The Public Inquiry Process

Commission inquiries can vary greatly in issue and scope. The wide-ranging charter of the Commission is reflected in the inquiry program set by the Australian Government. The Treasurer, in consultation with other Ministers (and State and Territory governments where relevant), determines which inquiries the Commission will conduct and the terms of reference for each inquiry.

An inquiry is initiated when a 'reference' is sent by the Treasurer to the Commission. The terms of reference describe what the inquiry will cover, the reporting date, and whether public inquiries will be held. Most inquiries are specified for nine or twelve months duration. Some, however, may be short term, for example, six months.

References may cover any sector of the economy; address a particular industry or cut across industry boundaries; and involve wider social or environmental issues. Topics may include matters in the Commonwealth's Legislation Review Schedule.

Why have a public inquiry process?

Public inquiries give the opportunity for all points of view in the community to be heard and considered. All individuals, firms, groups and organisations with an interest in an inquiry can participate in the inquiry. This may be through written submissions and attendance at hearings, workshops and other forums when these are held for the inquiry.

The success of each inquiry depends largely upon the participation of people and organisations in the community. Participating in an inquiry means taking an active role in Australia's public policy formation.

The Commission draws on the information it receives from participants and information, research and expertise assembled from other sources to formulate the report and any policy recommendations.

The Commission may make recommendations on any matters it considers relevant to the inquiry, but it must take into account its policy guidelines.

In framing its recommendations, the Commission is required to consider the interests of the community as a whole — in addition to the interests of those most immediately and directly affected by the recommendations. It must also have regard to the economic, social, regional and environmental consequences of its recommendations.

The Commission usually makes a draft report publicly available for scrutiny and comment before its final report is completed. This approach is designed to ensure consistent and open consideration of the issues.

Once complete, the final report is forwarded to the Government and awaits release by Parliament.

Release by Parliament

Final reports must be tabled within 25 sitting days of the Treasurer receiving the report.

Commonwealth, State and Territory governments make the final decision on acceptance and implementation of the Commission's recommendations. Governments are not obliged to take the Commission's advice. However, even when the Commission's recommendations are not adopted, government policy making is often better served by the information gathering, public participation and scrutiny that the inquiry process stimulates.

For more information, visit each inquiry's project web page.

See also

Stages in the process

1. The Australian Government decides to initiate an inquiry

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2. The Treasurer or Assistant Treasurer sends a reference to the Commission

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3. The Commission advertises the inquiry and calls for parties to register their interest

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4. The Commission visits interested parties, distributes an issues paper to focus attention on the issues it considers relevant and invites written submissions

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5. Depending on the reference, hearings or other consultative forums may be held

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6. The Commission usually publishes a draft report or position paper and invites comments

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7. Hearings are usually held on this preliminary report

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8. A final report to the Government

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9. Departmental consultations are held and the report is considered by relevant Ministers

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10. The Treasurer or Assistant Treasurer tables the report in Parliament and may announce the Government's decision on the report at that time or at a later date