At a special meeting of the Executive Council on Monday 17 January, the Governor of Queensland, Her Excellency Penelope Wensley AO, appointed an independent Commission of Inquiry into Queensland’s flood disaster.
This had been approved by the Cabinet beforehand, and the Governor acting on the advice of the Premier, the Hon. Anna Bligh. The Commission will have the powers of a Royal Commission, and be chaired by Her Honour Justice Catherine Holmes of the Supreme Court.
It is unusual in Queensland to appoint a sitting Supreme Court Judge to head a Commission, but this was done in consultation with and the support of the Chief Justice of Queensland, His Honour Mr.Justice Paul De Jersey AC.
There will be two assistant commissioners, Jim O’Sullivan, a former Commissioner of Police and Phil Cummins, an international dams expert and currently chair of the International Commission on Large Dams.
The Premier said the Inquiry would have the powers of a Royal Commission, would take public submissions from across Queensland and would make recommendations in its interim report for future wet seasons.
The Premier has been lavishly complimented in the media for her communications skills. She should now be commended for her courageous but correct action in establishing what is in effect a Royal Commission. It is important, indeed it is crucial, that Queenslanders know what went wrong and what can be done.
It is to be regretted that some of her colleagues in other jurisdictions have not behaved as impeccably in exposing their governments to daylight, as our system is so well designed to allow.
The republicans tried to get rid of Royal Commissions, or at least change their name. But Royal Commissions have long enjoyed an important place in Australia, casting light into issues shrouded in darkness.
The link to the Crown stresses the Royal Commission is above politics and independent. The Australian Law Reform Commission recently recommended that Royal Commissions be retained, and their name not be changed
The Law Reform Commission gave two reasons for retaining Royal Commissions. First, the term ‘Royal Commission’ is very well-known, which means that it is a clear way to communicate to the public the extraordinary nature of such an inquiry.
Secondly, the title ‘Royal Commission’ is helpful in that it indicates how the highest form of public inquiry is established—namely by the Governor-General of Australia. The Law Reform Commission says that it is appropriate that "the Australian head of state should continue to be responsible for establishing the highest form of public inquiry in Australia".
… Queensland model could guide NSW Premier and the PM, too…
The essence of our constitutional system is that government is not absolute that government is always accountable and ultimately to the electorate.
Ours has been demonstrated to be the best system to ensure such accountability together with both stability and flexibility. We have long drawn attention in this column to the results which have been achieved in countries functioning under this system.
The Premier of New South Wales, Ms Kristina Keneally, should look reflect on her Queensland colleague’s action. Her decision to recommend the early prorogation of Parliament has not stopped the formidable Rev. Fred Nile in continuing the Legislative Council inquiry into the sale of electricity assets which she condemned first as illegal, then unconstitutional.
The directors who resigned from the electricity companies rather than be involved in the sale are entitled to give their evidence without the threat of defamation proceedings, express or implied.
To say this is not for ACM to plunge into party politics. It is to argue for the maintenance of the proper standards of accountability which have hitherto applied in our system.
Government must remain accountable to the people through Parliament.
..and the Prime Minister?…
The Prime Minister, Ms. Julia Gillard could also take a lesson from the Queensland Premier. The allegations that the Building the Education Venture involved the misappropriation of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds demands even now a Royal Commission, not a frankly toothless inquiry.
Her predecessors of all parties would have recommended a Royal commission, as would the Premiers of New South Wales.
From the Magna Carta in 1215, through the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the evolution of responsible government and the gift of that to the Australian colonies, the essence of our constitutional monarchy, our crowned republic, is that government is not absolute; that we live under the rule of law and not the rule of men.
Now the constitutional monarchy (or crowned republic) has been demonstrated to be the best system to ensure such accountability together with both stability and flexibility.
We have long drawn attention in this column to the results which have been achieved in countries functioning under this system. By establishing what is in effect a Royal Commission, the Premier is to be commended.
This is the practice in Australia. The BER affair is too serious to leave to an inquiry which has no power to require the giving of evidnec and the production of documents and which can offer no protection to those who appear before it. It is no disrespect to Mr. Orgill to say that it should be chaired by an experienced respected judge or senior lawyer.
… a Royal Commission…
But Premier, why not call a spade a spade?
Do we really need to hide the fact that the Crown remains- as it always – has, an integral part of the governance of this country?