What are the changes?
We are seeking feedback to help develop the new Inquiries Act, which would replace the current model set out in the Royal Commissions Act 1917.
Under these proposed changes, 3 tiers of inquiry would be available, each with varying degrees of power.
The 3 tiers would be:
- Royal Commissions
- Commissions of Inquiry
- Government Inquiries
These would be established by the Governor by Letters Patent under the Public Seal. Currently, a Royal Commission has the powers to:
- take evidence and issue summonses to witnesses to appear before the Commission
- compel a witness to produce documents, things, or information to the Commission
- impose restrictions to the access of evidence, submissions, or information presented to the Commission.
These powers of a Royal Commission would be expanded and changed in line with the recommendations made in the Review, including abrogating the privileges against self-incrimination, legal professional privilege, public interest immunity and the operation of statutory secrecy.
Commissions of Inquiry
These would be established by the Governor in Executive Council by Order in Council.
Commissions of Inquiry are less formal than Royal Commissions and can be more flexible, easier to get up and running and less expensive. Its powers would be limited to those of a current Royal Commission as set out above, and as varied by the changes recommended in the Review, but without the abrogation of the privileges above.
These would be established by the Premier. Its powers would be based on those of a Formal Review that currently take place in Victoria. An example of where a Government Inquiry has been undertaken at the Federal level was the inquiry ordered by the Prime Minister to be carried out by his Departmental Secretary into what became known as the Sports Rorts Saga, involving the former Minister for Sports, Ms Bridget McKenzie. Such an inquiry is private, low cost, flexible and presumably efficient.
These inquiries would have no coercive powers or the power to take evidence, but can prepare interim reports that refer matters to public sector agencies for consideration or action, and make recommendations. If it appears to the Government Inquiry that appropriate steps have not been taken in relation to issues raised in its interim report, the Government Inquiry details that failure in its final report to the relevant Minister and may forward copies of the final report to both Houses of Parliament.
Other major recommendations include:
- creating a series of offences dealing with a failure to comply with a requirement of a Royal Commission and a Commission of Inquiry
- creating a provision prescribing the application of the Inquiries Act outside of South Australia to the full extent of the extraterritorial power of the Parliament
- enabling a Royal Commission and a Commission of Inquiry to make sealing orders, prohibiting access to sensitive material
- removing the power to punish for contempt – an exercise of judicial power – from a Royal Commission to the Supreme Court.