The Commissioners (Or: Somebody for Everybody)

One can begin from the position that the commissioners are all honourable people who will rise above any cultural, professional, or personal bias to impartially hear submissions. However, if one believes in the dictum that not only should justice be done it should be seen to be done, then there are some fairly obvious concerns with the commission.

A couple of days ago, the six commissioners (pictured below) held their first press conference. Previously they had only posed for a media photo op and declined interviews. For the press conference, they all trouped in, sat down at a long table, the chief commissioner read a prepared statement, they all stood up and trouped off stage, declining to take questions.

295054-royal-commission

The scene was reminiscent of the recent media event when China’s new Politburo were introduced to the world. So far, no commissioner has given an interview, answered questions, or released a position statement. This does not auger well for transparency. There is always a fine line between independence and elitist non-communication.

The mainstream media and most “official” organisations involved with the commission have been very positive about the choice of commissioners, but as later posts will reveal, there are very real problems with some of them.

Commissioners will hold hearings individually. The present law says they can’t do this, but it will be changed this year to accommodate PM Gillard’s structure of somebody for everybody. This structure means that particular commissioners will be allocated particular issues, presumably by the chief commissioner. It is an aspect that must be totally transparent in that valid reasons must be given for the distribution of the workload, not merely announced. Multiple commissioners is a structure that has not been encountered before, so the issue of apportioning aspects of an enquiry have similarly not arisen before.

No doubt the argument will be made that the process reflects the commissioners’ areas of expertise. For example, Indigenous and mental health issues logically would fall into the expertise domain of Helen Milroy, who is an Indigenous psychiatrist. Police cover-ups might go to former Queensland Police Commissioner, Bob Atkinson, while paedophile politicians and children’s homes issues may go to former Democrat Senator and Homes old boy, Andrew Murray, etc.

On the other hand, one risks complaining about Caesar’s wife to Caesar. A police commissioner may be excused for feeling somewhat protective about the police reputation when matters arise to do with the Police Citizen’s Youth Clubs. The line of reasoning here will be obvious to many.

Consequently, the allocation of workloads should come under great scrutiny, but I doubt “official” journalists will pay it much attention. Certainly, one should question proceedings to do with the Catholic Church being given to commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, one of the most prominent lay members of that church. One may also question the appropriateness of juvenile detention centre matters going to Justice Jennifer Coate, who as President of the Children’s Court of Victoria sent many people there.

It will also become apparent in future posts that there are many other facts of individual commissioners’ histories that may impact their ability to impartially review material presented to them. Some of these facts, not mentioned in official press releases, will come as a shock to many people.

TOMORROW: The chief commissioner.

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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