If you are a regular reader of this blog, you would know I have been in Vietnam for the last few weeks, blissfully ignorant for a short period of time of all the dramas which go on in the world. When I left the country at the beginning of September, the “Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services” was in its last days of public hearings. On my return home I have been greeted with the Royal Commissions’ interim report, which is quite damning of the banking, superannuation and financial services industry and the perceived level of greed which existed. However, from my perspective, the more interesting news story was the Prime Ministers announcement of a “Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety”. At present, we do not know the exact terms of reference as these will be developed after public consultations, which will include residents and their families. Based on the Prime Ministers announcement, we broadly expect the Royal Commission into Aged Care will look at: • The quality of care provided to older Australians, and the extent of substandard care;
• The challenge of providing care to Australians with disabilities living in residential aged care, particularly younger people with disabilities;
• The challenge of supporting the increasing number of Australians suffering dementia and addressing their care needs as they age;
• The future challenges and opportunities for delivering aged care services in the context of changing demographics, including in remote, rural and regional Australia;
• And of course, to ensure nothing is missed, any other matters that the Royal Commission considers necessary.
The issues to be discussed will be extensive, and I am sure will cause a great deal of angst and concern for people in aged care or for relatives about to place someone into aged care.
We do not know at this stage who will preside over the Royal Commission however this job would normally be assigned to a judge.
Which brings me to the next question – What is the difference between a Royal Commission and a normal court of law?
There are several very important differences;
1. Royal Commissions are established by the Governor General on advice from the Government, whereas courts are standing institutions;
2. Royal Commissions are not bound by the rules of evidence that the courts are. These rules encompass the legal principles that govern the proof of facts in a legal proceeding;
3. For witnesses there is no difference – they may be examined and cross-examined by legal counsel;
4. Royal Commissions can make recommendations but cannot determine a person’s guilt or negligence. Whereas a court does not make recommendations but will make a final determination of guilt and impose a penalty;
5. Witnesses may be compelled to answer questions in a Royal Commission and a court, but can only claim privilege against self-incrimination in a court
Of course, these are not the full detailed outline of the legal differences between the two, that would take far too much time and certainly too much paper.
The important principle to remember is that the Royal Commission will look at a wide range of issues, depending on the terms of reference. The community, residents, their families and providers will all get a chance to present a submission outlining their concerns and vision of the future for the aged care industry.
If you are interested, you may wish to register by providing your email address at the following website to stay up to date with the progress of the commission: https://agedcare.health.gov.au/announcement-of-royal-commission-into-aged-care-quality-and-safety
I should point out, that if a person does have a concern or an issue with an aged care facility or provider right now, you should be talking to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner who provides a free service for anyone to raise their concerns about the quality of care and service. They can be contacted on 1800 550 552, you should not be waiting to voice your opinion at the Royal Commission, by the time you do get your chance it may be too late.
It should also be noted that since 1902, the government have overseen 136 Royal Commissions or Commissions of Inquiry into a wide range of industries and issues. Taxation being one of the more popular issues, but we have also seen sugar, tobacco, butter, television, doctor’s remuneration and the espionage and intelligence services all subject to the wide-ranging investigatory powers of a Royal Commission. So, as you can see not such an uncommon event