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Review of confidentiality protections in the Royal Commissions Act − Terms of Reference

Royal Commission
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Background and context for the review

  1. The Royal Commissions Amendment (Protection of Information) Act 2021 (the amending Act), which commenced on 10 September 2021, applies new limitations on the use and disclosure of information given by individuals to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability about their experiences, where that information was given for purposes other than a private session and the information was treated as confidential by the Commission at all times. It also establishes protections for accounts of systemic violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability, and protections for information given on behalf of another person.
  2. During debate in the Parliament the Government undertook to review the effectiveness of measures in the amending Act, and other provisions within the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (the Act) for the protection of information and identities. 

Objectives

  1. The key objectives of the review are to:
    1. identify impediments in the amended Act that would prevent or discourage a person from coming forward and sharing information with a royal commission, and
    2. make recommendations about any policy or legislative options to address these impediments and facilitate greater public engagement with royal commissions, while maintaining their ability to report transparent findings and recommendations.

Matters to be examined

  1. The review will examine issues or impediments to people coming forward and sharing information with royal commissions. In particular, it will look at:
    1. the effectiveness of mechanisms in the amended Act for safeguarding the identities of people making confidential disclosures to royal commissions
    2. the effectiveness of other protections for witnesses providing evidence to royal commissions, and
    3. any gaps or deficiencies in legislative protections, which could potentially lead to detriment, or an unwillingness to engage with royal commissions.
  2. The review will consider:
    1. remedies available in other Commonwealth legislation and equivalent state and territory royal commissions and inquiries legislation, to a person who has suffered a detriment following a disclosure they have made to a royal commission or inquiry
    2. findings and recommendations of previous reviews and inquiries which have examined relevant matters in these terms of reference, and
    3. previous requests made by third parties for protected information, including instances known to the department or brought to its attention in the course of the review.
  3. The review will examine circumstances raised in the course of the review, where:
    1. a person has provided sensitive information to a royal commission and then experienced detriment, or
    2. a person's willingness or ability to engage with a royal commission was affected by existing confidentiality provisions or the absence of adequate protection.

Consultation arrangements

  1. The Attorney‑General's Department will conduct a targeted public consultation process to inform the review.
  2. Views will be sought from the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, disability representative organisations and other interested stakeholders.
  3. Public consultation will be conducted via the Attorney-General's Department website, and consultation materials will be presented in accessible formats.

Timeframes

  1. The Attorney-General's Department is required to report by 22 February 2022.  

Our Terms of Reference

How to use this guide

The Attorney-General's Department (AGD) of the Australian Government wrote this guide.

When you see the word 'we', it means AGD.

We wrote this guide in an easy to read way.

We have written some words in bold.

This means the letters are thicker and darker.

We explain what these words mean.

There is a list of these words on page 9.

This Easy Read guide is a summary of some information on our website.

This means it only includes the most important ideas.

You can find the information on the AGD website.

You can ask for help to read this guide.

A friend, family member or support person may be able to help you.

What's in this guide?

What are royal commissions?

A royal commission is how the government looks into a big problem.

It helps us find out what:

  • went wrong
  • we can fix.

Royal commissions give people a chance to tell their stories.

We have 2 important royal commissions in Australia right now.

They are the:

  • Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Disability Royal Commission)
  • Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

Keeping people safe

Some people might be scared to tell their story to a royal commission.

They might worry about:

  • who will know
  • what can happen to them
  • keeping their information private.

In September 2021, we made a new law.

It is called the Royal Commissions Amendment (Protection of Information) Act 2021.

In this guide, we just call it the Amendment.

The Amendment protects people who tell their story to the Disability Royal Commission.

Looking at the law

We want to look closely at a law about royal commissions.

The law we want to look at is the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth).

In this guide, we just call it the Act.

We want to look at what the Act says about making sure people feel safe to tell their story to a royal commission.

We must review the Act.

When we review an Act, we check it to:

  • make sure it works well
  • find any parts that need to change.

What is a Terms of Reference?

A Terms of Reference is a document that talks about:

  • a project we will work on
  • our goals for that project
  • how we will work together to reach those goals.

We write a Terms of Reference when we set up a royal commission.

We have written a Terms of Reference for reviewing the Act.

What are our goals?

We want to find out:

  • what stops people from telling their stories
  • how to get more people to tell their stories
  • how we can keep everyone who tells their story safe.

How will we reach our goals?

We want to hear what people think about the Act.

This will help us understand what the problems are.

We will look at other Australian laws about:

  • royal commissions
  • keeping everyone who tells their story safe.

We will look at laws from Australia's states and territories too.

We will try to find out about times when:

  • something bad happened to someone after they told their story
  • someone didn't tell their story because they didn't feel safe.

We will talk to the Disability Royal Commission about how to keep people safe when they tell their story.

We will write a report about what we find out.

We will share our report in 2022.

Our report will include ideas about how to make people feel safer when they tell their story.

Word list

This list explains what the bold words in this document mean.

Review
When we review an Act, we check it to:

  • make sure it works well
  • find any parts that need to change.

Royal commission
A royal commission is how the government looks into a big problem.

It helps us find out what:

  • went wrong
  • we can fix.

Terms of Reference
A Terms of Reference is a document that talks about:

  • a project we will work on
  • our goals for that project
  • how we will work together to reach those goals.

Support for you

You can get support to tell us what you think.

Please send us an email – royalcommissionsprotectionsreview@ag.gov.au

You can get support to share your story with the Disability Royal Commission.

You can find more information on the Department of Social Services (DSS) website.

You can also get support from Blue Knot Foundation.

Phone – 1800 421 468

You can get support to share your story with the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

You can find more information on the Department of Veterans' Affairs website.