Overcoming toothless tiger: establishing royal commissions With bite

Monash University
  • Royal Commissions that embed systems of compliance and prescribe courses of action have greater chance of success.

  • The findings come as the Australian Medical Association calls for a royal commission into the Victorian Government’s response to COVID-19.

  • Royal commissions risk being toothless tigers unless they include guidelines on how their recommendations should be implemented and monitored, a Monash University study shows.

    With three national royal commissions currently under way, and calls for another into the Victorian coronavirus response, the study found that enquiries that embed systems of compliance in their recommendations have a greater chance of driving policy change.

    The study, published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration, examined three completed royal commissions: the Aboriginal Land Rights Royal Commission, the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

    The researchers found that while royal commissions have no enforcement powers, by prescribing courses of action and frameworks of oversight they increased the likelihood of their recommendations being implemented.

    This is key to keeping governments accountable and giving enquiries longevity in policy discussion and the public eye.

    “Detailed recommendations which include monitoring mechanisms can have a massive impact on the capacity of a royal commission to influence policy long after the commission’s formal inquiry has concluded,” co-author Associate Professor Deidre O’Neill says.

    “A vivid example of ongoing influence can be seen in the reporting mechanisms established in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Thanks to the commission’s very specific recommendations, each year the federal government releases a progress report on the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.

    “In this way, the nation’s attention is focused once more on the work of the Commission, and the government is held to account for the undertakings it made to implement the Commission’s recommendations.”

    Similarly, the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission led to the appointment of an implementation monitor to oversee the government’s policy response. While the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission gave detailed direction on how its recommendations should be implemented, outlining a wish list of legal personnel to oversee the task.

    “Royal commissions have extensive powers to amass, analyse, and interpret evidence,” co-author Professor Michael Mintrom says. “Yet, when they submit their final reports to governments, governments face no obligation to accept any of their recommendations.

    “That’s why

    /Public Release.