CTH Introduces Royal Commissions Amendment (Protection of Information) Bill 2021

Friday 16 April 2021 @ 11.57 a.m. | Legal Research

On 17 March 2021, the Royal Commissions Amendment (Protection of Information) Bill 2021 (Cth) (“the Bill”) was introduced to the Senate, by Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries and Assistant Minister for Industry Development Jonathan Duniam, on behalf of Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General Amanda Stoker.

The Bill seeks to improve the operation of royal commissions by introducing explicit confidentiality protections for sensitive information given in the course of an inquiry. The Bill proposes amendments to:

  • the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth)
  • the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth)

Overview of the Bill

According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, the key objective of the Bill is to:

“… introduce improvements to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 and implement changes requested by Commissioner the Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC, Chair of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, people with disability and disability advocates”.

Background to the Royal Commission

Following  extensive consultation with people with disability and the disability sector, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (“the Royal Commission”) was announced on 18 February 2019.

The Royal Commission's terms of reference directed it to:

“inquire into what governments, institutions and the community should do to report, investigate, respond to, prevent and better protect people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation”.

The Royal Commission's Interim Report summary outlined that the need for a Royal Commission was largely the result of determined and persistent advocacy over many years by people with a disability and their supporters. They had urged successive governments to “take responsibility for and investigate widespread violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability”.

The Interim Report found that:

“[people with] disability experience attitudinal, environmental, institutional and communication barriers to achieving inclusion within Australian society ... [a] great deal needs to be done to ensure that the human rights of people with disability are respected and that Australia becomes a truly inclusive society”

Proposed Amendments

The proposed amendments to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) seek to apply limitations on the use and disclosure of certain information provided by individuals to the Royal Commission outside of a private session, where the Royal Commission had indicated that it would be treated as confidential. Additionally the Bill proposes to enable certain members of a Royal Commission to make non-publication directions. These members would also be able to allow a Commonwealth Royal Commission, during the course of inquiry, to communicate information and evidence to another Royal Commission or another state or territory commission of inquiry.

The Bill also seeks to amend the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) in order to exempt certain information given to the Royal Commission from the operation of the Act.

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Royal Commissions Amendment (Protection of Information) Bill 2021 (Cth) and explanatory material available from TimeBase's LawOne Service

Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Australian Government)

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