The key issues about public inquiries are:
- Clarifying and defining public inquiries so as to distinguish them form other bodies – there has often been considerable confusion as to what really constitutes a ‘public inquiry’.
- Appreciating the long term historical use of public inquiries – public inquiries are not the result of particular governments but have a long history in Australia and have been used by governments of all political persuasions ;
- Australian adaptation of public inquiries – public inquiries have been inherited from the Westminster system. The issue is how have inquiries, like other institutions, been modified in the Australian political environment;
- Increased and sustained use of public inquiries in Australia since the 1970s is opposite international trends and deserves explanation;
- Assessing public inquiries’ roles in the political system – just what roles and functions do public inquiries serve in the political system.
- Concern about the powers of certain public inquiries – with the increased numbers of royal commissions with their coercive powers of investigation there has been growing concern by civil libertarians about the impact of this trend;
- Use of members of the judiciary to chair inquiries (mostly royal commissions) and its impact on undermining the separation of powers has long been a concern in Australia . With the increased numbers of royal commissions since the 1980s this concern has been given renewed impetus;
- Why public inquiries are appointed and in what circumstances, when there are existing advisory bodies in place have been one of the perennial issues about public inquiries. The increasing numbers of public inquiries in Australia along with the growth of new advisory sources (eg ministerial minders, consultancies, think tanks) makes this an even a more pertinent issue. It is also one of the hardest issues to resolve given the executive nature of public inquiry appointments;
- Impact of inquiry reports – just what impact on government policy and decisions do inquiries with their reports and recommendations have has bee a critical issue. Some see inquiries as necessary adjuncts to rational decision making, while others are more cynical and believe inquiries are a waste of time and effort;
- Costs of inquiries – inquiries appointed during the last two decades have broken all records in terms of
their costs. This has raised concerns from both sides of politics.
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