Key Features of Public Inquiries

  Defining Public Inquiries  
  Public Inquiries Exclude...  
  Brief History of Public Inquiries  

Public inquiries have had major impacts on the direction of public policy. Listed below are just some of the hundred of inquiries that have been appointed and which are noteworthy.

Commonwealth inquiries
  • Royal Commission on Sites for Seat of Government of the Commonwealth (1903) – gave advice on where Australia ’s capital should be located.
  • Royal Commission on Public Service Administration (1918) – responsible for establishing the modern Commonwealth Public Service.
  • Royal Commission on Espionage (1954) – investigated the famous Petrov Russian spy issue that had a great impact on Australian politics.
  • Royal Commission into the Federated Ship Painters’ and Dockers’ Union (1980) – responsible for uncovering corruption in the union movement, tax evasion schemes and incompetence and maladministration in the Australian Tax Office.
  • Committee of Inquiry into Australian Financial System (1979) – lead to financial deregulation and a major influence on the direction of Australian economic policy.
  • Commission of Inquiry into the Current Health Status of the Australian Population (1985) – gave impetus to more preventative health policies.
  • Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education Funding (1987) – responsible for the introduction of the HECs system of students payment for university study.
  •  Royal Commission of Inquiry into HIH (2001) – investigated the causes of Australia ’s largest corporate collapse.

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State inquiries
  • Royal Commission into Organised Crime in New South Wales (1973) – exposed corruption in this area.
  • Committee of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct (1987) – the Fitzgerald Inquiry that brought down the long ensconced National Party Government in Queensland.
  • Royal Commission into the State Bank of South Australia and the State Group of Companies (1991) – examined the actions of the South Australia State Bank that almost bankrupted the State.
  • Royal Commission into Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters (1991) – provided a full expose of WA Inc and Labor Party government corruption.
  •  Board of Inquiry into Allegations of Corruption in the Police Force in Connection with Alleged Abortion Practices in the State of Victoria (1970) – brought to public light a major public scandal of non-enforcement of law.
  •  Royal Commission into the Edmund Rouse Bribery Affair (1991) – Tasmania ’s first inquiry into political bribery.

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General references

Below are some key articles and books on royal commissions and public inquiries. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather provides a basic introduction. More detailed references are found throughout the site.


  •  Borchardt, D.H., 1991, Commissions of Inquiry in Australia , La Trobe University Press, Bundoora
  • Cushing, F., 1991, Australian Federal Government Inquiries: 5 December 1972 to 31 December 1990 , Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, Canberra
  •  Prasser, S., 1985, “Public Inquiries in Australia : An Overview,” Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol XL, No 1, March, 1-15
  •  Lindell, G., 2002, Tribunals of Inquiry and Royal Commissions, Federation Press, Sydney
  • Sherman, T., 1997, Executive Inquiries in Australia: Some Proposals for Reform, Centre for International and Public Law, Faculty of Law, Australian National University, Law and Policy Papers, Paper No 8, Canberra
  • Weller, P., (ed), 1994, Royal Commissions and the Making of Public Policy, Macmillan, Melbourne


  • Doern, B., 1967, “The Role of Royal Commissions in the General Policy Process and in Federal-Provincial Relations,” Canadian Public Administration, Vol 10, No 4, 417-433
  • Hodgetts, J.E., 1964, “Should Canada be De-Commissioned? A Commoner’s View of Royal Commissions,” Queens Quarterly, Vol 70, No 4, Winter, 477-483
  • D’Ombrain, N., 1997, “Public Inquiries in Canada ,” Canadian Public Administration, Vol 40, No 1, Spring, 86-107


New Zealand
  • Simpson, A.C., 1978, “Commissions of Inquiry in the Policy Process,” in S. Levine, (ed), Politics in New Zealand: A Reader, Cheshire , Melbourne


  • Premfors, R., 983, “Government Commission in Sweden ,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol 26, No 5, May-June, 623-642


United Kingdom
  • Bulmer, M., 1983, Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees of Inquiry: The Lessons of Experience, Royal Institute of Public Administration, London
  • Cartwright, T.J., 1975, Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees in Britain , Hodder and Stoughton , London
  • Chapman, R.A. (ed), 1973, The Role of Commissions in Policy-Making, Allen and Unwin, London
  • Rhodes, G., 1975, Committees of Inquiry, Allen and Unwin, London


United States

  • Hanser, C.J., 1969, “Royal Commissions for the US?” in T.E. Cronin and S.D. Greenberg, (eds), The Presidential Advisory System, Harper and Row, New York, 305-311
  • Flitner, D., 1986, The Politics of Presidential Commissions: A Public Policy Perspective, Transacrions , New York
  • Wolanin,T.R., 1975, Presidential Advisory Commissions: From Truman to Nixon, University of Wilconsin Press , Madison

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