I continue my remarks from 5 September 2018 which, before seeking leave to continue, I commenced with, 'Further, it,' referring to the High Court, 'would have considered whether the commonwealth is impliedly immune from an exercise of the powers' conferred by sections10 and/or section 11 of the Royal Commissions Act 1917 (SA) on the basis that they modify or impair the executive power of the commonwealth or substantially interfere with or curtail the operation of the executives of the commonwealth.
These matters, as I have indicated, were to be tested in the High Court. However, given when the matter could be listed to be heard and its proximity to the completion date of the commission, the commissioner, Mr Walker, raised the utility of the proceedings with me. In the absence of any extension of time to complete his report, he withdrew the summonses. Given that the proceedings would have been heard in October at the earliest and that his report was due in February 2019, even a successful result in the proceedings could not have come to make the summonses useful.
Since those proceedings were discontinued, I was pleased to see, in correspondence provided by the commission, that the commonwealth and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority agreed to voluntarily participate in the commission's proceedings by providing written submissions and some additional supporting information. I am further advised this week that the material has been received, but the commonwealth has declined an invitation to be available for questions in respect of the documentation provided and/or to further assist the commission.
When this bill was introduced on 20 June this year, the deputy opposition leader said in her second reading speech, which she claimed was introduced urgently:
…following the commonwealth government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority both seeking an injunction to prevent commonwealth officials from having to appear before the South Australian royal commission.
As I have said, the commonwealth and the authority recently agreed to participate in the commission's proceedings, and the proceedings have been discontinued. For those reasons alone, this bill does not need to be further considered. Indeed, for the matters I raised on 5 September, this bill was not effective in any way in remedying what the opposition claimed to be the ill when introducing this bill.
As to whether there needs to be broad legislative change, including giving the act extraterritorial effect, the government will consider changes in due course. After all, it is the Royal Commissions Act of 1917, and I think it is fair to say that it is in need of overhaul, but not in the content of the bill that is before us now. During the course of the operation of the commission and the opportunity I have had to meet with Mr Walker, he provided advice to me in respect of other inquiry legislation around the country which he described as being more modern and effective. That material is under consideration by my office. We will, of course, look towards receiving the commissioner's report in due course and any recommendations he may have in relation to his terms of reference. I thank him, along the way, for his supportive advice on how we might look to modernise our royal commissions provision, which is sadly far behind the advance of some other jurisdictions in the country.