[ Parliament House, Brisbane ]




..Royal Commissions...



The Premier said the Inquiry would have the powers of a Royal Commission, would take public submissions from across Queensland and would make recommendations in its interim report for future wet seasons.

The Premier has been lavishly complimented in the media for her communications skills. She should now  be commended for her courageous but correct action in establishing what is in effect a Royal Commission. It is important, indeed it is crucial, that Queenslanders know what went wrong and what can be done.

It is to be regretted that some of her colleagues in other jurisdictions have not behaved as impeccably in exposing their governments to daylight, as our system is so well designed to allow.
 
Image

The republicans tried to get rid of Royal Commissions, or at least change their name.  But Royal Commissions have long enjoyed an important place in Australia, casting light into issues shrouded in darkness.

The link to the Crown stresses the Royal Commission is above politics and independent. The Australian Law Reform Commission recently recommended that Royal Commissions be retained, and their name not be changed

The Law Reform Commission gave two reasons for retaining Royal Commissions. First, the term ‘Royal Commission’ is very well-known, which means that it is a clear way to communicate to the public the extraordinary nature of such an inquiry.

 Secondly, the title ‘Royal Commission’ is helpful in that it indicates how the highest form of public inquiry is established—namely by the Governor-General of Australia. The Law Reform Commission says that it  is appropriate that "the Australian head of state should continue to be responsible for establishing the highest form of public inquiry in Australia".

 




... Queensland model could guide NSW Premier and the PM, too...


[Continued below]

The essence of our constitutional system is that government is not absolute that government is always accountable and ultimately to the electorate. 

Ours has been demonstrated to be the best system to ensure such accountability together with both stability and flexibility. We have long drawn attention in this column to the results which have been achieved in countries functioning under this system.

The Premier of New South Wales, Ms Kristina Keneally, should look reflect on her Queensland colleague’s action. Her decision to recommend the early prorogation of Parliament has not stopped the formidable Rev. Fred Nile in continuing the Legislative Council inquiry into the sale of electricity assets which she condemned first as illegal, then unconstitutional.

The directors who resigned from the electricity companies rather than be involved in the sale are entitled to give their evidence  without the threat of defamation proceedings, express or implied.

To say this is not for ACM to plunge into party politics. It is to argue for the maintenance of the proper standards of accountability which have hitherto applied in our  system.

Government must remain  accountable to the people through Parliament.




..and the Prime Minister?...



The Prime Minister, Ms. Julia Gillard could also take a lesson from the Queensland Premier.  The allegations that the Building the Education Venture involved the misappropriation of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds demands even now a Royal Commission, not a frankly toothless inquiry.

Her predecessors of all parties would have recommended a Royal commission, as would the Premiers of New South Wales.

 

From the Magna Carta in 1215, through the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the evolution of responsible government and the gift of that to the Australian colonies, the essence of our constitutional monarchy, our crowned republic, is that government is not absolute; that we live under the rule of law and not the rule of men.

Now the constitutional monarchy (or crowned republic) has been demonstrated to be the best system to ensure such accountability together with both stability and flexibility.

We have long drawn attention in this column to the results which have been achieved in countries functioning under this system. By establishing what is in effect a Royal Commission, the Premier is to be commended.

This is the practice in Australia. The BER affair is too serious to leave to an inquiry which has no power to require the giving of evidnec and the production of documents  and which can offer no protection to those who appear before it. It is no disrespect to Mr. Orgill to say that it should be chaired by an experienced respected judge or senior lawyer.




... a Royal Commission...




But Premier, why not call a spade a spade? 

Do we really need to hide the fact that the Crown remains- as it always – has, an integral part of the governance of this country?

  

 

 
Pike River Mine Disaster: Royal Commission Print E-mail
Royal Commissions
Written by ACM   
Monday, 29 November 2010

After previously indicating a preference for a Commission of Inquiry, the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. John Key has now announced that he will seek to establish a Royal Commission into the Pike River Mine disaster. The TV report below is from New Zealand TV3 through Scoop News.  Click here to see the report.


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He said that calling this highest level of inquiry will assure the miners that the authorities are determined to establish the truth. Mr. key would have been advised that a Royal Commission will enjoy the confidence of those most involved and will demonatrate the seriousness with which the government approaches the issue.

The Royal Commission will be headed by a judge and have the power to compel witnesses to testify.



...Royal Commissions...


 

Royal Commissioners are considered to be non-political and independent, and this is reinforced by their appointment by the Crown acting on advice.  This flows from the widespread understanding among the public  that the Crown provides leadership above politics. 

Accordingly most republican models try to establish an office with similar standing.  This is invariably unsuccessful.

As the doyen of constitutional lawyers, the late Professor PH Lane, once argued, republicans would be better advised to draft a new constitution rather than trying to graft a politicans' republic onto our constitutional monarchy.

Public confidence in Royal Commissions is assisted by the fact  that the findings of a Royal Commission do not reflect well on the government which decided to appoint it.

Royal Commissions are called to look into matters of great importance. They are usually chaired by a judge, former judge, Queen's Counsel or a senior lawyer.  ( As part of creeping republicanism, QC's  were to be replaced by Senior Counsel. The New Zealand government has restored the rank of Queen's Counsel.)



...serious questions...

Mr. Key said  there are serious questions that need to be answered vowing the inquiry will leave no stone unturned to find the cause of the blast.

This will be the first Royal Commission to investigate a disaster since the Royal Commission into the Air New Zealand crash in 1979 when a sightseeing flight to Antarctica crashed into Mount Erebus killing 257 people.

 
The BER: A West Australian Royal Commission? Print E-mail
Royal Commissions
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Thursday, 01 July 2010

The republicans tried to get rid of them, or at least change their name.  But Royal Commissions have long enjoyed an important place in Australia, casting light into issues shrouded in darkness.

The link to the Crown stresses the Royal Commission is above politics and independent. The
Australian Law Reform Commission recently recommended that Royal Commissions be retained, and their name not be changed.

Image
[ Mme Evdokia Petrova at Mascot Airport, Sydney, being 'escorted' across the tarmac to a waiting plane by two armed Russian diplomatic couriers. The defection of Soviet diplomat Vladimir Petrov was followed by a Royal Commission into Soviet espionage in Australia ]



The Law Reform Commission gave two reasons for retaining Royal Commissions.

First, the term ‘Royal Commission’ is very well-known, which means that it is a clear way to communicate to the public the extraordinary nature of such an inquiry.

 Secondly, the title ‘Royal Commission’ is helpful in that it indicates how the highest form of public inquiry is established—namely by the Governor-General of Australia.

 The Law Reform Commission says that it  is appropriate that "the Australian head of state should continue to be responsible for establishing the highest form of public inquiry in Australia".

In response to those whose agenda is creeping republicanism, it said that if changes to Australia’s system of government were to result in a change to the way the head of state is chosen—for example, through the election or the appointment of a President—it would make sense, at that stage, for the nomenclature to be amended to reflect that position.

That of course is the correct principle.




...the BER allegations....




Royal Commissions are now in the news because of the allegations that up to $5 billion have been lost in the $16.2 billion “Building the Education Revolution” stimulus package.  Reacting to claims that the public schools sytem had not obtained value for money and had been seriously overcharged, the then minister, now the Prime Minister Julia Gillard established an inquiry under business man Brad Orgill. 

ACM of course takes no position on these matters, apart from arguing for the retention of and use of  Royal Commissions.

Mr Brad Orgill has been criticised for expounding views close to the government when appearing before a NSW Legislative Council inquiry. (An extract of that evidence was  broadcast by Ray Hadley on Sydney radio station 2GB)

It is also said that Mr. Orgill  cannot protect witnesses and for this reason has declined to hear some witnesses because of this: Anthony Klan “BER principals silenced by culture of fear,” The Australian 30 June.

Cheryl McBride of the Public Schools Principals Forum, who compiled the complaints as part of a survey, said many principals were reluctant to go public with their complaints for fear of reprisals from the NSW Education Department.

"There is a culture of fear, intimidation and bullying in the NSW Department of Education, particularly towards principals who speak out," Ms McBride said.



...PM responds....




When Alan Jones raised this with the Prime Minister on 2GB (30/6), she denied this was happening and gave a guarantee that Mr. Orgill’s inquiry protects witnesses.

But  Mr. Orgill cannot: he is not conducting a Royal Commission, which is normally headed by a judge.

When Cheryl McBride spoke to Alan Jones on the following day, 1 July, she insisted that Mr. Orgill had declined to hear the witnesses because he could not protect them. 




...call for a Royal Commission...





In its leader on 30 June, The Australian  (“The school building review cannot even protect witnesses”)  called on the Prime Minister to set up  a Royal Commission into the alleged BER rorts claimed to be in the vicinity of $5 billion.

 The editorial suggested that if the Prime Minister did not, the West Australian Premier could do this.

The advantages of a Royal Commission are that it is normally headed by a judge, it normally sits in public, it has the power to compel the production of documents and the giving of evidence, and it canprotect witnesses who appear before it. 

That is why the media usually insist that such matters be considered by a Royal Commission. When the Howard government established the Cole Royal Commission into the AWB affair, the media were highly critical of the terms of reference.
 The government undertook to amend the terms if the judge recommended this.  

Apart from its openness, the Law Reform Commission points out that  the  public is more likely to accept inquiry processes and decisions when the inquiry is perceived to be at arm’s length from the executive arm of government and other influential stakeholders. This is best seen in a Royal Commission.

It says that to promote the perception of an inquiry’s independence, its membership is usually drawn from outside the executive arm of government—often from the judiciary. Again a Royal Commission best exemplifies this.



 
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