Royal Commissions occupy a unique place in the Australian system of government, being the highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance.
Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry are established by governments to acquire information on a subject of public interest which is within their legislative powers. They are required to present their findings in a report and commonly make recommendations in the light of their findings. They have statutory powers of investigation and are set up on an ad hoc basis. Legislation in the Commonwealth, all states, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory provides for the conferral of coercive powers on Royal Commissions.
Whilst the term Royal Commission is commonly used, these bodies are also commonly known as "Commissions of Inquiry", "Public Inquiries", and "Judicial Inquiries". Strictly speaking, a Royal Commission is a Commission appointed by virtue of the royal prerogative, whereas Commissions of Inquiry and Public Inquiries obtain their titles from the statutory enactments which permit their appointment and/or provide for their operation. The term Judicial Inquiry is often used when the person chairing an inquiry is or has served as a judge. Whatever nomenclature is used, all of these bodies serve the same purpose, that is, to advise government upon matters of public interest.
Similarly, there is little significant difference between Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry. The main distinction is the manner of appointment for each and the applicable statutory provisions.
It has also been common in recent years for Australian legislatures to appoint Standing or Permanent Commissions of Inquiry, mainly for the purpose of investigating criminal matters or matters of corruption; for example the National Crime Authority, the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Commission.