‘Public inquiries’ refers to temporary ad hoc public bodies appointed by executive government to investigate and advise on a breadth of issues and whose members are draw predominantly from outside of government.
Public inquiries come in a wide range of different organisational forms and nomenclatures such as:
- royal commissions
- task forces
- working parties
A more detailed definition of public inquiries and their delineation from other investigatory and advisory institutions of government is provided in Defining Public Inquiries.
Public inquiries, of which royal commissions are but one type, have a long history in Westminster systems of government like Australia , United Kingdom , Canada and New Zealand .
In the United Kingdom their origin may be traced back to the eleventh century when William the Conqueror appointed a team to audit his newly acquired kingdom that were detailed in a report called the Domesday Book.
Since then, public inquiries, often in the form of a royal commission, have been appointed in Westminster governments. In the United Kingdom royal commissions in the form we are familiar with today were used extensively during the nineteenth century to advise governments on a wide range of important public policy issues. This has continued since.
Canada , Australia and New Zealand followed in this practice and have appointed numerous public inquiries.
In Australia , State governments initially lead the way. Soon after federation in 1901, the Commonwealth government appointed its first public inquiry, in the form of a royal commission, in 1902. In subsequent decades, numerous other inquiries followed.
Public inquiries in Australia have been appointed to investigate a wide variety of topics – public policy issues, allegations of wrongdoing by government member or official or investigations into the causes of some major disaster. The reasons inquiries are appointed are discussed later (Futher Information).
In other democracies like the United States of America public inquiries in the form of presidential commissions have been used. So too, in Sweden , are commissions of inquiry with prescribed memberships, an integral part of this nation’s highly consensus and consultative style of decision-making.
More information can be found in the 'In depth look into the history of public inquiries' section
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