Royal Commissions Act 1902
The Royal Commissions Act of 1902 is a piece of Australian legislation giving the Australian Governor-General the power to initiate an investigation, referred to as a Royal Commission. Royal Commissions are a major independent public inquiry into an issue, initiated by the Australian Government. They often investigate cases of political corruption or matters of significant public concern.
A Royal Commissioner or panel of Royal Commissioners, is appointed to preside over the commission of inquiry. The Commissioner has considerable powers, generally greater even than those of a judge. However, the powers of the Commissioner are restricted to the "Terms of Reference" of the commission handed down by the Governor-General in the Letters Patent. Once a Commission has started the government cannot end it, and thus the government is usually very careful in framing the Terms of Reference.
The Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) was assented on 8 August 1902. The Act allows the Governor-General to issue a Commission of inquiry. Specifically, the Act grants the Governor-General the power to make or authorise any inquiry, or to issue any commission to make any inquiry, by Letters patent in the name of the Crown. The terms must relate to the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth, any public purpose or any power of the Commonwealth.
The legislation provides for a member of a Commission to summon a person to appear before the Commission at a hearing, to give evidence or produce documents or other things specified in the summons. It is at the discretion of the Commission as to whether a person appearing at a hearing is required to take an oath or affirmation. Failing to attend as summoned can result in an A$1,000 penalty or imprisonment for six months. However, the Act excuses the penalty for failing to attend if a reasonable excuse can be provided (self-incrimination is not a reasonable excuse, however statements or documents tended by witnesses are not admissible in evidence against the witness).
Notable Royal Commissioners
- Terence Cole, who presided over the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry (2001 – 2003) and also presided over the Cole Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-For-Food Programme (2005 – 2006)
- H. C. Coombs, who presided over the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration (1974 – 1976)
- Frank Costigan, who presided over the Costigan Commission on the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union (1980 – 1984)
- Elizabeth Evatt, who presided over the Royal Commission on human relationships (1974 – 1978)
- Jim McClelland, who presided over the McClelland Royal Commission into British nuclear tests in Australia (1984 – 1985)
- Ronald Wilson, who jointly presided over the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families (1995 – 1997); published as the Bringing Them Home report
- "Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody". National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 21 April 2007. Retrieved 20 March 2007.