Key Features of Public Inquiries

  Defining Public Inquiries  
  Key Issues of Public Inquiries  
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Numerous typologies have been suggested for classifying public inquiries such as their powers, forms, memberships, policy issues, roles, and functions.

This website classifies public inquiries in terms of whether they are:

Inquisitorial inquiries

These include all those investigating allegations or seeking to find the cause of a particular catastrophic event such as an accident or to check some allegation or suspected impropriety. The tasks of such inquiries are to check and verify facts, hear and cross-examine witnesses and come to conclusions about allocating responsibility or blame. Royal commissions, with their special coercive powers of investigation, dominate this category and in Australia represent nearly 70 per cent of all national inquisitorial inquiries.

Given the nature of their tasks it is not surprising that most inquisitorial inquires are chaired by members drawn from the legal profession or judiciary and use quasi-legal procedures. Inquisitorial inquiries are usually single member bodies.

Policy advisory inquiries

Policy inquiries seek to provide advice to government on a wide range of issues. They are not concerned with investigating allegations, improprieties or the causes of some disaster. Rather, their aim is to inform, summarise, and propose to government possible solutions to particular policy problems based on research and/or consultation with key interests.

Procedurally, policy inquires gain information by co-operative consultation such as hearings and submissions and by some supplementary research rather than by coercive measures. They rely on their status as an executive appointed body to attract submissions and support. The predominant feature of the policy inquiry process is on listening, gaining an appreciation of issues, and understanding the range of views and opinions, rather than seeking the ‘one truth’ or ‘solution’ about an issue.

ost policy inquiries are multi-member bodies. Membership has ranged from two to sixteen. Such multi-membership reflects the wider range of roles that policy public inquires perform other than providing expert advice. While policy inquiries have expert or professional based membership in relation to the policy issue under consideration, they also include members who represent the different interest groups relevant to the policy area under consideration. Only policy inquires have members drawn from such a wide range of different professional groupings, interest groups or academic disciplines. This is how public inquiries partly perform their consultative role in policy development.

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