The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has proposed 75 reforms to Federal Royal Commissions in a discussion paper released on Tuesday.
ALRC President Professor David Weisbrot said the Royal Commissions Act needed to be amended - and renamed the Inquiries Act - to provide a statutory framework to allow other official inquiries to be established by the Federal Government.
"At present, non-statutory inquiries may not have the necessary powers to investigate, compel people to appear before the inquiry or compel the production of evidence. They cannot guarantee adequate legal protection to inquiry members and to staff. In addition, there is insufficient legal protection for people providing information to these inquiries, especially those whose reputations may be called into question," he said.
"The result is that non-statutory inquiries may not have all the information necessary to make the best possible findings and recommendations."
Commissioner in charge of the inquiry, Professor Les McCrimmon said the proposed statutory framework would introduce a new form of inquiry, called official inquiries, which would offer similar advantages to Royal Commissions but would offer more flexibility and formality.
"This has been an issue for a number of recent inquiries, including the Clarke Inquiry into the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef and the AWB Food-for-Oil Inquiry," he said.
"While previous inquiries have been able to prevent inadvertent disclosure of national security information, some have encountered practical difficulties accessing and using such material. The proposed new Inquiries Act would overcome many of these difficulties with special procedures and powers for national security information."
The ALRC is seeking public feedback on the recommendations until 22 September, with its final report due at the end of October.
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