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Royal Commissions Amendment (Private Sessions) Bill 2019

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2019

 

 

THE PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

 

 

SENATE

 

 

ROYAL COMMISSION AMENDMENT (PRIVATE SESSIONS) BILL 2019

 

 

SUPPLEMENTARY EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

 

 

Amendments to be Moved on Behalf of the Government

 

 

(Circulated by authority of the Prime Minister,

the Honourable Scott Morrison MP)

 

 

           

 

 

 



 

ROYAL COMMISSION AMENDMENT (PRIVATE SESSIONS) BILL 2019 - GOVERNMENT AMENDMENTS

GENERAL OUTLINE

1.                 The amendments to the Royal Commission Amendment (Private Sessions) Bill 2019 (the Bill) remove provisions permitting a Chair of a multi-member Commission or sole Commissioner to authorise appropriately qualified and senior staff members of a Royal Commission to hold private sessions. The Bill referred to these members of staff as Assistant Commissioners.  

2.                 Private sessions allow a Royal Commission to obtain sensitive and personal information to inform its inquiry. Because they are private and less formal than a hearing, private sessions may often enable an individual to disclose very personal experiences to a Royal Commission.

3.                 It is important that individuals who share their personal accounts in a private session feel confident in the process.

4.                 The Bill had placed limits on the circumstances in which an Assistant Commissioner could be authorised to hold a private session, including establishing a presumption that a private session must be held by a Commissioner, unless the Chair of a multi-member Commission, or sole Commissioner, believes circumstances exist that justify a staff member holding a private session.

5.                 Use of the authorisation power would be at the Chair’s discretion to exercise when justifying circumstances existed. The provision was intended to give a Royal Commission more flexibility, particularly for a Commission constituted by one or two Commissioners, to hold more private sessions over the duration of its inquiry. It was not envisaged the power would in general be necessary for multi-panel inquiries with many Commissioners.

6.                 Following further engagement with stakeholders, the Government has determined that only Royal Commissioners should be empowered to hold private sessions.

7.                 The effect of the amendments is that only a sole Commissioner, the Chair of a multi-member Commission, or a Commissioner authorised by the Chair are empowered to hold private sessions. This approach is consistent with the private session regime adopted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

8.                 The amendments reflect the original intent of the provisions to allow individuals to share their story to a Royal Commission with a figure of authority in a safe and supportive setting.

 

FINANCIAL IMPACT STATEMENT

9.                 The se amendments will have no financial impact.



 

STATEMENT OF COMPATIBILITY WITH HUMAN RIGHTS

Prepared for the purposes of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011

10.             The amendments are compatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 .

 

Overview of the amendments

11.             The amendments remove provisions in the Bill permitting a Chair of a multi-member Commission, or sole Commissioner, to authorise appropriately qualified and senior members of staff of a Royal Commission, referred to as Assistant Commissioners, to hold private sessions.

12.             The effect of the amendments is that only a sole Commissioner, the Chair of a multi-member Commission, or a Commissioner authorised by the Chair may hold private sessions. This approach is consistent with the private session regime adopted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Human rights implications

13.             The amendments do not affect the analysis of human rights issues set out in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill.

 

Conclusion

14.             This Bill as amended is compatible with human rights as it promotes the right to privacy and, to the extent that it limits the right to freedom of expression, the limitations are reasonable, necessary and proportionate. It does not engage or limit the right to fair trial and hearing.



 

NOTES ON CLAUSES

Item 1 - Section 6OA

15.             This item is consequential to item 2 and removes the definition of ‘Assistant Commissioner’ from the Bill.

 

Item 2 - Section 6OB

16.             This item omits and substitutes items 7 to 13 from the Bill.

17.             Items 7 to 13 in the Bill permitted the Chair of a multi-member Commission, or a sole Commissioner, respectively, to have a discretion to authorise appropriately qualified and senior staff of a Commission, called an Assistant Commissioner, to hold a private session. The item established a presumption that a private session will be held by a Commissioner, unless the Chair or sole Commissioner considers circumstances exist to justify an Assistant Commissioner holding private sessions.

18.             The substitute text provides that a private session may be held by the Chair or a member they authorise in writing in the case of a multi-member Commission or by a sole Commissioner.

 

Items 3-4 - Subsections 6OC(3) and (4)

19.             These items make minor amendments consequential to item 2.

 

Item 5 - Paragraph 6OC(6)(a)

20.             This item makes minor amendments consequential to item 2.

 

Item 6 - Section 6OF

21.             This item removes provisions from the Bill for the protection of those who appear at a private session held by an Assistant Commissioner. Due to the removal of the role of Assistant Commission in item 2, these protections are no longer required.

 

Item 7 - Section 6OG

22.             This item makes minor amendments consequential to item 2.

 

Item 8 - Application provisions

23.             This item make a minor amendment to the application provisions, consequential to item 2. As section 6OF of the Act is no longer being amended, an application provision in relation to this section is not required.